Well gentle readers, it’s been quite some time since I last posted as the summer months have seduced me with long hardworking days coupled with weekends full of camping, swimming in glacier lakes, and slowly reading through the nearly 1,000-page copy of Stephen King’s Wolves of the Calla. I’m sure you all think this post will be chock full of sweetheart fan-girling explaining how freaking wonderful the Dark Tower saga is, but the joke’s on you! You’ll be surprised to note that I actually have some legitimate fears and complaints as we approach the last few acts of Roland’s quest.
I had a surprisingly hard time getting into the Wolves of the Calla. From what I’ve gleamed of the history of the series, King took his sweet time writing the last half and I could definitely feel it. The characters seem like caricatures of themselves, kind of like King had a character sheet that he would mark off traits when he successfully fulfilled them.
“Eddie=annoying, funny, and obnoxious.” CHECK!
“Roland=wise, but doesn’t trust anyone, knows everything but keeps it all a secret” CHECK!
“Jake=seems to know things before they happen because he’s kind of psychic, messes with Roland’s trust issues.” CHECK!
Connecting with the characters almost became a chore and at the worst penultimate moment, I considered dropping the book. But then page 200 hit. Roland had a flashback about the last battle on Jericho Hill where Cuthburt had one eye hanging on his cheek, was acting like a lunatic suicide hopped up on blood lust and holy shit everything that I wanted came back in a glorious rush of two pages. BAM! Life shook me awake and we were back in the game!
Some have criticized Wolves as being too slow with too much backstory and not enough actual action that progressed the main story—the quest for the Tower. It’s surprising how much little we do know about the Tower itself, and what I’ve pieced together from this novel is:
- The Dark Tower is like the center of the universe where all parallel universes are housed within it. Like each layer is a different universe and some people can climb up and down the flights through the doors.
- There might be a god in the Tower, but currently the Crimson King sits at the top, kind of like Sauron and he’s not a very nice creature.
- Those that have dispatched the Wolves are trying to tear down the Beams leading to the Dark Tower for some nefarious purpose.
- Walter doesn’t want Roland to get to the Tower because maybe it will be like Arthur and Excalibur…Roland might gain some incredible power or become incredibly evil.
- Roland may very well be over a hundred.
- And maybe some grammatical errors.
In some ways I agree about the story’s pacing, but I do have a soft spot for ‘the little things in life.’ As stated in #4, Roland is no spring chicken and as such must battle the problems that come with age. His fight to overcome the dry twist reminded me he’s human. Jake had a chance to indulge in boyhood delights (the clean kind!) by making friends with a Calla boy and acting like the child instead of the man he was quickly becoming. The ka-tet’s devotion toward Roland always came through, even if he doesn’t treat them as such. I guess if I were over a hundred, I might be a little suspicious of random wanderers too or want to make sure they stick around to fulfill my prophecy (which Roland admits to Callahan).
In summary, the ka-tet, leaving the strange Wizard of Oz happenings that occrred at the end of Wizard and Glass, are being stalked very badly by a group of men from Calla Bryn Sturgis who are plagued by a group of “Wolves” that come out of Thunderclap and take one of each pair of twins (Calla is full of twins), does lobotomy stuff on the children and sends them back as ‘roont,’ which is a kind of mental and physical retardation. The Wolves have been terrorizing the good people of the Calla for a long time, but now a few brave souls have said enough is enough. The good Father Callahan has declared they should seek succor from these gunslingers, which is exactly what the people do.
Our beloved ka-tet says they will help, but as there is much opposition to the plan, so our tet has quite a bit of public relations on their hands. All the while, Susannah is going through with another bout of schizophrenia, only this time creating a personality called Mia, who is guarding over Susannah’s demon baby and makes Susannah romp around the swamp at night eating whole platters of disgusting things to feed ‘the chap’ inside her. Roland knows about this from the first, but keeps it to himself (sneaky Roland) and Eddie and Jake go todash, slipping into the world of New York like ghosts and seeing what’s up with the rose in the abandoned lot (it’s in trouble, go figure) and they must buy the property it’s on unless it will be destroyed for a new skyscraper.
As I’m typing this it seems like a lot happens in the Wolves, but surprisingly, much of it is taken up by the telling of Donald Callahan’s tale from Salem’s Lot. Now, I’ve never read Salem’s Lot and I’ll freely admit that I’ve never read any other Stephen King books either. I know that there’s a bunch of references from The Stand in this, but I was a little thrown off balance that Father Callahan showed up at all. His story was interesting, and mostly covered his aftermath: how he became a severe alcoholic, travelled the United States on ‘hidden highways’ aka slipping through parallel universes of the United States, killed some vampires, kind of fell in love with a guy, and got the shit beat out of him more than once. I didn’t mind Callahan’s tale, and actually grew to like the old man, until it came to the issue of Susannah’s baby. Roland suggested an abortion, upon which the Father rained such hell upon Roland’s head that I took back anything I ever thought good about Callahan. It wasn’t the issue of abortion, it was the way he suddenly treated Susannah, directly sending her back to the old times when a woman was property and had to abide by the law of her man and her God. He expressly forbid Roland to let Susannah do it, like Roland had control over Susannah’s actions…and Roland wasn’t even her husband! It was slightly off-putting and something I might have expected from the men of the Calla, but not someone like Callahan who had travelled quite a bit, seen quite a bit, fallen in love a bit, and had even come from my kind of universe. It left a bad taste in my mouth and even though I have a dislike for Roland, the intensity of Callahan’s reaction made me want to sling him off a cliff.
Roland, I’ve know from the start, was an obsessed son of a bitch who I might trust to clean up the water system or cure a plague, but never with anything personal. I would never let him care for any child of mine, hell not even my dog. He’s a hero in that kind of sense: he can see the good that will come in the big picture but is blind to the soft devotion many find in another person. It bothered me that he referred to Jake as ‘his boy’ numerous times throughout the novel and I couldn’t help but wonder and hope that Roland would be put in the position to test that statement. I have a bad feeling he would fail.
The battle with the Wolves was well done as always, but King strung out their identity long enough to be suspenseful even if I did feel like he was yanking my chain by having numerous characters lean in close to each other and whisper the atrocity against the other’s ear. The novel itself is on a whole well written, but my fears come from the arrival of ideas that are not King’s own. They’re entertaining and make you laugh, but too many of them jolt me out of the story. I understand the appeal of having Buffy the Vampire Slayer go off on an adventure with the Winchester Brothers and they run into Scully and Mulder on the way where lots of one true pairings occur, but not in something like this. We’ve got Harry Potter references and Star Wars ideas, even Dr. Doom, and while these may have been heavy influences on King when he was younger or even when he was writing the book, they seriously felt like a slap in the face when I came across them. I don’t want Luke Skywalker wandering into my Dark Tower series and I certainly do not want Stephen King himself to make an appearance.
Which is exactly what looks like is going to happen in the next book. Our ka-tet finds out that Callahan’s past has been written by a man named (you guessed it boys and girls) Stephen King and while Callahan’s laments of “I’m not a fictional character” are entertaining, I’m not sure I can handle King himself making an appearance. I read the back cover of Song of Susannah, and lo and behold, our ka-tet ends up running into an author from Maine…oh lord who could it be? I’ll reserve true judgment until I actually read the book but I’m already colored a dark shade of disapproval.
Unfortunately I cannot dive straight into the Song of Susannah as much as I want. I’ve made the obligation to join a self-made book club with a few friends and we’ve chosen Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. So I’ll be stepping out of my science fiction/fantasy hole that I so love to live in and join the mystery/crime group for a while. I think it will be good. My friend says its full of ickiness and I do like a good icky story.