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Old School Wednesdays Dark Tower Reread: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

Old School Wednesdays presents Thea’s epic reread of The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King. May we be well-met, fellow traveler. THIS MONTH ON THE DARK TOWER: Wolves of the Calla sees the return of the main storyline as Roland and his tet make their way through a provincial town in All-World… and face some child thieving wolves.

Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smugglers feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?

Old School Wednesdays Final

Logo designed by the wonderful KMont

Inspired by the results of our March Old School Wednesdays Idea Poll, starting in March of 2015, Thea is rereading one of her favorite series’ of all time: The Dark Tower by Stephen King. Every second Wednesday of the month, the next book in the Dark Tower cycle will be reviewed and discussed here. All readers – those new to the Dark Tower, and those who have traveled the path before – are welcome to join the ka tet!

The long, twisted road to the Dark Tower continues here, through an alternate version of The Magnificent Seven, in a small town called Calla Bryn Sturgis.

The Dark Tower Reviews:

  1. The Gunslinger (Dark Tower 1)
  2. The Drawing of the Three (Dark Tower 2)
  3. The Waste Lands (Dark Tower 3)
  4. Wizard and Glass (Dark Tower 4)

Wolves of the CallaTitle: Wolves of the Calla

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Western, Speculative Fiction

Publisher: Plume (this revised edition)
Publication date: First published in 1997 (this edition 2003)
Paperback: 672 Pages

Roland Deschain and his “ka-tet” are bearing southeast through the forests of Mid-World, the almost timeless landscape that seems to stretch from the wreckage of civility that defined Roland’s youth to the crimson chaos that seems the future’s only promise. Readers of Stephen King’s epic series know Roland well, or as well as this enigmatic hero can be known. They also know the companions who have been drawn to his quest for the Dark Tower: Eddie Dean and his wife, Susannah; Jake Chambers, the boy who has come twice through the doorway of death into Roland’s world; and Oy, the Billy-Bumbler.In this long-awaited fifth novel in the saga, their path takes them to the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis, a tranquil valley community of farmers and ranchers on Mid-World’s borderlands. Beyond the town, the rocky ground rises toward the hulking darkness of Thunderclap, the source of a terrible affliction that is slowly stealing the community’s soul. One of the town’s residents is Pere Callahan, a ruined priest who, like Susannah, Eddie, and Jake, passed through one of the portals that lead both into and out of Roland’s world.

As Father Callahan tells the “ka-tet” the astonishing story of what happened following his shamed departure from Maine in 1977, his connection to the Dark Tower becomes clear, as does the danger facing a single red rose in a vacant lot off Second Avenue in midtown Manhattan. For Calla Bryn Sturgis, danger gathers in the east like a storm cloud. The Wolves of Thunderclap and their unspeakable depredation are coming. To resist them is to risk all, but these are odds the gunslingers are used to, and they can give the “Calla-folken” both courage and cunning. Their guns, however, will not be enough.

Standalone or series: The Dark Tower Book 5

How did I get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): Print

WARNING: Spoilers ahoy, baby.

DISCUSSION:

“First come smiles, then lies. Last is gunfire.”

Roland Deschain, of the line of Eld, is the world’s last true gunslinger – but he has his ka tet of Jake Chambers, Eddie Dean, Susannah Dean, and Oy to travel the long dark road to the Dark Tower with him.

The tet’s journey takes them from the alkali deserts of In World, to the seas and forests and ruined cities of Mid Word; from the Waste Lands outside of Lud, to the storybook town of Calla Bryn Sturgis. Together, they have stood against insane monorails, sorcerers and horrible images in glass – but the Calla holds secrets and truths more sinister than anything the tet has ever faced before.

The Calla is a quiet, peaceful town. It is one of many rural, rice-growing farm towns in the fertile valley that borders Thunderclap (that is, the frightening Mordor near the end of the world).

From Thunderclap, come the Wolves.

The Wolves

The Wolves ride gray horses, and come once a generation. With their green cloaks, their silver masks, and their sneetches, the Wolves come a’riding and stealing children. Not just any children, but one of each pair of twins in the Calla – and twins are born in strong number amongst the people of Bryn Sturgis.

The Wolves come riding, and the villagers have no recourse but to let the strange riders take their children… and return them Roont.

Roont, that is: their minds gone, reduced to that of small toddlers; their bones grown and stretching to enormous, giant proportions; their likelihood of survival slim (due to the pain of transformation), and lifespan cut down by decades.

This time, though, things will be different. When Andy, the Calla’s messenger robot (who has developed a kind of personality) tells the good village people that the Wolves are aiming to ride once again, a few village men and women decide to stand against the invaders. Tian and his wife Zalia stand firm against the Wolves and rally the rest of the townspeople with the help of the Old Fella, Father Callahan. Truly, though, for the people and children of the Calla, the solution to their problem comes strolling in from the west.

Gunslingers.

“The storybook town has a fairy-tale problem,” Eddie was continuing. “And so the storybook people call on a band of movie-show heroes to save them from the fairy tale villains. I know it’s real–people are going to die, very likely, and the blood will be real, the screams will be real, the crying afterward will be real – but at the same time there’s something about it that feels no more real than stage scenery.”

Wolves of the Calla is what I like to think of as “The Western” in the Dark Tower cycle. Sure, there are other books in the series that are true westerns (The Gunslinger and Wizard and Glass immediately come to mind as fitting the bill), but no other book is as straightforward, even formulaic as this fifth installment. Wolves of the Calla is the novel that pays homage to John Sturgis’s classic ensemble film, The Magnificent Seven.1 The Magnificent Seven isn’t the first iteration of this simple tale of hired muscle, beseeched upon by poor villagers to defend their town – the tale that King borrows from Sturgis came from Kurosawa (Seven Samurai), and has been reimagined in several ways, from Pixar’s A Bug’s Tale, to the Dark Tower.

The Magnificent Seven

Of all the retellings of this tale, however, Wolves of the Calla might just be my favorite adaptation. I know that earlier in my reread of these books, I said that The Waste Lands (book 3) was my favorite installment… but I might be wrong. Wolves of the Calla sure as hell gives that novel a run for its money.

Mister, we deal in lead.

Why? Because this book not only emulates and science fictionalizes my favorite western, but because it also means that we are entering the end game for Roland and his ka tet. Because it reintroduces a character who literally walks out of another of King’s books. Because it shows us how much Roland is a slave to tradition, and showcases the type of peacekeepers and knights that Gunslingers once were during their glory days. Because of Doctor Doom, and Harry Potter, and Susannah and other women of the Calla throwing some sharp-as-hell plates, screaming RIZA, and protecting their young.

Susannah (Calla)

Wolves of the Calla is… well, it’s incredible.

I love the western setting and the familiar setup of the Calla – this is a story that, as I’ve said before, has been told a number of times, but King does it to perfection in this novel. We have the frightened villagers, the connivers and opportunists, as well as the ones who will stand true against the invaders who threaten their children. I love that the gunslingers need the help of the villagers to stop the Wolves, and that the folken who help are not the men of the town, but the women – those who have passed down over generations the skill to throw a plate do hit their mark, every time.

He gazed up at her seriously from the dust of the dooryard. He knew that however much she might love him, he would always love her more. And as always when he thought these things, the premonition came that ka was not their friend, that it would end badly between them. If it’s so, then your job is to make it as good as it can be for as long as it can be. Will you do your job, Eddie?

But beyond the western setup and aesthetic, Wolves of the Calla has a LOT – and I mean A LOT – else going for it in the background. This is the book in which we learn about the ill-fated alcoholic priest who lost his way in ‘Salem’s Lot. It’s the book that introduces us to the possibilities of more doors to open portals and parallel universes. It’s the story where the stakes are raised – because Susannah is pregnant, and time runs short to save the tower – and the tet is tried to its limits because the end game is near. Susannah is one of my favorite characters in the whole series, and while I hate the secret keeping and on occasion the way the others treat her, she grapples with her schizophrenia and the monster-child she bears in this fifth book. (And it’s pretty frightening stuff, what Susannah goes through – she has visions of eating for her “chap” and feeding his appetite, and it is not pretty.)

Roland Dances the Commala

Never had he seen a man who looked so lonely, so far from the run of human life with its fellowship and warmth. To see him here, in this place of fiesta (for it was a fiesta, no matter how desperate the business that lay behind it may be, only underlined the truth of him: he was the last. There was no other. If Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy were of his line, they were only a distant shoot, far from the trunk. Afterthoughts, almost. Roland, however… Roland…

Wolves is also a tale that tells us an awful lot more about Roland, too. As a leader, Roland seems almost infallible – he knows how to work the townspeople, how to dance the commala, how to speak and when to stop and listen. In Wolves of the Calla, readers (and Roland’s tet) see the old gunslinger in the role of protector and guardian – giving aid and succor to those who need it. It also shows us just how old, how utterly alone Roland is.

Andy

Finally, truly, I love Wolves of the Calla because it blends pop culture (like the Fantastic Four and Harry Potter) with the fantasy and horror any travelers have come to expect along the road to the tower. I love this book because it ups the stakes and the tension a hundredfold – we learn about Father Callahan, vampires, and the slick inky eye of Black 13 (the most horrible of the glasses of Maerlyn’s Rainbow). We finally start to understand why New York and a certain lot are so important to the quest for the Dark Tower, and what the gunslingers must do to protect all the worlds. We also better understand the low men and creatures who stand against our tet in their quest – the villains, the men with crimson eyes, the vampires who suck on the blood and life force of the healthy.

Oh, and the twisted corporation who seems to sit at the rotten, evil heart of corruption destroying the tower and all the worlds. (Hint: they make robots, and NO robots are good robots in Stephen King’s books.)

* * *

In sum: Wolves of the Calla is really, really awesome. It’s the book after which everything changes; it’s the book that starts the accelerated end to our tet’s journey. It is also, if I’m recalling my Dark Tower correctly, the last really great book before all the sadness and handwaving begins.

It is, at this point in time, my favorite of all of the Dark Tower books. I love this fifth volume very dearly… and I’m a little afraid to continue onward because I know what awaits.

But continue I must – and I hope to see you join me next month.

Next: Song of Susannah on August 12.

  1. The name of the town itself, Calla Bryn Sturgis, borrows from both the film’s director and its star gunslinger (Chris, played by Yul Brynner).

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1 Comment

  • Nikki Egerton
    July 21, 2015 at 7:41 am

    I know what’s coming next :'(

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