Wolves of the Calla (Dark Tower #5)

Wizard and Glass was primarily concerned with showing us an important part of Roland’s past: the “girl at the window,” Susan Delgado, Roland’s friends, and the evil pink ball from Maerlyn’s Rainbow that caused so much trouble in Mejis. Wolves of the Calla brings us back to the present — whatever that means in this shifting time — and to our favorite ka-tet of Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake, and Oy. They are presented with a town in bad trouble, a rose in bad trouble, and trouble within their group as well. Whether they can solve the problems is anyone’s guess.

Jenny: I found this book to be more complex than the others in the series, and maybe especially in comparison with Wizard and Glass, which is fairly linear. There are so many elements running in parallel here — the Crimson King and the Tower, Pere Callahan and his history, the problems of Calla Bryn Sturgis and the Wolves, the number nineteen and todash, Susannah’s chap, and the growing importance of a certain author — that it could have been bewildering. And yet, at least for me, King is such a good storyteller that it really hung together.

Teresa: I hadn’t really thought about it that way because this series has always seemed complex to me. But as I think about it, a lot of the complexity in the earlier books was under the surface, in the questions we as readers have about Roland’s world. The story itself has always been linear, as you say. In this book, the characters themselves are moving about in time more and separating from each other more, and I agree that it hangs together—it’s never hard to follow and the plot is well-constructed, with plenty of suspense and lots of different elements coming together nicely in the climactic finale. King doesn’t always do endings well, but I liked how he wrapped up the story of Calla Bryn Sturgis.

I remembered this book as a one-off, a Magnificent Seven--esque adventure, but an awful lot happens to advance the story of the tower and the rose. I was especially pleased to return to Calvin Tower’s Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind—his bookish obsession reminded me more than a little of some bloggers I know. I’m not convinced, however, that every new element is equally successful. I was skeptical about Susannah’s chap on my first reading, and I remain so on this second reading. But there are plenty of pleasures in this book to make up for the things that bugged me.

Jenny: What pleased me most about this book was the way that the stories all deepened our understanding of this world and what’s happening in it. Thanks to Pere Callahan, we got a good look at the low men and the vampires, and a hint at what’s wrong with the rose (and this made me want to re-read ‘Salem’s Lot and Hearts in Atlantis and maybe even Insomnia, God help us all). Through the story of Calla Bryn Sturgis, we got a better idea of the way things are working, or not working, in Roland’s world.

One thing I loved about this book was the idea of invisible highways: that there are ways to flip through an infinity of possible worlds, where everything is almost but not quite the same: Washington on the one-dollar bill one day, General MacArthur on it the next. That seems a perfect image for the way artifacts from our world fit into Mid-World.

Teresa: I can’t make up my mind about the invisible highways. It’s a neat idea, but I just can’t quite wrap my mind around how Pere Callahan can drift from one world to another and actually live in them, but Roland’s ka-tet can only go todash (as in not really there) or use something like Black Thirteen to get there. Maybe I’m overthinking it—ka goes where it will, after all.

For me, one of the biggest appeals of the series is the characters. I love the core group, of course, but this book introduces of whole slew of other characters to love in the people of Calla Bryn Sturgis (a nod to John Sturges in that name, I suspect). Pere Callahan is a favorite, as were the Jaffords, Rosalita, the Slightmans, and even Andy the Messenger Robot (Many Other Functions). Not all of these characters are likable—some prove to be downright despicable—but I cared what happened to them.

Jenny: My understanding of Callahan’s traveling abilities went back to his mark — the burn and the scar. Not just anyone could do what he did, but he’d been marked by Barlow and could “flip” (like another traveling boy, in The Talisman.)

I think large groups of characters are kind of a lost art these days. 19th-century novelists often did them well, but today it’s hard to find many authors who pull together casts of thousands the way King does. (Other fantasy novelists sometimes do this well, too.) I find him so compelling, and especially the way he uses his story lines and characters to reflect on his central ka-tet: they are understanding the role of gunslinger differently now, and more deeply.

One of the elements that crops up more in this book than it has in any of the others is the presence of King himself. Not just characters from his books, though the startling presence of Father Callahan, a character from ‘Salem’s Lot, is a major shock, and not just elements from others of his worlds, like the superflu-riddled world from Wizard and Glass, but Stephen King’s own name (along with his pseudonyms, like Claudia y Inez Bachman.) I didn’t know what to make of that the last time I read these books, and I still don’t. What do you think we’re supposed to do with this?

Teresa: Oh, well, that makes sense regarding Callahan. Thank you!

As for King’s presence, at this point in the story I love all those references, right down to the mention of his name and the stunning discovery in Tower’s book collection at the end. I hesitate to say too much at this stage, but it seems to me that King himself is the center of all the worlds. Everything the characters experience comes from his imagination. L. Frank Baum, J.R.R. Tolkien, Sir Thomas Malory, Robert Browning, and Sergio Leone are there too, but King is the one who brings all these parts together. What that means for the series itself isn’t clear at this point, and I’ll leave my thoughts on how this idea develops for our discussion of Song of Susannah next month.

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5 Responses to Wolves of the Calla (Dark Tower #5)

  1. Bookish Hobbit says:

    To be perfectly honest, except for the Kurosawa influence and the plate weapons (that just came across as too cool), I really just hated this installment in the Dark Tower series. I remember really liking books one through four in the series, but five to seven just made me want to throw the books across the room. Maybe a second reading would change my mind? I don’t know. Still I plan to get the new book when it comes out and read it, so that’s probably the perfect excuse to reread all the books or at least up to The Wizard and the Glass since the new book takes place between that and Wolves of the Calla.

    Although oddly enough my favorite character in the books happens to be the product of the things that I dislike about the last few titles, and that would be Mordred. I can’t really explain why I like the spider psycho . . .

    • Jenny says:

      You know what? I felt kind of the same way the first time I read the last few books. I loved the first four, and while I can’t say I hated the last ones, they just didn’t grab me as being of the same quality. But this time through, Wolves of the Calla struck me as being more complex. I loved the storytelling, and I thought it worked great with the arc we’re going with. I think it has made a big difference to read a book a month. And yes, I’m looking forward to the new book, too!

  2. Bybee says:

    My son has been on a Stephen King kick this year. I’ll have to ask him if he’s read The Dark Tower series.

    • Jenny says:

      You should! They’re so different from almost the whole rest of his work. The only even vague comparison I can think of is to The Stand, with that apocalyptic feel, but The Stand doesn’t have the fantasy elements. The Talisman, maybe? That’s closer. Anyway, as you can see, Teresa and I both recommend them!

  3. I enjoyed your take on Wolves. At the time I read it I was so happy to have a new Dark Tower book that I raced through it and just felt kind of unsatisfied when it was over. I actually *hated* Song of Susannah and nearly decided to skip the last book.

    But reading your discussion, I’m finding something to appreciate in this chapter of the series and like Bookish Hobbit, I’m wondering if Wolves of the Calla and Song of Susannah deserve a re-read.

    For the record, I *loved* the last book, The Dark Tower. I thought the ending was perfect. Absolutely perfect.

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