The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla
After the extended flashback story of Wizard & Glass (Book IV), Stephen King returns to the forward journey of Roland of Gilead and his motley band of gunslingers. Wolves of the Calla is back in the same vein of the first three Dark Tower books with the main characters criss-crossing between their otherworldly dimension and the supposed “real” world of New York City in the 1970s. And whereas Wizard & Glass sort of slowed the overall story to a crawl mainly by focusing on just one story, i.e. the love affair between Roland and Susan, Wolves is much more engaging with multiple storylines going on at once.
The main thrust of the book, however, is a Seven Samurai-esque adventure where Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake and Oy are enlisted by a poor Old West-style village to stop a rampaging pack of man-sized wolves from stealing their children. Many of the townspeople are afraid of standing up to the wolves, so Roland and his crew have to convince them all that fighting back is the right course of action.One of the townspeople is a character from another Stephen King book, Father Callahan of ‘Salem’s Lot. I read ‘Salem’s Lot back when I was in junior high, so I don’t remember much of it, including Father Callahan, so I’ll just have to trust he’s really in there. And in addition to the priest, there are several references to other aspects of pop culture. For example, the wolves, as described by King and as illustrated by Bernie Wrightson in one of the book’s many paintings, look like a certain Marvel Comics supervillain, plus they carry weapons out of Star Wars and Harry Potter.
In my review of Wizard & Glass, I mentioned that while I’ve been enjoying the Dark Tower books, I became a little afraid that they may be going in a direction I might be ultimately very unhappy about. It’s also becoming difficult to review this series because I don’t want to ruin anything for future readers, but at the same time I want to express my displeasure at how I think the books are developing.
At this point, I’ve read several thousand pages about Roland and his crew (Wolves is 709 pages by itself) and I’ve become very involved in their quest. While Wizard & Glass was slightly on the ponderous side, that’s the book where we really get to know Roland. He falls in love, faces his greatest tragedy and transforms from a boy into a man. And now in Wolves of the Calla, we get to see so much more of him as well as Jake, who is rapidly maturing, and the growing relationship between Eddie and Susannah. They’ve all reached a point where they’ve become more than just characters in a story. They are now people in whom I’ve invested a lot of emotional energy.
But now I seem I’m headed on a path similar to the one I endured reading the comic book Cerebus. I had been reading that book for about 10 years and had collected all of or nearly all of the back issues, so I was up on the entire series when the character of Cerebus flies off into space to meet “God.” This was in Cerebus #193 and ever after that all the way up to issue #300 when it all ended I was less interested in the book than I had been up to that point. I kept reading the book because I was curious about how it would end, but I didn’t feel emotionally invested in it anymore because of that disastrous event. It seemed like a cheap stunt in an otherwise innovative comic.
Of course, Dave Sim eventually took Cerebus on an oddly religious, anti-feminist conservative direction that was less than entertaining and I at least know I don’t have to worry about that with Stephen King.
While Wolves of the Calla is sprinkled with little tidbits implying that part of Roland’s journey is that he will meet his “God,” the book is otherwise a ripping yarn. Early on in the book, Jake or Eddie (sorry, I don’t remember which) have to explain the concept of a “fairy tale” to Roland. The Gunslinger has the most difficulty understanding why people on “our” world need desperately to stuff stories into distinct genres. The stories in Roland’s world mix a little from each genre into every tale and much of the entire Dark Tower series is like this, especially Wolves. It has a little bit of horror, a little sci-fi, a little western, a little fantasy and a little bit of fairy tale. It’s a really rich book with a lot of wild scenarios and interesting characters. I just hope things continue that way.