BooksReviews/Commentary

Reading Dark Tower 5: Wolves of the Calla

Surprisingly, this next entry in the “Dark Tower” series was largely yet another detour from the ongoing quest of Roland and his party. Stephen King stopped the journey of Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy in the rural village of Calla Bryn Sturgis. The party members agreed to help the villagers defend themselves against the Wolves of Thunderclap, a knight-like menace that came to the village once a generation to kidnap from amongst the population’s children. The children who were taken would eventually be returned from captivity but only after they had been mentally damaged.

In getting to know the villagers, Roland and company ran across a man from Earth named Father Callahan. Longtime Stephen King fans would be shocked to realize that Callahan was a character from King’s early novel “‘Salem’s Lot.” Not only did he resurface in “The Wolves of the Calla,” he was poised to play a major role in the “Dark Tower” books.

Much of the story in this book was actually spent on Callahan recounting how he went from the events in “‘Salem’s Lot” to being transported over into the world of the Dark Tower. He had fled from vampires until finally being ambushed by them in a high-rise. Callahan had thought that he had jumped from the building to his death. Instead, like the original version of Jake, Callahan had appeared at the Way Station that was visited by Roland in “The Gunslinger.” The Man in Black had met Callahan and given him the orb known as ‘Black Thirteen’ in hopes of later sabotaging Roland’s quest. Callahan had then used the orb to transport himself to Calla Bryn Sturgis.

At the same time that Callahan was relating his story, threatening activities on Earth continued to move ahead. It was deduced that a rose in a lot on Second Avenue and Forty-Sixth Street Manhattan circa 1977 needed to be protected. As crazy as it might sound, that rose was somehow linked to the Dark Tower as its form on Earth and the forces of evil could destroy the Tower by destroying that rose.

Events were put into motion to secure ownership of the lot where the rose was located. Eddie used Black Thirteen to travel to New York City via a doorway in a cave. After he arrived, he was able to assist the vacant lot’s owner, a rare book dealer named Calvin Tower who had been threatened by agents of the forces of evil. This character had first appeared while crossing paths with Jake Chambers in “The Wastelands.” While Tower’s life was saved from an immediate criminal threat, he ended up having to go on the run from the larger forces of evil that were working to destroy the rose.

“The Wolves of Calla” contained thinly veiled references to classic westerns, with “The Magnificent Seven” (and its inspiration, “Seven Samurai”) being obvious influences. A continued mix of “The Man with No Name” trilogy crossed into a post-apocalyptic world was obviously also part of the recipe.

Oddly enough, there were also references to lightsabres from “Star Wars” and snitches from “Harry Potter.” Doctor Doom from Marvel Comics was even referenced as a visual model for the ‘wolves’ in the story.

All of those unusual pop culture references came up at the story’s conclusion, when Roland and company defended the village against the attacking wolves. The wolves turned out to be robots, similar to abandoned or confused worker-type robots that Roland’s party had previously encountered. The wolves could be defeated in a means similar to that of Shardik the guardian by simply knocking the receiver antennas off their heads. This revelation led to a thrilling but ultimately quick climax.

As a final point, Susannah’s encounter with a demon in “The Wastelands” was revisited when readers learned that she was pregnant. Her secret became an open talking point amongst the group members as another split personality emerged from within Susannah that was named Mia. Mia seemed to be the personality most directly connected to the demon pregnancy and she took actions toward the end of the story to ensure that Susannah’s pregnant body was hidden and safe from the others.

The next book in the series, “The Song of Susannah,” promised to further that Susannah’s storyline. As things stood at the end of “The Wolves of the Calla,” Susannah had run off with the ‘black thirteen’ orb that would allow her to transport to New York City. The implied threat was that she would do something in New York to harm the rose and, by proxy, the Dark Tower.

Despite not physically moving Roland’s quest very far, “The Wolves of the Calla” ended up being another satisfying if not overly deep adventure. There was a complicated mythology being built up involving the rose and larger threats mounting but those problems seemed somewhat obscure or perhaps just ill defined.

King has been at his best when portraying characters bouncing off one another in tight situations and this book had those moments, with instances like a classic town hall scene that was filled with tension. Only in the larger mythmaking did it feel like King was either rushing or making things up as he went along. The hope would be that with the final two books in the series he would take the time to refine the details that composed some of the reasoning behind his giant canvas.

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