Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King (audio)

Just to review the Dark Tower series:

The Gunslinger (I)

The Drawing of the Three (II)

The Waste Lands (III)

Wizard and Glass (IV)

The Wind Through the Keyhole, written last but fitting between books IV and V.

and here we are with V: Wolves of the Calla.

wolvesThis is a very long one. My library copy of the audio came on 22 CD’s. Off the top of my head, I can only remember Anna Karenina being longer; but where that was a painful experience for me (sorry, Tolstoy fans), this was pleasurable.

The action of Roland’s ka-tet of 5 – Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy – takes up very little geographical space, unlike most of the previous volumes. They leave Topeka and the Wizard of Oz world, and encounter an envoy from a local town, Calla Bryn Sturgis. The locals are tormented by the Wolves from Thunderclap, the neighboring badlands: these “wolves” come about once a generation to the Calla, where a single-born child (or “singleton”) is a rarity. Most children are born in twins, and the wolves come to take own of each set away with them; when they are sent back to their families shortly after, they grow into severely mentally handicapped giants who live short, painful lives. The folken of the Calla have heard that there are gunslingers in the area, and they are struggling to decide whether to ask the gunslingers’ aid in defending their town against the coming wolves – or letting them take half the town’s children, as always.

Among them, to the great surprise of Eddie, Susannah and Jake – all originally from New York City, although of three different whens – is Father Callahan, also transplant from their world, and with terrible stories to tell about the vampires he had hunted in his former life, before coming to the Calla and settling among the people of Roland’s world. He will be an important player, among other reasons, because he is in possession of another piece of the wizard’s glass: the big bad one, Black 13. As he tells his strange life story, and the gunslingers interview the townspeople in preparation to fight against the wolves, Roland worries about this delay of their greater mission, the quest for the Dark Tower. He has a bad feeling about what will befall them here; but a gunslinger asked for his aid cannot demur.

To complicate things further, each of the ka-tet becomes aware on his or her own schedule of another terrifying fact: Susannah is pregnant, or at least one of the women living inside her body is – a result of the fighting-sex she had with a demon in the second drawing of Jake, in The Waste Lands. We recall that when we first met the woman who is now Susannah Dean, wife of Eddie, she was Odetta Holmes – and also Detta Walker. This schizophrenic (or possessed?) double became one, healthier, stronger woman in Susannah; but now she has a new inhabitant, the one called Mia, who is mother to a demon child that threatens Susannah’s life. (Whew. Got that straight?) It is a weakening of the ka-tet that each of them learns this fact separately and is reluctant to share it with the others. Also, Detta appears to be making a comeback within the split body of Susannah Dean. We still haven’t entirely categorized her as being mentally ill, or a victim of black magic… but considering the setting for this fantasy series, I think it’s the latter.

And in a final plotline and complication: the rose in the vacant lot in New York is confirmed as being an important part of the quest as well, being firmly linked to the Dark Tower itself. The ka-tet is now concerned with getting back and forth to New York to buy the lot and protect the rose as well.

As this lengthy (but not wearying) epic plays out, Roland and the reader begin to understand that beating the wolves, seeing Susannah safely through Mia’s pregnancy, protecting the rose, and handling the awful power of Black 13 are all related to the great mission of this series: achieving the Dark Tower. At the end of the story, the wolves are vanquished (at least for now), but Susannah/Mia is off on her own; Eddie is distraught, the ka-tet is splintering, and its efforts are divided between multiple aims.

My praise of the series continues; the strengths of one are the strengths of all. I’m still deeply invested in our ka-tet (and OH, when Oy made his little speech and bow! he still might be my favorite) and in their eventual fate; and I continue to find the shorter-lived characters of each book – in this case, the Calla-folken – worthwhile investments, too. I marvel at the mind of Stephen King that can create such large and involved worlds with all their interconnections. And what a tricky one he is! For Father Callahan comes from another of his novels, Salem’s Lot – one I’ve not read, so I had to have the joke spelled out for me, but it tickled me nonetheless; I can only imagine for the folks who had read it, what a great joke and mindbender this was.

I am now heading into book VI, Song of Susannah. I was on a road trip when the one ended, and just started right up into the next without pause. As we begin this next installment, the integrity of our little group is highly questionable, and I’m anxious for them. Stay tuned!

Rating: 7 sharpened dishes.

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