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“Come Come Commala!” The Dark Tower Book V: Wolves of the Calla

August 24th, 2011
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Stephen King waited a long time — six years — between writing the fourth book in the Dark Tower series, Wizard and Glass, and writing book five.  I didn’t take that long of a break, myself, but after reading the first four novels in the series last summer and early fall, I decided to stop for a bit, so I could give myself time to read some other books that interested me.

But once summer arrived again, I knew it was time for me to return to the Dark TowerIn my review of book four, Wizard and Glass, I wrote that I felt that novel was my favorite of the series to that point.  That opinion still stands, but Wolves of the Calla made it a VERY close call!

I’d heard some complaints, over the years, from folks who felt that when Stephen King returned to the Dark Tower series after a lengthy hiatus to finish the saga (books five, six, and seven were published in very short succession between 2003 and 2005), that those later books weren’t quite the same as what had gone before.  I can’t say that I agree with that assessment, at least not so far.  Wolves of the Calla is a ripping page-turner and an extremely strong installment of the series.

I will admit to having been a bit worried, though, going in.  Something about the cover art to the edition I read, and the title of the book, made me suspect that this was going to be something of a stand-alone adventure.  (“Wolves of the Calla” just seemed so RANDOM to me — What was this story about?  Werewolves?  What did that have to do with the gunslinger and his quest??)  I worried that the book would just be killing time before we got to the “good stuff” and the climax of the story in the final book.

No fear.  Wolves of the Calla is completely of a piece with the novels that preceded it, and the action of the book is not only exciting in its own right, but compelling in the way it moves forward the stories of Roland and each member of his ka-tet: Eddie, Susannah, and Jake.  (And Oy!)  The events of this tale affect each character in critical, pivotal ways, and one can feel the story moving at a rapid clip towards the end-game.

But while all that is happening, Wolves of the Calla also gives me what I’ve been asking for since the start of the series: an exciting adventure story set firmly in Roland’s world.  Part of the fun of the Dark Tower series is the way in which the characters and story-lines constantly jump in and out of Roland’s world and into our own (or a thinly fictionalized version of our world) as well as (even more intriguingly) the world of other Stephen King novels.  But as fun as that is, since the beginning of the first book, The Gunslinger, I’ve found myself quite engaged by Roland’s universe — the sort-of-fantasy, wild-west mash-up land of Gilead and Mid-World, and I’ve always wanted the Dark Tower stories to spend a little more time exploring that world.

Here, in Wolves of the Calla, I got my wish.  Though Roland and his friends have traveled far beyond the bounds of the lands Roland knew (they have passed from Mid-World into End-World), the hamlet known as Calla Bryn Sturgis — through which Roland and his ka-tet pass, only to discover the terrible menace that has been ravaging the denizens of that town, and all of the surrounding Callas — is a fascinating fantasy creation, and I relished the time the novel spends exploring it during the course of its hefty page-count.

But that’s not to say that Wolves of the Calla has none of the worlds-hopping craziness of the previous installments.  No, the middle section of the novel (entitled “Telling Tales”) tells the story of a character whom Roland and his band meet in Calla Bryn Sturgis: Father Callahan, who the natives of the Calla call the Old Fella, but whom the readers (and Roland’s ka-tet) will call the Pere.  Not only do we learn that the Pere hails originally not from the Calla or anywhere in Mid-World or End-World, but from Lowell, Massachusetts, but we discover that he’s actually a character from a previous Stephen King novel, ‘Salem’s Lot!

I’ve never actually read ‘Salem’s Lot, though after finishing this novel, I know that I will soon need to track it down!  Not because one needs to have read ‘Salem’s Lot in order to understand the story of Wolves of the Calla — not at all.  Mr. King skillfully lets one know everything one needs to know about the events that befell Callahan in that novel.  It’s that, over the course of this story, I became so interested in the Pere and his history that I am now eager to read more about him, and learn more about where his tale began!

Although this middle section of Wolves of the Calla represents a lengthy digression from the main narrative of the book, in many ways it is my favorite stretch of the novel.  The Pere quickly becomes a fascinating, extremely likable (even when he engages in some less-than-noble activities) character.  But more than that, this section of the book really throws wide open the doors of the universe of the Dark Tower. In Callahan’s world-hopping adventures, we grow to understand more about the larger mythology of the Dark Tower universe, a universe that Mr. King has cleverly crafted to encompass all of his other novels — and, indeed, in many ways, all other stories that have ever been told.

The book ends with a whopper of a cliffhanger.  (Perhaps not as devastating a cliffhanger as the end of Book III: The Waste Lands, but it’s still a doozy.)  One can feel the story hurtling along towards its climax.  In these final pages of the book, it became clear that Wolves of the Calla represents not a complete story in and of itself, but rather the first third of the final chapter of the Dark Tower story.  There are a lot of character-threads left hanging, and some mysteries left tantalizingly unresolved.  (I was surprised that we never actually got to visit the fearsome mountains called Thunderclap, to learn what exactly were the terrible things that had been happening there.  Hopefully the narrative will return to the mystery of Thunderclap in one of the two remaining books.)  I’m not going to waste a moment before diving into Book VI: Song of Susannah, so I can find out!

Wolves of the Calla — and the entire Dark Tower series so far — is an epic work of far-reaching ambition and enormous quality.  Bring on the next installment!

Josh’s Dark Tower Reviews: Entering The Dark TowerThe Dark Tower Book I: The Gunslinger The Dark Tower Book II: The Drawing of the Three The Dark Tower Book III: The Waste LandsThe Dark Tower Book IV: Wizard and Glass

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