Oh dear - another cliffhanger. How’s that for spoiling the ending of a book for you? Of course, if you’ve been following this series at all, you know that it’s been one cliffhanger after another, so I haven’t spoiled a thing. If you haven’t been following this series, this column is not for you. The Dark Tower really is one enormous novel in seven volumes, the sixth of which just appeared in paperback last week and the last of which is still doing well in hardcover sales.
This volume, like the one just before it, certainly partakes of the hobbits meets Louis L’Amour meets Sergio Leone meets H.P. Lovecraft feel that permeates this saga. When all is said and done, however, it would be the L’Amour westerns and the Lovecraft horror which dominate the proceedings this time.
To recap, Roland and his three companions are on their way to the Dark Tower, following something they call the Beam. There are a number of beams that lead to and support the Tower, which is the edifice at the centre of a multitude of universes, one of which is ours. Another is the world of King’s earlier novel The Stand, while still another, as we learn in this book, is the world in which the novel Salem’s Lot took place.
Roland’s companions, Jake, Eddie and Susannah, all come from one of the other worlds like ours, from the same place but from different times in that world. In Jake’s time there is a vacant lot in New York City, and in that lot there grows alone a splendid flower that is somehow crucial to the quest of Roland’s ka-tet (ka means fate, tet is a group, so the idea is pretty clear).
Now, this volume does not start with our weary little band, but instead introduces us to the inhabitants of Calla Bryn Sturgis, a farming town in the midwest. Every 20 years or so the town is visited by riders they call Wolves, who spirit off one of every set of twins (the town has many pairs), take them away for a period of time, and return them in a condition the people call “roont”. At first the returnees seem physically normal but they are retarded. Later their bodies become outsized and slow, and they are fit for nothing but to use as beasts of burden until their altered condition causes them to die young and in great pain.
As we enter the story, it is almost time for that culling to take place again, and those who know they will lose children are trying to stir up the courage to resist it. One of the townsfolk leading this incipient rebellion is the Old Man, or Pere Callahan, a man who found his courage the hard way, in another world altogether, when he was known as Father Callahan and tired to fight vampires in Salem.
Roland and his companions arrive in classic Lone Ranger fashion. The townsfolk seek them out as known gunslingers (this is more like being a knight in Mid-World) and ask for their help against their enemies. The companions agree and take on the task. How they get the lay of the land, find the warriors they need among the people, and fight the battle with the agents of the dark ones is one part of this novel.
The second part is Callahan’s story, which sits in the middle of things. We learn of all that has happened to him since his faith failed him during his confrontation with the master vampire in that little New England town. Callahan learned that his encounter with Barlow had left him with the ability to see things he’d rather have ignored, and the ability to walk between the worlds to the other realities. He spent years as a drunk, as a hospice volunteer, as a vampire slayer of sorts, and on the run from the Low Men in Yellow Coats (see Hearts in Atlantis) until his wanderings brought him to the Calla, where he found his faith and his calling once again.
Then there is the third part. When they rescued Jake from the insanity which almost took him in 1977 when he did not die as he had in his first passage through that time, Roland, Jake and Susannah faced a demon. They drove it back to rescue Jake, but it left a little gift behind it. Susannah, who is the integrated personality of a woman with two minds, now carries some kind of a child. She does not know this, A new personality, which calls herself Mia, is the mother of “the chap”, as she calls it, and she is fighting Susannah for control of her body.
It is this danger, combined with the need to rescue the flower in the world Jake left, which provides the unfinished ending of this installment in the saga.
It is a nasty place to end the book, an anti-climax after multiple successes combined with much action and intrigue. Wolves of the Calla takes us much deeper into an understanding of what forces Roland of Gilead has arrayed before him in his quest.
On the other hand, we readers can’t feel any more shocked than Callahan does when he picks up a novel called Salem’s Lot in a New York bookstore, a book written by an author he’s never heard of, some guy named Stephen King, and discovers that part of his life has been recorded there. On that note, I leave you to read it for yourself.