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The wolves of the Calla is the fifth book in the Dark Tower series by American author Steven King, it continues the story of Roland Deschain on his journey to the Dark Tower. Roland is the last gunfighter and has been travelling on his own for many years before meeting his associates Eddie Dean, Susannah Dean, and Jake Chambers who are all from New York but from different times. In the previous novels we have slowly been travelling towards the Dark Tower and analysing the clues given to Roland et al along the way, in this novel we encounter a village living in fear. The village is part of the Calla of the title and the wolves come every 22-23 years to take one of the pair of twins born to the villagers. The villagers implore Roland and his friends to defend the town and remove the curse of the wolves; every time the children are taken they are returned a year later but badly damaged physically and mentally. Stephen King also continues his merging of his famous novels in this gunslinger series, after hints towards the Stand in previous novels here we meet a vicar from Salem's Lot and eventually Stephen King is also mentioned.
This novel continues Stephen Kings grand epic multi-series, he continues filling in the back story of Ed, Jake and Susannah and why they are important to enable Roland to finally arrive at the Dark Tower. The book gives a pregnancy to Susannah, the need to return to New York to protect a rose which is growing on an abandoned plot and the importance of a bookshop in Manhattan. The constant movement between an altered American world such as the Calla and a relatively modern New York (the scenes in New York vary between 1970 and 1980) give a sense of panic and desperation. There are clearly connections between the two worlds but as of this novel the reasons for this have not been explored or why all of Roland's companions are New Yorkers.
This novel, has after the extended pre-story we encountered in the previous novel Wizard and Glass is more of a traditional spaghetti western, there are plenty of gun fights and general fights and chaos. In this novel, we have lots of nods to modern pop culture, we have weapons which resemble lighsabers and a form of robot with echoes of C3P0, the wolves themselves have a Marvel comic element with characteristics enlarged and made fantastical. There are also references to JK Rowling and Dr. Seuss, all introduced as small plot developments towards the end of the book.
This the fifth novel in the series brings to a conclusion in a way to Roland's back story, we are now into the why and how his companions are so important for his journey. The book ends as it begins with a journey to New York and the path to the Dark Tower appears to be open, the reader though knows that the journey will be complex and challenging. The Dark Tower novels are complex, dark and intricate and I suspect are books which need to be read several times before fully understanding the plot lines in the novels. This book was over 600 pages and took me nearly a month to read so to re-read is a serious piece of time. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and now have 2 more books to read to complete the Dark Tower series, after each book I tend to need a break from Roland, Ed etc before picking them up again.
Stephen King - The Dark Tower Volume Five: Wolves of the Calla
The Gunslinger and I
I have been a Stephen king fan since nineteen seventy-eight; so basically, thirty-four years. Just sitting back and thinking about that makes me think 'My God, where has all that time gone?'
I will be reviewing all of the Dark Tower series and will be using my own story as a base for each one so nothing has been plagiarised here as the only thing being copied from one review to the next are my own words.
For the purpose of these reviews I will not give away any main character names or major plot lines as it would spoil the enjoyment of anyone who wants to read. The review of the book itself is a slim-line over-view of the plot and the book itself is quite a thick volume and offers a hell of a good read and a lot more detail than revealed in this review.
The story of my reading of the Dark Tower books, of which there are seven in the original series, is an adventure in itself and one which I will share with you now before I move on to review the fifth volume.
I have read over fifty King novels and have signed books in my collection. There are many books that I love and many epic tales, such as 'The Stand' and 'It' that will forever be a testament to King's imagination and prowess as a story teller. However, for me, The Dark tower series must go down as one of the best fantasy, horror crossover tales ever told. Tolkien may have created one of the best, if not the best, imaginary world in 'Middle Earth' but believe me Stephen King's 'Mid-World' runs it a close second.
I think even Tolkien would've doffed his cap to King for the sheer scope and diversity that us readers are privileged to witness when reading these books.
I remember picking up a copy of 'The Gunslinger' (book One of The Dark Tower series) in nineteen eighty-two when I was fifteen years old. I won't go into detail about the book here but will save that for the review proper. I found it captivating and different; something new that to me at the time had not been done before.
Needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed the book and could not wait to get my hands on the second volume. I waited and I waited and I waited; several tumbleweeds did there windswept boogie past my much looked upon feet. Five years would pass and then at last in nineteen eighty-seven I heard the announcement that volume two Entitled 'The Drawing of the Three' was about to hit the shops. I pre-ordered a copy from Andromeda bookstore in Birmingham.
But wait, I thought, I must read the first volume again as a refresher. So I sat and reread volume one and finished it the night before I went to pick up my new copy of volume two (oh the joyous wonder of the world of fiction). I would not be disappointed as volume two was three times the weight in wordage as the first offering. I found it captivating and enthralling and once again I was away on another plane in the land of Mid-world. The only drawback was the damn four year wait for volume three 'The Wastelands'. Once again when the time came, I felt I needed a refresher, so I reread volume one again and then volume two.
Volume three was an even thicker tome than the other two so I would forgive King eventually; that was until the six year gap to volume four. Six years Stephen! What are you trying to do to me man, was the cry from my bedroom with a scowl at the first three volumes sat on my bookcase. So, nineteen ninety-seven and volume four 'Wizard and Glass' came out and yes, you guessed it, I reread the other three first.
Fifteen years between book one and two is a long time and to be honest it only makes the story epic, in the true sense of the word. Now, volume five would be another six years but in no way can I hold this against King as he almost lost his life and in the process would make a decision that would appease every Dark Tower fan to their hearts content. Stephen King was out walking one day when he was hit by a truck. He was hospitalised for months and he was so ill he almost lost his life. He made a decision that he would not or could not write again and his millions of fans would mourn the death of the great writer but be grateful and happy that the great man had survived.
While lying in his bed he got to thinking about Roland of Gilead (The Gunslinger) and of the torture he had put himself and the fans through by not finishing the story. It was King's own curiosity about how he would end this story and of whether Roland would find the Dark Tower or whether one of his ka-tet (group) would find it instead, raised his writing muscle from the jaws of literary death and into a new found child-like enthusiasm to finish the tale.
That was fantastic for King fans but what would be even more stupendous would be the fact that not only would he write volume five in Two Thousand and Three but he would write volumes six and the final volume seven in Two Thousand and Four. So having had four books in twenty-one years, King fans, myself included, and were now treated to three books in just over a year! Volume Five 'Wolves of the Calla' would be the first, followed by volume six 'A Song of Susannah' and finally, volume seven 'The Dark Tower'. Of course before I read volume five I reread the first four volumes, so now I had read volume one, The Gunslinger, five times. Now my story doesn't end there. In two thousand and four I didn't read the last two volumes because of work commitments and then in two thousand and six I moved from the UK to Holland.
It would be two thousand and eleven before I picked up volume six and yes I reread the whole series again; so book one for a sixth time. So volume six was great but I was forty-four last October and my eyes are deteriorating, so I started wearing reading glasses. I was given The Dark Tower volume seven, which is called The Dark Tower as a present in paperback form having left the hardback in the UK. The print was so small that I had to give up after one hundred and sixty seven pages. I know this as it irks me something rotten. So here we are in two thousand and twelve and my new glasses are ordered and I'll receive them in two weeks. I will restart the Dark Tower volume seven and finally finish a story that has almost spanned my life time thus far. I am a lover of books but am toying with the idea of a Kindle Touch for the practicality. I will always think books are better but a standard English paper back over here is fourteen euros and a hardback anywhere between twenty-two and twenty -six euros, which is horrendous, so having a Kindle makes sense as I can get e-books for nothing and won't have to carry loads on books on holiday with me. Anyway, that's another story; let's talk about volume five 'Wolves of the Calla'.
Wolves of the Calla
The Back-story and Plot
'The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed'
The opening line to the first book in The Dark Tower series is one that has stayed with me for a long time as I constantly came back to reread the first volume over the years.
I would like to give those of you who haven't heard of the other books in the series or read my other reviews a little refresher of them before the Fifth volume run down.
Book One Refresher - The Gunslinger
Roland of Gilead is the last of an order of gunslingers that derived from a great line of men that started with Arthur Eld. Arthur Eld is revered by gunslingers just like King Arthur in the real world. We learn a little of Roland's childhood and his coming of age as a gunslinger. The western world that Roland and is gunslinger friends live in is a lot like the western world that we know of where cowboys and Indians coexist. The difference being that Mid-world is also a magical world and a lot more advanced in technology than the great western plains that cowboy fans are familiar with. It was in fact a lot more advanced than the world that we live in today but now the world has moved on and things have been forgotten and unlearned. As mid-world is torn asunder and cities fall, Roland finds out that he has to find the Dark Tower. It is fabled to be the centre of Mid-world and control all universes. If Roland is to save Mid-world he must reach the tower at all costs. He knows not what he must do when he arrives there but feels sure in his gut that it will be revealed to him in some way when he does.In this opening novel of the series we don't really know that much about Roland's present circumstances, such as how old he is or how long he has been pursuing the mysterious man in black. We do find out more as the novel moves forward and have more answers at the end; although there are more questions.Roland meets a young boy by the name of 'Jake' who he is sure he knows already. They build up a good relationship and then Roland has an excruciating choice to make when he has to decide whether to keep on after the tower and sacrifice the boy or stay and save him from certain death.Will Roland finally catch up with the man in black and just who is he and what answers does he have?
Book Two Refresher - The Drawing of the Three
Volume two starts with Roland on a beach, almost dying of thirst and starvation. He finds sustenance by the way of giant lobster like creatures that he thinks of as 'lobstrosities'. In an encounter with one of these creatures he loses the shooting fingers of his right hand and has to resort to using his left hand to fire his guns. He is still more adept with this hand than a normal individual would be with their good hand; but he is a gunslinger after all and the last one, no less. As he makes his way along the beach he comes across a door; just a free-standing door on the beach. There is a name on the door. It says 'The Prisoner'. Roland walks behind the door and he can no longer see it; the same from the side. The door is only visible when he looks at it full on. Roland will eventually come across three doors on the beach and each one will open and allow him to see a scene from New York City and different instances of time. Each scene is seen from the point of view of another person. Roland discovers that he can step into that person and communicate with them. He soon realises that he must draw one person from each door; hence the title: The Drawing of the Three. The three people that Roland draws from the doors will form his ka-tet or group and will be pivotal in his search for the dark tower.
Book Three Refresher - The Wastelands
As with book two, volume three takes off exactly where the previous book ended. This is great for those of you reading them one after the other as all seven books read like one long novel; which was King's intention. In this part of the story, Roland and his Ka-tet come across one of the guardians of the beam in the form of a giant mechanical bear that goes by the name of 'Shardik'. We find out more about the path of the beam in relation to the Dark Tower. The tower stands in the middle of twelve other towers or portals, which stand on the edge of the world. There are six beams that all converge at the tower. Shardik is guarding one of the beam paths. Roland and his ka-tet must defeat Shardik to continue along the path. Back in New York in a different time, one of our main characters has stumbled across a rose that emanates a strange glow and a sound so beautiful that it is mesmerising. This character realises that he needs to find a door to get to Roland and becomes determined to succeed. The rose seems pivotal and it makes him feel happy and alive but somehow seems threatened and vulnerable. He must protect the rose and make Roland aware of its existence. He finds a key next to the rose. Back with Roland and another one of the ka-tet starts to carve something out of a branch for no apparent reason other than the fact that he knows he has to. It starts to look like a key. The character in New York must be drawn from that place and time and the ka-tet has a battle on to achieve this and a fight with a powerful demon. Their trek across the Wastelands leads them to a high speed train with a computer controlling it named 'Blaine'. This is where the book ends and the fourth one starts.
Book Four Refresher - Wizard and Glass
Volume four starts the story off exactly where we left it in book three. Roland and his ka-tet are trapped on a high speed train that is going to plummet hundreds of feet off the end of the track when it reaches its journeys end. Blaine has a nasty streak in him for a computer and also a penchant for riddle solving. He sets the ka-tet a challenge and tells them that if they can give him a riddle he cannot solve, then he will let them live. The ka-tet travel to a city that has been decimated by a super flu (The Stand anyone?). In this volume Roland tells the ka-tet his story over many days around the campfire. He recalls his past love and his loss. He recalls great fights and stories of his boy hood friends. You really find out about Roland Deschain in this volume and it makes for a great read.
Book Five Wolves of the Calla
The fifth volume is a wondrous tale of different times and quests, which all come together and begin to make Roland's search for the tower, seem like an impossible one. Back in nineteen seventy-seven New York, the rose is in danger. Our ka-tet must split and some must travel back in time and save the rose in order for the tower to survive. They come across the Calla, a town of rice growers and cattle herders in a county called Calla Bryn Sturgis. Most of the pregnant women in the Calla will give birth to twins and have done so for generations. Also, every generation a group of hideous wolves will come and steal one child from each set of twins between the ages of 4 and 13. They return the child months later and the child is mentally retarded. A messenger robot by the name of Andy has told the villages that a visit from the wolves is imminent. It is up to Roland and the Ka-tet to stop them with the help of the local holy man. The holy man will be a surprise to you if you are an ardent King fan. This volume is a fantastic story of a battle against the odds and brings up many moral questions and provokes much thought within the reader. As mentioned earlier, this volume gives the reader a little more clarity as to the scope of Roland's task and the very real notion that it may not be Roland who gets to the tower in the end.
The fifth book, for me, is the one that reveals the true link between Roland and his ka-tet. I am a big fan of time-travel books and there is an element of time-travel in this and the other dark tower books. Again, the book takes place in different times and runs in tandem with itself until the stories come together at one place.This volume gets you thinking and you really feel for the people of The Calla. The priest was a great surprise for me and again you see a different side to Roland and some of the other characters. It is an exciting story and although it may sound like it detracts from the main story, it does not and the main story runs with it and they come together nicely. There are many journeys back and forth between alternate realities and times and a lot of questions are answered.King has always had a way with characters and dialogue as I have mentioned before and Wolves of the Calla really does give you a feel for the group and you feel like you know them all a little deeper after this volume.I love this book and the series even more. It doesn't end with the seven books either as eight years later in two thousand and twelve, King has penned another Dark Tower book called 'The Wind Through the Keyhole', which is a story that slots in between volume four and five. King has also been rumoured as saying that the seven or now eight books are only a small part of and uber novel.There are also comic versions available and each set of comics is available in a hardback version in graphic novel form.A woman named Robin Furth has also penned a couple of books called 'Stephen King's The Dark Tower a concordance, volumes one and two. Each one has been endorsed by King himself and they are a must for all Dark Tower fans. They act as a reference for everything that Mid-world contains and tell stories of all the characters involved in the series, of which there are many.A lot of the characters in the Dark Tower books are from other King novels and a lot of them tie up loose ends from other books rather nicely.It is the ultimate fantasy series; with bits of Science fiction, fantasy and horror delightfully mixed in by one of the best imaginations there has ever been.What I would say to anyone thinking of reading them is give the first book a chance. It is a little slow at times and has to build a back story of huge content. When you get into the second book you will be glad you continued and then it is a case of not being able to read the rest because they are just so good.Once the first three books were in print a special run of them was produced with art work by Bernie Wrightson. They are superb and a great part of my collection. Wrightson was a horror comic illustrator from the sixties and seventies. He worked on such titles as 'House of Secrets', 'House of Mystery' and 'The Swamp Thing' series, some of which I had in my early collection of comics myself.I would highly recommend this book and the series, even if you're not a King fan. If you are a King fan and haven't read them, then you simply must; not doing so would be sacrilegious. It is also wise to read the first, second, third and fourth books before this fifth volume.
King has really outdone himself with this series and the different places he has created in his books all come together full circle. It is not just his life's work but his life. King has been on his own journey, in search of his own tower and I think he can rest a little easier now knowing that his story has been told and so has Roland's; but knowing King there will be a lot more to come from Mid-world in the next decade or so.
The Wolves of the Calla is the fifth volume in Stephen King's Dark Tower series. We meet up with Roland and his "ka-tet" (those held together by destiny) as they arrive at Calla Bryn Sturgis, a small farming town that is plagued by regular raids by the "Wolves" out of Thunderclap, the nightmare land that begins across the river. Roland and his friends decide to stop in the Calla long enough to defend it from the upcoming raid.
This book is where the Dark Tower series starts to slow. This is the first book that I didn't race through, the first that I had to make an effort to finish. The previous books were pretty much non-stop action, while Wolves is basically 850 pages of waiting around, a 10 minute battle and then another 60 pages of aftermath.
It's not that it isn't good. If, like me, you're in it to complete the series, then you must like it enough to battle on. It has some great touches, such as Andy the Messenger Robot who wanders around town like the tin man from the Wizard of Oz but is altogether more sinister. Some of the characters are interesting, but most of the townsfolk at least pretty much blend into one, and I thought their screen time was spread too thin to get to know them very well. We also bump into Donald Callahan, last seen in 'Salem's Lot, who becomes a major character. While this might interest a lot of King fans, I actually thought that novel was pretty rubbish so didn't really care much.
The sections of the book based in Mid-World are pretty good, but there is an awful lot of to-ing and fro-ing from New York, a lot of which seems to be setting up the next two novels but made for pretty boring reading. And the hundred-odd pages of Callahan's back-story, mostly told by the priest himself rather than as a separate story (like Wizard and Glass) is dull. I'm not really interested in vampires but it seems obvious that King wanted to meld all his previous works into one. It's very readable in true King style, but it's very much in the vein of his garrulous later works rather than the tighter books of his earlier days.
Overall, if you are a fan of the Dark Tower you'll probably enjoy this one, but if you read this one first it will probably put you off the rest of the series. Too long, not enough happens, way too much unnecessary baggage.
Copyright 2012 by Chris Ward
My stories Forever My Baby and The Ageless available for Kindle download now.
Wolves Of The Calla is the fifth entry in Stephen King's Dark Tower series that, as well as being an epic story in its own right, also encompasses and surrounds everything else he has written. By now fans will have a pretty good idea what all this is about but for those not in the know the plot is, at its most basic, all about one mans quest to reach the Tower that stands at the centre of all known universes and reality at prevent its destruction at the hands of The Crimson King!
Wolves is King's homage to The Seven Samurai or Magnificent Seven with Roland's Ka-Tet coming to a series of towns known collectively as The Calla. The main focus is on Calla Bryn Sturgis, and there are lots of connections right there to The Magnificent Seven if you know your movies, just one of several small towns that has a history of producing twins. Every twenty-four years or so a group of marauders known as The Wolves descend from the nearby mountain range known as Thunderclap and take hostage one of every twin. These twins are returned some time later having been forcibly aged and at twice the size they were when they left but these twins are now also "Roont"; a word taken from the local dialect that quite literally means ruined but in actuality means that the children returned are now retarded and autistic in nature. The local townspeople, lead by a figure who will be strangely familar to fans of King's other work, see Roland for what he is, The Last Gunslinger of a long-forgotten time, and seek his help in turning back The Wolves this time around. Roland agrees to help but only if it will not stand in the way of the bigger picture, his quest to reach The Dark Tower, and only if the townspeople agree to help themselves!
What follows is what can only be described as a proper Western show-down as the few take on the many and seek to deter them from their nefarious schemes. But before we get there, first we get another flash-back; this time not Roland's but that of one Pere Callahan who readers may or not have encountered once before in another small town, this one on our side of the universe!
This is an okay sort of a book but nowhere near as good as Wizard And Glass which was the series' highlight! The flashback segment reveals little of any substance and feels a bit like a filler episode designed to increase the word-count a little and though Callahan's past is of some interest, it could've easily been made shorter and much of his story glossed over! When we eventually get to the big show-down, it is over far too quickly and that is a shame because I would have liked to have seen more of this and a bit less palaver.
Still, Wolves is a still a highly competent episode and still enjoyable even if at times it is a little long-winded! There is a bit of a shock at the ending and the climax once more leaves things hanging on a knife-edge, preparing you well for the next installment, but this lacks a little of the punch of the previous book and you do find yourselves longing for King to hurry up and get on with it!
Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy have finally emerged from the forests of Mid-World, and are following the path of 'The Beam' [an energy field that leads towards the Dark Tower, almost like a road mapped out in the sky]. The road takes them to a more serene, almost untouched part of what remains of the world.
As the five travellers camp one night, they are approached by a small group of residents who live in the town of Calla Bryn Sturgis that lies just up ahead. The small group - comprised of a loud-mouthed wealthy farmer, an overseer with his young son, a young couple who own a farm, a religious man with a cross carved into his forehead and a robot who loves telling horoscopes - approach Roland and his gang in order to ask for their help.
Callahan, the religious man with the cross carved into his forehead, tells Roland and the gang about the troubles plaguing his small town, about the 'Wolves' that descend upon the town every twenty or so years to steal their children. Because the townsfolk commonly give birth to twins, and because the 'Wolves' seem to need something from these twins, they swoop down and steal one from each pair. The stolen twin is later returned, but they return 'roont' - missing something vital in their brains that affects their minds, their speech and their physical growth. These children suffer immensely, and end up dying at a very young age.
After hearing their story, Roland and the gang decide to accompany the small group of people [and the robot] from Calla Bryn Sturgis back to town in order to have a look around and to speak with the rest of the townsfolk.
Faced with the prospect of having to do battle with 'Star Wars' laser-wielding 'Wolves' wearing masks, green capes and riding on grey horses [not to mention that they use explosive 'sneetches' that resemble the 'golden snitches' from 'Harry Potter'], the gang already have enough on their plates trying to come to terms with their unwanted nightly 'todash' excursions which literally take them to another dimension of New York, by way of hell, as they sleep, and Susannah, who was impregnated by a demon [from an event in Book III], has come down with yet another 'split personality' who, although not as evil as the last one, comes in a close second.
With less than a month left before the 'Wolves' swoop down on the small town, and with the 'rose' [an energy source/entity in the form of a rose that represents all that is good] beckoning to them from another time/dimension, Roland and the gang are all too aware that they are running out of time.
Roland of Gilead - legendary gunslinger, the last of his kind, he is ageless [having gone through numerous time-slips and dimensions] and tenacious. Having watched everyone he loved die as the world changed and slipped into darkness, he is drawn towards the Dark Tower, a place he knows very little about. Along the way, he meets other 'gunslingers' from other dimensions, people who have never even seen a gun, and as he battles monsters, demons, robots, wizards, witches and thinnies, he will have to battle his own 'inner' demons... his guilty conscience.
Eddie of New York - ex-junkie, pulled through to Roland's world in Book II via a door hovering on a deserted beach surrounded by giant mutant lobsters. Eddie has come a long way since his junkie days in New York. He has matured, and with Roland's help, he is healthier than he's ever been, and Roland's quest has become his own quest. Married to Susannah, he is desperately in love with her, and afraid of losing her.
Susannah, wife of Eddie - is a wealthy woman born in New York who was also pulled through to Roland's world by way of a door on the beach. Having lost her legs in a tragic train accident when she was younger, Susannah, whose real name was Odetta, also suffered from a multiple personality disorder. When Roland brought her through the door, Odetta was brought face to face with her other personality, who called herself Detta, and the two became one - thus did she take the name Susannah [which was her middle name] when she became whole. Married to Eddie, who is slightly younger than her, she is madly in love with him. Unfortunately for the newly 'married' couple, Susannah was impregnated by a demon during one of the gang's previous adventures, and she has developed another personality who, although not as evil as the previous one, is hell-bent on saving the demon she is carrying. This personality is called Mia.
Jake of New York - is a 12-year-old boy who died in his world and ended up in Roland's world in Book 1 - only to die in that world, too. In Book II, while Roland was busily travelling from door to door [in different times] drawing his team [Eddie and Susannah], he managed to save Jake from dying, which resulted in Jake never having died and never having known Roland, however, Jake's memories of Roland remained, and he became convinced that he was going insane... until he stumbled upon the 'rose' and everything became clear. Jake managed to make his way back to Roland's world, and it was during this event that Susannah was impregnated by a demon. Jake, who was not close to his cocaine-addict tycoon father, or adulteress mother, loves Roland as though he were his real father, and considers Roland's world his own. Jake, who is very mature for his age, possesses the ability to read peoples' minds... which will come in handy during their battle against the 'Wolves'.
Oy - is a Billy Bumbler, a furry creature that is a cross between a large squirrel, a raccoon and a possum [your guess is as good as mine]. Having come straight from Stephen King's often 'distressing' imagination, he has been imbued with certain 'humanoid' characteristics that make for numerous light-hearted moments within the murky pages of 'The Dark Tower' series. Having been named Oy because of his repetitive use of that particular non-word, Oy possesses a keen eye, sharp senses and often acts as guard-dog... guard-bumbler... to Jake, whom he absolutely adores. Oy, who is able to repeat portions of words, has become more proficient at speaking during his time with the gang, and at times he seems to also be capable of human-type thought.
COMMENTS - OPINION:
'Wolves of the Calla', unlike the previous book in the ' Dark Tower' series, is absolutely amazing - I would say that it even surpasses the first and second books, both of which I loved.
'Wolves of the Calla' is filled choc-a-bloc with action and adventure, and although it is a staggering 766 pages in length, each and every page [apart from the handful where King lapses into descriptive hell] is an adventure unto itself that capturers the readers' imagination, and is the cause of many restless nights where the fictional words follow into the readers' dreams. I have experienced more than one nightmare since I began reading of Roland's adventures, and although I promised my husband I would take a break from the series after the last book... I just couldn't stay away from this book.
This, of course, is the fifth book in the series, and although it does continue where the fourth left off, the 'Dark Tower' remains a nebulous shadow somewhere off in the distance, on the edges of the darkness. Roland and the gang are still obsessed with finding the 'Dark Tower', however; once again, their quest to find it has been waylaid by another mission, and as 'gunslingers' sworn to help those in need and to fight against the forces of evil, the gang can't turn their backs on the townsfolk of Calla Bryn Sturgis.
There is just so much happening in this book, and with the addition of a few more great characters, including Callahan who appeared in Stephen King's book 'Salem's Lot', putting this book down is virtually impossible.
Stephen King's descriptive prowess, although annoying at times, manages to pull the reader into the story itself, thus making them 'watchers' instead of 'readers'. This, in itself, makes for an incredible literary experience that is reminiscent of a Tolstoy novel [which King was inspired by while writing this series], but with a dark side that is more 'horror' than 'fantasy'.
Of all the books so far, this is by far the best, and I am now reaching for Book VI.
In the mid-1960s, Stephen King read Tolkien epic trilogy The Lord Of The Rings. It was then that he realised he wanted to write his own 'magnum opus' of sorts - his own crowning work - his own saga. However, he waited, wanting to make sure that he wrote his work and not that of someone else, curbing his desire until such a time as he was influenced mainly by his own work and not another author's. Thus it was that in 1982, The Gunslinger was published, the first in a series of 7 books in The Dark Tower series. It was the start of Stephen King's own epic saga, one that would take him over 20 years to complete. One that would make me a Stephen King fan.
Let me start off by explaining that, while many view this book as readable on its own, it makes far more sense to do so whilst reading it as part of The Dark Tower series. Depending on which version you have, this may be possible if you have the introduction written by King where he recaps the events of the previous four books. However, this recap will not give you a complete and in-depth understanding and appreciation of the saga so far.
As a result, I believe it is hard enough trying to understand the quest that our hero Roland has without having to join it in the middle, and recommend that you read the first four books before attempting this one. I have done so, and was thankful for the knowledge of the first four books when reading this one, particularly they are referenced frequently. If you haven't read the first four books and intend to do so, then this review may spoil them somewhat for you, and I suggest you bear this in mind.
In 1855, the poet Robert Browning wrote 'Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came', inspired by the fairytale featuring the same character. The poem is a dark and suggestive one, full of potential hidden meaning and of a hero's danger ridden quest to attain the Dark Tower. It is from this that King draws his base for his hero and quest for The Dark Tower, and as a result the tale is rather dark, and Roland, the last gunslinger spoken of in the first book, a very secretive and dark character. The first four books show us the quest Roland is on, to reach the Dark Tower itself, and over the course of the books, we learn that it is supposedly the centre of all Universes, and without it all would cease to exist.
Thus Roland finds himself on a journey to reach the Tower, as it is his 'ka', his destiny, giving the tale a spiritual edge. Along the way he forms his 'ka-tet', as he draws characters through strange portals between our world and his. First comes heroin junkie Eddie Dean, of New York, 1982. Then follows schizophrenic black woman Odetta Holmes/Detta Walker, of New York, 1964. Lastly, we see the re-emergence of 11-year-old Jake Chambers, of New York, 1977. The important factor here is the 'when' and not the 'where' they are drawn from.
All of this mightily confusing, and as our 'ka-tet' continues on their journey, defeating whatever foes lie in their path and traversing any obstacles they encounter, they come upon the dusty Mid-World town of Calla Bryn Sturgis. Imagine if you will that Roland's world is like a cross between Tolkien's Middle-Earth and Sergio Leone's Wild West, and then picture the town that appears most stereotypical of such a land. Our heroes, drawn by the path of the Beam (which leads to the Tower) find that there is something in the Calla that draws their attention, that they need in order to successfully continue their journey. And, like true heroes, they find the town on the verge of being attacked by the Wolves. What's more, the ka-tet's eponimous and sinister leader, Roland of Gilead, last of the gunslingers, reveals that it is their 'ka', their destiny, to defend this town and its inhabitants against the attack of the Wolves. They have never stood up to the Wolves before - it will be the first time for all of them.
King has a tendency to meander with his storytelling, and this frustrates many of his readers. I find that patience is the key, and the reward is a set of extremely vivid and imaginable characters. Every single member of the townsfolk featured in the book is well visited by King's pen, and we see the Eisenharts, the Jaffords, and the collective known as the Manni very well described, with their appearance and mannerism deployed in such a way that I felt as if I was there with them, that I almost expected them to react in certain ways. And they did, as King had created what felt like actual people. King also draws our attention to the messenger robot Andy, a product of LaMerk Industries, a company we have met before along the Dark Tower trail.
Perhaps the most important character is Father Callahan, who is well met by the ka-tet, and whom we learn also found his way to Mid-World through a door from our world. This comes as no surprise once the character is introduced properly, and it is made clear from quite early on. His involvement, however, is not entirely clear, and fans of King's writing will recognise the character from the novel Salem's Lot, one of King's horror tales that features heavily on vampires. Callahan is a character plagued by vampires and alcohol, and he is very well developed indeed.
Certainly, you get the feel that King has relied heavily here on notions and ideas such as that of The Magnificent Seven. The idea of a group of mysterious strangers offering to save a town from the attack of deadly enemies is one well explored, particularly in cinema, and The Magnificent Seven, itself a remake of Seven Samurai, seems to be used heavily here. King even mentions it in his Afterword, although the thought had occurred to me long before reading this. In terms of his main characters, it seems as if they have all taken everything in their stride, and looking back on it, I put myself in the same position as they were in when Roland first appeared to them, a haggard looking cowboy figure (imagine Clint Eastwood's The Man With No Name) trying to get them to pass into a strange world, a different universe, and I have been trying to understand how King would expect them to do something so apparently dangerous.
Then I look at the characters, and realise that a junkie, a schizophrenic and a 11-year-old boy are likely to have the most vivid and adventurous imaginations and dispositions, and I wonder no more! He has certainly thought everything through, and this book is as much about their adaptability and development as it is about saving the Calla from the Wolves. It is fabulously written book, and although at times I was willing King to get on with it, the vivid nature of just about everything made all 760 or so pages thrilling to read. He includes a flashback story much as he did with the tale of Susan Delgado in the fourth book, Wizard and Glass. However, while the majority of that book was taken up with that tale, this merely requires a few chapters for its flashback, and the use of different text format certainly made me feel as if I was reading from a flashback tale. Putting it in different writing somehow separates it from the rest of the text, adding to the feel of the book.
Overall, I think this is probably the best of the Dark Tower books I have read to date in many ways. However, it does also go on a lot, describing everything in intricate detail, and while there is more tension and anticipation involved with The Wolves of the Calla, there is actually less action and variety as well. There is a bit of an impressively described fight scene, which almost comes as an anticlimax, lasting for quite a few pages, but in the context of the book, not for very long at all. While the majority of the book kept me mesmerised and completely removed from my wife for the best part of a week, I would be lying if I said that at no time did I wish it would hurry up.
For this reason, I am loathe to give it 5 stars, and retain it on the 4 star level. It does drag, but at least it is still very good when it does. The Wolves of the Calla is currently available for a variety of prices from a number of different retailers, both High Street and online. I recommend getting the Hodder publication of the books which feature an Introduction and an Afterword by King, as these are very handy in understanding the situation and the story, and the Afterword is particularly moving. Bring on Chapter 6: Song of Susannah!
Wolves of the Calla is the fifth book in the Dark Tower Series, the book continues the story where the fourth instalment left off as we join Roland and his ka-tet leaving the forest of mid-world and coming upon a small farming community with big problems.
The people of Calla Bryn Sturgis have been plagued for centuries by the rampaging wolves who turn up every 23/24 years and kidnap 1 child from every pair of twins in the village and surrounding areas (twins being the norm in this part of Rolands world means this affect nearly all families in the village.) The children then returned shortly afterwards as "roont" Kings word for disabled mentally and physically.
The gunslingers face their most difficult times yet as they must first persuade these people they need help then prepare and help them whilst being mindful that in another time the Dark Tower is being threatened in New York in an altogether different way.
This book is a great read and is probably one of only 2 in the series that could be read as a standalone book (although I wouldn't recommend this as there is still too much carried over from other books that would probably make the story to complex to completely understand.) King's ability to really tell a story shines out in this book, although he again leaves us with a cliffhanger to be put right in Book 6 we hope.....
Let me start by saying that its a while since I read anything by Stephen King. Ive always been a fan of earlier books like It and Pet Cemetery. These were seminal works for me as I grew up with the omnipresent horror/fantasy author. Id gone off Kings stuff in recent years as I just found that meandering style hard to live with. However, I had started the Dark Tower series a number of years ago and when I saw that Wolves of the Calla was available in my local library then I felt compelled to read on in what is the fifth book in a series of seven. You will need to note that the Dark Tower/Gunslinger series of books is meant to be Kings life works or magnum opus if you will, in very much the same way that the "Lord of the Rings" sequence was Tolkiens literary obsession. Having first published The Gunslinger in 1982, the series has now ended with the final instalment, The Dark Tower, published in 2004.
The book starts with a handy resume of the previous four books although, in my view at least, this volume can be read as a stand-alone experience. Notwithstanding, its worth a quick recap and, of course, the reader will get so much more by reading all of the books in the sequence and in the order that they were intended. The quest for the Dark Tower begins with volume one: The Gunslinger. Roland Deschain is the gunslinger of the title. From the noble line of Gilead, Roland pursues the evil Walter, the man in black, as a means to stop the quickening destruction of Mid-world and the slow death of the Beams that meet at the tower. We get to know that the destruction of the far off tower may mean the end of the world and even the Universe.
Through the first four books, Roland brings together his ka-tet (a group of individuals bound together to serve a common goal (or ka). Each member of a ka-tet is like a puzzle, appearing to be a mystery on his or her own, but when together, creating a picture, or at least part of one.) of fledgling gunslingers in the shape of Eddie Dean, Susannah Holmes and Jake Chambers. This strange combination of former drug addict, legless and now wheelchair-bound, black woman and young boy are brought together in the second volume The Drawing of the Three to help Roland in his quest to save the Dark Tower.
As youd expect, book five leads on from book four with the ka-tet emerging from the forests of Mid-World on a path that leads them to a community of farmers and ranchers in the borderlands. The inhabitants of Calla Bryn Sturgis have a deadly secret; they are raided every 23 or 24 years by rampaging wolves who take their children and return them as gibbering wrecks or "roont" as referred to in the book. Not all the children are taken but most families are affected. Appealing for help, they ask Rolands group to stop the horrific occurence due, once again, in a month or so. Meanwhile, in a parallel time and place, a sinister organisation is trying to force a bookseller to sell his New York store to them. Owned by Calvin Tower, the gunslingers know that they must stop this happening as it will accelerate the destruction of the Dark Tower. By travelling via a series of inter-dimensional doorways (which are literally doors in space), they can flit between the two worlds although the danger of being caught out by the chimes of the todash bells is never far away and the chance that they may be stranded in the wrong world forever very real.
I have to say that it was nice to read some Stephen King again with the author back to close to something like his most compelling. Back in the 80s and 90s, SK was very much at the vanguard of all things supernatural but as time wore on, many readers became frustrated by Kings procrastination and insistence on putting into a thousand words what could have been expressed in a few hundred. It was kind of masochistic to see that things hadnt changed that much. However, before I'm tempted to launch into an unfair, anti-King rant, let me cover what was good in the book.
Firstly, the central characters are developed further still from previous books. Roland remains as moody as ever with an obvious comparison with the Clint Eastwood man with no name anti-hero from the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns of the 1960s. Moreover, the influences behind the book including those western heroes of the silver screen, Baums Wizard of Oz and as mentioned earlier, the sprawling odyssey of the Lord of the Rings sequence, are as evident in this fifth book as any of the others. Susannah Dean (having married Eddie) is pregnant but with a strong possibility that the child will be born a demon and mothered by the emerging Mia who is an alternate being contained inside Susannahs body. Jakes ascent into a grown man is neatly marked against the ongoing events as the finale approaches (accompanied by Oy, a cross between a badger, racoon and dog known as a billy-bumbler). Eddie provides the comic one-liners with his rye approach to life and a sense of grateful relief that he hasnt suffered the same fate as his one-time, drug addicted friend, Henry. The gradual emergence of each of them of as gunslingers in their own right is painstakingly observed by King as each becomes more in tune with their own and each other's fortunes.
The author also manages to become self-referential by weaving in large elements from other stories that he has written. These include The Low Men from the larger work Hearts in Atlantis and Salems Lot. Theres also a big nod to The Magnificent Seven and/or Akira Kurosawas original work The Seven Samurai. You can almost see the bald, heroic Yul Brynner agreeing to help the poor, Mexican peasants defend themselves against the evil bandits and Kings fantasy re-working is typically more hi-tech and imaginative although still born from the original notion of the Japanese tale.
We even get some Harry Potter thrown in, much to the consternation of the group who are unfamiliar with the teen wizards exploits. You could applaud King for being so adept as to use this cross-referencing or you could damn him for being arguably arrogant. To be honest, in the main, I thought that this added to the quality of the tale and I particularly liked the Father/Pere Callahan character (the local, parish priest of the Calla) who had suffered at the hands of the head vampire, Barlow, in Salems Lot. His flashbacks into an alternative world of types one, two and three vampires and his clash with the thug-like Hitler brothers was one of the high points of the book. I also tip my cap to Kings ongoing use of italics and the present tense where he does revert to flashback which transports the reader to a different time and place in a way that adds a different dimension to the chapter concerned. I also liked Andy the Messenger robot who turns out to be a more complicated character than he first appears when doing routine tasks for the folk of Calla Bryn Sturgis.
Probably the hardest aspect to follow if you havent read any of the other books are the events in the alternate, 1970s New York although the finale and the link with the western setting of Calla Bryn Sturgis is nicely done and wonderfully written. I suppose the most obvious debate is whether to risk reading this as a stand alone affair or not. After all, this took me several weeks to get through and to start at the beginning of the whole series would be a challenge for even the most dedicated of readers. The level of detail, complexity and cross-referencing to previous tomes could run the risk of confusing the reader at times but, ultimately, it is down to you as to which reading route you take.
There are aspects of the book that niggle. As I said, it took me quite a while too finally make it to the end and I still find that King gets bogged down in unnecessary detail at times. Almost everything has a precursor and the author keenly outlines everything leading up to either an event or a characters emergence. This means that the actual appearance of the wolves isnt until page 578 with everything that has gone before building to that event. There were times where I felt that the story plodded in places but then if you wanted to immerse yourself in the world of the Calla and its inhabitants then there is more than enough character development to identify with the heroes and villains, the pure of heart and the traitors to imagine yourself in the sleepy homestead so close to Americana hearts. For me, the final chapters make the book a success. The closing sequences would do justice to anything that Leone could have envisaged for his watershed westerns of the 60s and the upgrading to include a large slice of sci-fi works nicely. Needless to say, there is the obligatory cliff-hanger that leads the reader like a latter-day, computer game addict to the sixth in the series, Song of Susannah and ultimately to the final instalment.
Whilst this opinion is a lengthy one, the story is sufficiently complex and interwoven to make it difficult, nay impossible, to review in any less detail without giving the book due justice. I did enjoy it and I will be reading the final two books. In fact, I'm about to start "Song of Susannah" at the time of writing.
For Stephen King fans, this is a return to form if you can forgive that ongoing meandering that is stamped indelibly on his writing style these days. For fans of horror/fantasy then this is definitely worth a look although youll have to decide as to whether you try this as stand-alone or start at the beginning with The Gunslinger (I won't be drawn from my metaphorical fence-sitting).
The embryonic inspiration for the Dark Tower series comes from Robert Brownings narrative poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came and maybe its fitting for the poem to have the final word:
There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! in a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
Thanks for reading
Pages: 616 (hardback)
The hardback version does come with colour illustrations depicting scenes from the book and pictures of the main characters.
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Available in paperback for £4.79 at Tesco. Also available through the usual channels like Amazon who are advertising the paperback for £3.99.