I’ve been putting off writing this post because I’m not exactly sure how to go about it—reviewing the fifth book in an eight-volume Stephen King series is like trying to explain the intricacies of the third Harry Potter novel to an alien from a planet with no concept of wizards.
If you haven’t heard of, let alone read, the Dark Tower books, then…I’ll admit, I’m not sure what to tell you. What’s your general feeling on 6,000 pages of mutant lobsters, decaying robots, time travel and gunfights? In fact, let me ask you a few questions. Do you like Westerns? Do you like fantasy Westerns? Did you enjoy the movie Cowboys & Aliens? No but really, did you kind of? Like a little bit? Okay well do you like Stephen King? What’s your favorite Stephen King novel? Did you really read that or just see the movie? No it’s okay, it’s a great movie. How would you feel about seeing a Stephen King movie about a Stephen King movie? I know, it’s a little meta. Do you need to sit down?
They should paste that list of questions up in bookstores.
So in a rudimentary sense, The Wolves of the Calla (d.b.a. Dark Tower V, d.b.a. DT5) is about a quartet of friends (though militaristic soul mates would be a more apt description), whose coming together and prior adventures were the subject of earlier books in the series. All you really need to know is that they exist in pursuit of the Dark Tower, which is like God/fate/the meaning of life, but they are also in some ways obligated to help people along their journey who require assistance. They’re like good Samaritan Jedi knights, and the Dark Tower is the force.
[SIDEBAR: Even though the DT books have individual plots, these are not like eight distinct episodes of Scooby Doo, sporting a succession of unique villains who close out the final pages complaining about those pesky kids. The Dark Tower books are complex and often dark. In fact, one of the running themes in the novels is the connection of all things, and the power of (or behind?) that connection; consequently, it would be unwise to assume that even the smallest detail or side-plot in a Dark Tower book is there merely as filler.]
Anywhos, in Wolves of the Calla, the group—Roland, Eddie, Susannah and Jake—happen upon Calla Bryn Sturgis, a town where the vast majority of the children are twins. Every 20 year or so, an army of masked wolves arrives and takes one of almost every pair of young twins; a few weeks later, the kidnapped children are sent back to the town by train. Except the returning children are “roont,” which means something along the lines of lobotomized. The roont children grow exponentially physically—never regaining their mental capacity—then die young.
At the time Roland and his friends come upon Calla Bryn Sturgis, the wolves are less than a month from arriving, and the town is contemplating whether to stand and fight. Cue conflict, hijinks ensue.
All in all, DT5 was pretty good. It probably isn’t my favorite of the series so far, but any plot line that involves the ritual sacrifice of children is intense, so I was pretty engrossed from the jump. If you are of the group of readers who have read the Dark Tower books, but perhaps haven’t gotten as far in the series, I say soldier on. It only gets wackier from here. And if you haven’t read the books, and still aren’t convinced, here is a list of sentences I’ve used in trying to describe the DT series to friends. I anticipate seeing these on Stephen King dust jackets someday.
“It’s like reading a science fiction book while watching a Western.”
“Clint Eastwood plays Obe Wan Kanobe in a version of Star Wars set in 1920s rural America.”
“Fringe meets Deadwood.”
“OK so you know at the end of Men in Black, there’s that pan-out where it turns out the universe is inside a marble and some aliens are playing marbles with it? Stephen King is that alien, and each of his books is a marble and the Dark Tower series is the bag those marbles are carried in.”
“I’m pretty sure that, given the opportunity, Stephen King would have sex with himself. Not because he’s self-centered, but just to see what happens.”
TITLE: The Wolves of the Calla
AUTHOR: Stephen King
PAGES: 925 (in paperback)
ALSO WROTE: The other Dark Tower books
SORTA LIKE: The Village meets The Wizard of Oz
FIRST LINE: “Tian was blessed (though few farmers would have used such a word) with three patches: River Field, where his family had grown rice since time out of mind; Roadside Field, where ka-Jaffords had grown sharproot, pumpkin, and corn for those same long years and generations; and Son of a Bitch, a thankless tract which mostly grew rocks, blisters, and busted hopes.”