“First comes smiles, then lies. Last is gunfire.”
—Roland Deschain, of Gilead
Welcome to A Read of the Dark Towerseries. Join me each week as I, Constant Reader, tackle the magnum opus of Stephen King’s career for the first time. If you want to discuss in general terms or talk about these first sections, join me by commenting here.
Last week, we began Wolves of the Calla by meeting some of the folk of Calla Bryn Sturgis who, faced with having half their twin children “roont” by the wolves, decided to follow the strange gunslingers for a while to see if they might help.
Wolves of the Calla, “Todash”: Chapter 1, The Face on the Water, Section 1
“Time is a face on the water”—this is a proverb from Mejis, which Eddie knows from journeying there with Roland that long night while they camped on I-70 in the Captain Trips version of Topeka. Eddie thinks this is even more true now than in Roland’s youth, “as the world wound down like the mainspring in an ancient watch.”
Eddie thinks the passage of time while they’d been in Lud and on Blaine the Pain had seemed normal. Even when they had been walking up I-70 on the other side of the glass palace, time had seemed right. But after they’d traveled in the pink ball following their encounter with Randall Flag and Tick-Tock, things had gotten flakey.
After coming through the thinny and waking up, they’d moved on along the Path of the Beam, “day after day and night after night.” It’s always cloudy as they move along. The trees are bare, the grass mostly dead, the bushes “scrubby and brown.” For the first time since they’d left Shardik’s forest, they’ve had to go to bed hungry. So even though it’s late summer, by Roland’s reckoning, Eddie thinks they’d “lost hold of time itself: no hours, no days, no weeks, no seasons.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie is aware of the way time is “softening,” with days that seem forty hours long and other days that seemed to speed past. He wonders if “time had gotten lost.”
I’m probably a dolt for not realizing this before, but the irony of “Tick-Tock’s” name struck me as Eddie was ruminating about time. I also thought this whole section of time is interesting, and I’m wondering if after a long period between books and a long flashback to Mejis, Stephen King felt the need to reiterate the whole time conundrum as we restart the original journey we’d wandered away from.
Interesting observation that Eddie has about time: when things are happening, it moves fast; when things slow down, time slows down. And “when everything stopped happening, time apparently quit altogether.” The only thing he can think of that has happened as they’ve crossed field after field is the Mystery Number 19, and what it might mean.
Wolves of the Calla, “Todash”: Chapter 1, The Face on the Water, Section 2
Although time is funky, Eddie thinks they’d been on the Path of the Beam five or six weeks when they can to the ruts of an old road. They begin to follow it, and he hopes it will “help them to shake that maddening becalmed-in-the-Horse-Latitudes feeling.” But it doesn’t. Susannah kills a small deer, so they have meat for the night. Eddie notes that he keeps “lookin’ for the candy house,” which Roland wants to know about. Roland likes to hear their fairy tales, as it turns out, and they uncover similar stories in Roland’s world, as well as religion and songs like “Hey Jude” and “Careless Love.”
So Eddie tells Roland the story of Hansel and Gretel, turning the wicked witch into Rhea of the Coos. When he finishes the story with “and they lived happily ever after,” Roland notes: “No one ever does live happily ever after, but we leave the children to find that out for themselves, don’t we?” Roland also points out, rightly so, that in all of these so-called fairy tales, there are no fairies. When he asks how many fairy tales there are in Eddie’s and the others’ world, they all say, “Nineteen”—their new catchword.
We learn that the number has been creeping into other things. Eddie finds himself carving it into the wood he’s working with, like a brand. Susannah and Jake are bringing in nineteen pieces of firewood each night. Roland stops them one morning, and pointed out a tree whose branches against the sky formed the number nineteen.
Roland is willing to blow off their growing obsession with the number as kind of a mass hysteria, fueled in large part by Jake, who Roland says has the “touch.” “I’m not sure that it’s as strong in you as it was in my old friend Alain, but by the gods I believe it may be.” Jake doesn’t know what Roland means, but Eddie does, and figures Jake will figure out soon enough.
What Constant Reader Learns: Funny as the travelers pass into a dense wood, in a little nod to Tolkien Eddie notes that they don’t see a single orc or troll or elf—Keebler or otherwise.
Eddie notes that Roland likes to hear fairy tales, but the way he listens to them is a little odd. Susannah points out that he doesn’t listen to them like a wide-eyed kid, but like an anthropologist who is listening to their culture’s stories as a way of learning more about their world.
And Eddie comes up with an interesting question: “Eddie felt that if anyone should be listening like scientists, it should be him and Suze and Jake. Because they came from a far more sophisticated where and when. Didn’t they?” Which I think brings up a thought worth pondering: we always assume our culture is smarter and more sophisticated than those that went before us…but is it?
Any significance that the line “Hey Jude, Don’t Make it Bad” became, in Roland’s world, “Hey Jude, I see you lad”? Or is it just Stephen King being goofy? (I still insist CCR is singing “there’s a bathroom on the right” in the chorus of “Bad Moon Rising.”)
There’s a philosophical discussion between Roland and Eddie about how people in Eddie’s world only want one “story-flavor” or genre at a time. “Does no one eat stew?” he asks. Which is pretty funny considering how many genres the Dark Tower books mash up.
Wolves of the Calla, “Todash”: Chapter 1, The Face on the Water, Section 3
The foursome (five with Oy) have stopped for lunch when Eddie notices Jake has gone missing. Roland says the boy had “peeled off about half a wheel back.” He says Jake is okay; otherwise, they’d all feel it. Their ka-tet has grown that close.
About that time, Jake wanders up with his arms full of round things the size of tennis balls, each with a pair of horns sticking up from it. They smell like freshly baked bread, and Jake says he thinks they might be good to eat. When the others look to Roland to see if it’s true, he responds by taking one, plucking off the horns and biting into it. “Muffin-balls,” he says. “I haven’t seen any in gods know how long. They’re wonderful.” The horns, he says, are sour but can be fried to taste almost like meat.
Eddie’s reluctant to eat them. Jake says he found a field full of them, and there was a lot of fresh scat around, in case anyone wants meat. Then Jake says there were men watching while he picked the muffin-balls, and are watching them now.
Jake says there are four, but Roland says five, possibly six, including a woman and a boy not much older than Jake. Jake doesn’t like the idea that they’re being followed, fearful that it’s like Tick-Tock’s followers in Lud, but Roland assures them these people are not like that. As they walk on, now Eddie can hear the people behind them, who aren’t very good at being stealthy, and he’s annoyed with himself for not hearing them earlier. When he and the others stop for the night and are making their camp, they can see the distant light of the followers’ fire.
As Eddie and Susannah gather their nineteen sticks of firewood and head back to camp, he says, “Time’s started up again.” She nods.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susannah is not happy with Roland that he knew they were being followed and didn’t tell the others. When Roland says he was waiting to see which one of them picked up on it first, and that he’d thought it would be Susannah, she gives him a Detta Walker look and Eddie thinks he’s glad she’s giving that look to Roland and not to him.
So, we know Susannah is preggers, right? If they’ve been walking for weeks, and it’s been a while since she realized it herself, wouldn’t she be showing by now? Or has fetal gestation time moved on as well?
Wolves of the Calla, “Todash”: Chapter 1, The Face on the Water, Section 4
Eddie caves on eating the muffin-balls, especially when Roland fries them up in some deerfat meat he’s been hoarding in his man-purse. Roland warns them that the muffin-balls can “bring very lively dreams.”
“You mean they make you stoned?” Jake asks, thinking of his father. And Roland also thinks of the stone circle where the succubus was imprisoned and he had invisible demon sex. But Roland assures him they aren’t like hallucinogenics. “If your dreams are particularly vivid, just remind yourself that you are dreaming,” he tells the boy.
What Constant Reader Learns: Uh-oh. “Vivid dreams” can’t be good. I sense a universe in a purple blade of grass coming on.
And what’s the point of Roland thinking about the invisible demon sex? (As opposed to Susannah’s invisible demon sex.) Are there going to be some ramifications of that coming up?
Wolves of the Calla, “Todash”: Chapter 1, The Face on the Water, Section 5
The dreams come but they’re “not dreams at all,” something they all know except for Susannah, “who in a very real sense was not there at all that night.” Eddie is amazed that he’s back in New York, on Second Avenue. Jake and Oy come around the corner from 54th Street and say to Eddie, “Welcome home.”
To which Eddie thinks, “Game on.”
What Constant Reader Learns:Wha? Well, crap. It’s midnight and I’m in a New Orleans hotel and have a seven-hour drive tomorrow and I can’t read more. Sigh. This is going to be interesting!
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of Wolves of the Calla, Part One, “Todash,” Chapter Two, “New York Groove.”