“First comes smiles, then lies. Last is gunfire.”
—Roland Deschain, of Gilead
Welcome to A Read of the Dark Tower%series. 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.
We last left our ka-tet having their palaver with the party from Calla Bryn Sturgis, with Roland manipulating Sai Overholser like a master—or like a gunslinger.
Wolves of the Calla—“Todash,” Chapter VI, “The Way of the Eld,” Section 1
The ten sit down mid-afternoon to a big meal. It isn’t the best one Eddie’s ever had but after weeks of gunslinger burritos, it’s not bad. Steaks smothered in mushroom gravy. Beans. Taco-type things. Roasted corn. Coleslaw. Strawberry pudding. Coffee.
During the meal, Eddie chats with the Jaffords and learns more about life in the borderlands, and he’s struck by how civilized everything is compared to Lud—even down to the town hall and their means of calling a meeting to decide things as a community. He likens it to a New England village.
We learn there are at least 70 Callas stretching north and south of Calla Bryn Sturgis. Other names: Calla Bryn Lockwood, Calla Amity, Calla Bryn Bouse, Calla Staffel, Calla Sen Pinder, Calla Sen Chre. Some, but not all, suffered from visits by the Wolves. There’s a Big River, the Whye, that runs all the way to the South Seas. Each Calla has a specialty—farming, ranching, mining, manufacturing, even gambling. To the east is Thunderclap, which is “dark.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Andy should be on an episode of “Chopped.”
The description of the Callas is sort of an American model, with the Big River (Mississippi) running north to south, and a Vegas-like Calla…or Atlantic City, maybe. To the east is Thunderclap.
Zalia, Tian’s wife, is quiet and demure at first. When Eddie asks her about the Callas, she says it’s man’s business…but then she answers his question and it’s clear she knows a lot. She’s just learned to play a role. She points to the direction from whence Eddie came: “Back there, the world is ending, or so we’re told.” Then she points toward Thunderclap: “There, it’s already ended. In the middle are we, who only want to go our way in peace.”
Wolves of the Calla—“Todash,” Chapter VI, “The Way of the Eld,” Section 2
Eddie leaves after dinner and goes to take a dump, and is surprised to find a seven-foot robot sneaking up behind him, advising him not to wipe with poison ivy. After chastising Andy for sneaking up on people in the midst of such business, Eddie asks advice on another leaf, which Andy says is okay.
Andy clicks and beeps while he processes Eddie’s slang—or tries. Eddie wants to know how Andy can creep so quietly: “Programming,” Andy says. Finally, Andy falls back on his standard offer of a horoscope, and Eddie accepts. Eddie will travel far this very night—to Calla New York, where he will meet a dark lady.
Eddie wants to know more about the trip to New York. “You will go todash, sai Eddie!” Andy tells him. “When you hear the kammen—the chimes, ken ya well—you must all concentrate on each other. To keep from getting lost.”
Since Andy seems so well-informed (programmed), Eddie asks about the Wolves—a lot of questions. Andy clicks for more than a minute as he processes the questions, and when he speaks this time, his voice is different—less like an “idiot uncle” and more like a robot. “What’s your password, sai Eddie?” he asks. Of course, Eddie doesn’t have one, and when his allotted ten seconds are up, he hears a thudding noise inside Andy and the cold robot voice asks if he’d like to try again. Eddie declines.
Eddie asks why information on the Wolves is restricted, and Andy answers: “Directive Nineteen.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Andy and Eddie having a conversation is a pretty entertaining thing, as Andy tries to process words like heaven and Tupperware.
Andy is more than a robot, Eddie realizes. He seems to have feelings—smugness, for example—and Eddie reminds himself that he needs to not treat Andy like a “fortune-telling machine in a carnival arcade.”
Wolves of the Calla—“Todash,” Chapter VI, “The Way of the Eld,” Section 3
Roland has more coffee while he listens to Eddie’s account of his conversation with Andy. He does raise an eyebrow at the “Directive Nineteen” bit, but doesn’t comment. Finally, Ro calls the rest of them to gather around, and he asks Overholser to tell him about the Wolves.
Most of the children born in the Calla are twins, but this is not the case in other parts of the world. About a hundred twenty years earlier, the Wolves began their raids, coming every twenty years or so. They’d take one of each set of twins between the ages of three and fourteen into Thunderclap. Most of them would be returned in four weeks, or eight. The ones who didn’t return were presumed to have died in the “Land of Darkness, that whatever evil rite was performed on them killed a few instead of just ruining them.”
The ones who returned were “at best biddable idiots,” losing language skills, potty training, appetite control. They have to be watched constantly. The older ones seem to come back with some idea of what’s been done to them, and sometimes commit suicide. The “roont” ones stay small in stature until age sixteen, when they painfully grow into giants. The Calla-folk share a horrific story about hearing the bones growing inside their roont children, and the pain of their expanding skulls.
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie wonders: If the Wolves have been coming less than two centuries, who programmed Andy to restrict the info since Andy predates the Wolves? Interesting question, Eddie!
Wolves of the Calla—“Todash,” Chapter VI, “The Way of the Eld,” Section 4
Once the “roont” ones’ growth spurt ends, Overholser says, some can be put to work but most can’t even manage the most rudimentary tasks. So, mostly, they just hang around town. They are sexually roont as well, which is a good thing.
Then, when they reach their thirties, the roont twins age rapidly and die. A few die peacefully, but most die slowly and painfully from what Eddie thinks sounds like terminal cancer.
Roland steers them away from endless horror stories and asks about the Wolves. There are some disagreement as to how many of the Wolves come, but they finally agree that it’s about sixty, or maybe as many as eighty.
Are they really wolves, or are they men—or something else? They look like men, Overholser says, but they wear wolf masks, and they all ride in on gray horses. They wear gray pants “that look like skin,” and black boots with steel spurs. Green cloaks and hoods. The masks look like steel but “rot in the sun like flesh.” They come at different times of the day. Andy is able to tell them which day they’ll come but not what time.
Roland doesn’t ever ask the question: if you know when they’re coming, why not stand up to them? But Overholser gets the implication and doesn’t like it. He points out that the Wolves come heavily armed—rifles, revolvers, “grenados,” and other things: “light-sticks that kill at a touch, flying metal buzz-balls called drones or sneetches. The sticks burn the skin black and stop the heart.” Eddie also think he hears the word “atomic.”
Thunderclap, they say, lies about a “hundred wheels” to the southeast. In the olden days, one could stand on the last height of land and see mountains. Now, you see only darkness, “like a rain cloud on the horizon.”
Zalia, Tian’s wife, says Thunderclap is a “land of vampires, boggarts, and taheen,” and Callahan—who’s mostly kept his mouth shut—says it is true. Because he’s seen vampires, and Thunderclap is their “nest.” He doesn’t think the Wolves take the children to the vampires, but he does know that vampires exist. “Why do you speak as if I doubt?” Roland asks him. “Because I did myself,” he responds. “I doubted much, and it was my undoing.”
The Wolves take the kids, although they do occasionally miss a few, and when they’re properly roont, they’re sent back on a train—not a mono, but crowded onto flatcars pulled by a locomotive. They’re always in poor physical condition. The Calla-folk figure it’s a two- or three-day trip from Thunderclap by rail.
Ever clueless, Overholser reminds Roland that they “haven’t said yes.” They still don’t quite believe Roland is who he says. Eddie’s offended, as is Tian Jaffords. How will Roland respond?
What Constant Reader Learns: Overholser’s arrogant façade really crumbles as he talks about the Wolves coming when he was nine and taking not him but his brother Welland. Eddie observes that “it was hard for him to go back in his mind to a time when he’d been a child, small and powerless and terrified.” I think Eddie’s growing more perceptive.
Overholser calls Jake “Jake-soh” instead of “sai.” Any significance, or is it just a nod toward his youth?
Yes, Callahan certainly does know that vampires exist!
Wolves of the Calla—“Todash,” Chapter VI, “The Way of the Eld,” Section 5
We’re finally back in Roland’s head, and he’s tired of people who need his help but who also want “references…They wanted rescue without risk, just to close their eyes and be saved.”
He calls Jake over to him, then asks Andy to bring him four of the dinner plates. “You’re going to lose some crockery,” he tells Overholser. “When gunslingers come to town, sai, things get broken. It’s a simple fact of life.”
When Roland turns back to Jake, he has turned from an ordinary-looking twelve-year-old boy into someone almost ageless. He releases the catch on his father’s gun, and “says his lesson” when Roland asks. He goes through the gunslinger’s creed: “I do not aim with my hand; he who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye. I do not shoot with my hand. He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I shoot with my mind. I do not kill with my gun; he who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father. I kill with my heart.”
“Kill these,” Roland says, tossing the plates high into the air. Jake moves so fast his hand is a blur, and all four plates seem to explode at once. With no command, Roland, Eddie, and Susannah reach into the air and catch pottery shards as they fall. Roland’s caught enough to almost make a new plate.
Callahan notes that it’s like a trick from a Wild West show, but Roland tells him it’s “the Way of the Eld.” Then he tells them how it will work. “What we will do, I say, for no man bids us.”
Here’s the plan. The ka-tet will return to their own camp and their own counsel. Tomorrow, they will come to the town and put up with (this decided after some discussion) Sai Callahan, so he could “show us your church. Introduce us to its mysteries.” Then for a week, they’ll hang around and get the lay of the land, talking to the people. Then there will be a town meeting, and the ka-tet might ask for a few people to help.
If they decide the Calla can’t be defended, Roland says they’ll thank the town for its hospitality and ride on, “for we have our own business farther along the Path of the Beam.”
As Overholser begins listing people in the town Roland needs to convince, Roland again thinks, “They still don’t see.” Roland considers straightening out this faulty way of thinking once and for all. But in the end, he figures, “ka would tell,” so he doesn’t correct him.
What Constant Reader Learns: I love this scene, with Jake reciting the “I do not aim with my hand” speech with his eyes fixed on Roland, Susannah telling Overholser to shut it, and Jake shooting the plates. Then Roland telling them—not asking—how it’s going to roll.
Aw, sadly sweet. Roland feels a pang of regret when he sees the look on young Benny’s face. For a while he and Jake were becoming friends. Now that Benny has seen Jake the gunslinger, that’s not going to happen, or at least not in the way that might have otherwise been possible.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll read the next chapter of Wolves of the Calla. Happy holidays!