“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 story with Susannah telling the rest of the ka-tet the shocking news that she “might be a little bit in the family way.”
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Chapter 1, “Secrets,” Section 1
We open the new section of the book in the outhouse—literally. Roland goes in for his morning constitutional and finds a vased sprig of “saucy susan,” a lemony-smelling plant, and a picture of Man Jesus over whatever passes for the toilet. Roland is glad Man Jesus is facing to the side of the photo rather than watching him empty his bladder. The thought makes Roland burst out laughing.
What Constant Reader Learns: We learn that there are tribes of slow mutants who refer to God as “Big Sky Daddy.” Wasn’t he a rap star in the late ’90s?
This is a remarkable sentence: “Roland Deschain burst out laughing.” Either Rosalita is showing him a really good time, or he’s losing it. I’m not sure how I feel about cheery Roland. I’m sure it won’t last.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Chapter 1, “Secrets,” Section 2
Roland estimates the time that he’s gotten up is shortly before noon, and he thinks how horrified Cort would be that one of his gunslingers had slept so late at such a momentous time. “This was the beginning,” he thinks. “All the rest had been ritual and preparation, necessary but not terribly helpful.”
Roland takes time to smell the saucy susan (without noting the irony of the name), all the while thinking of ka, whose only rule is “Stand aside and let me work.” He wonders, with such a simple rule, why they all feel such a need to meddle. They’d all known Susannah was pregnant, so why had each of them, in his or her own way, held back from talking about it openly?
On his way to make his round of the ranches to hear confessions and offer Holy Communion, Callahan joins Roland for a short talk. Roland asks Callahan if he’ll hear his confession, even though he’s a non-believer. Callahan tells him yes, as long as he “doesn’t mistake discretion for absolution.” So Roland begins to talk, beginning with the drawing of the three and the doors.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland is kind of amused at the idea that Callahan thinks, at least in religious terms, that he might need absolution. I’m not sure it’s because he thinks he doesn’t need it—he certainly agonized over letting Jake die, or that he thinks he’s far beyond it, or if he thinks no such thing is possible or, if it is, that Man Jesus or Big Sky Daddy (or Callahan) could grant it.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Chapter 1, “Secrets,” Section 3
Roland tells the part of their story as it relates to Susannah and her other personalities, and how she had occupied the demon of the circle while he and Eddie brought Jake through. He says he told Susannah about Mia when they’d finally all talked the previous night, and she wasn’t happy about it but also didn’t seem surprised.
Callahan tells Roland that however things stand in his ka-tet, they must not let the people of Calla Bryn Sturgis know about it. One hint of a demon baby, and the “folken” would never join them in standing up to the Wolves.
“What do you fear most?” Callahan asks Roland, who quickly answers, “The breaking of the tet.” Roland believes the first work of the demon-child will be killing Susannah, which would break the tet.
Callahan’s quick to point out that Roland’s concern isn’t the death of his friend but the breaking-up of his group. “I wonder if your friends know what sort of man you are, Roland?” The gunslinger says, simply, “They know.”
And finally we come to the real reason for the conversation: Roland wants to know if Rosalita, with her limited “doctoring” skills, would perform an abortion and kill the demon-child. Roland’s clueless for a while until he finally notices Callahan’s expression—“horror, disgust, and mounting anger.” Rosalita would never do it, he tells Roland. She’s Catholic.
This means nothing to Roland, of course, so Callahan has to explain to him that, in the Catholic Church, abortion is a mortal sin. And furthermore, Callahan says, he’ll “raise every hand in Calla Bryn Sturgis against you.”
Roland is agog, and he wants to ask how killing a demon baby is different than all the vampires Callahan has killed, but he hears his father’s voice telling him to put a sock in it unless he wants everything to go to hell. (Okay, I’m paraphrasing.)
What if, Roland asks, Susannah decides to do it herself—she has a strong sense of self-preservation and is dedicated to their quest. In that case, Callahan says, Roland as her dinh must prevent it. “I’ve just been castled,” Roland thinks, and he hands it back to Callahan. If the priest insists on this course, he must watch her whenever possible and look for the signs that Mia is coming—if she rubs her temples, or talks faster, or moves in little jerks. Roland doesn’t want her left alone anymore when she’s Mia.
Finally, Roland tells Callahan that on the day the Wolves come, he will need six of the townspeople he can rely on, three of each gender and none of the women who will be throwing the dish. Callahan asks what he wants the six people for, but Roland won’t answer. Finally, Callahan gives him five names. For the sixth, he suggests Jake, but Roland nixes that—he needs Jake elsewhere. Then Callahan suggests Andy, who would protect the children to the death. “From the Wolves?” Roland asks skeptically, and nixes Andy too. His intuition tells him not to trust Andy.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland tells Callahan that he didn’t tell Susannah the child she’s carrying is demon-spawn but says “she knows it’s not Eddie’s.” Those aren’t exactly the same thing, but we’ll assume for now Susannah does know that if it isn’t Eddie’s it has to be the result of her adventures in invisible demon sex.
Callahan doesn’t think Mia is a new alter, that she’s not “an aspect of the woman who was born Odetta Susannah Holmes. She is she.” (And I is confused by this.)
Interesting that it’s Rosalita that Roland holds Callahan responsible for—if Mia or her “get” harms Rosalita, Roland pretty much tells Callahan he’s dead meat.
Callahan is bouncing around emotionally in this section. He’s angry about the proposed abortion, fearful that Roland might come after him, fearful that Eddie might come after him, and then, despite his anger, desperately wants Roland to respect him—a want that both amuses and disgusts him.
Had to literally LOL at this: “Your Man Jesus seems to me a bit of a son of a bitch when it comes to women,” Roland tells Callahan. “Was He ever married?”
“No,” Callahan replies, “but His girlfriend was a whore.”
“Well,” says Roland, “that’s a start.”
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Chapter 1, “Secrets,” Section 4
Callahan heads off on his rounds, and Roland continues to hang out until Eddie shows up. He shares Grand-pere’s tale with Roland, who has a strong reaction to that punchline we never were privy to (was was under the Wolf’s mask). “Roland’s glare of triumph was so brilliant it was frightening. ‘Gray horses!’ he said. ‘All those horses the exact same shade! Do you understand now, Eddie? Do you?’”
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie might understand but I don’t. I swear, I know there’s something staring me right in the face and I don’t see it. Gray horses. Gray horses. There were Grays in Lud. There were horses in Mejis. What am I missing? Grrrrr.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Chapter 1, “Secrets,” Section 5
Welcome to Section 5, in which Stephen King (aka God, aka Big Sky Daddy with a Word Processor) is floating above the universe, telling us that the Random House Unabridged Dictionary has 178 options for the meaning of the word “run,” and that in the Callas, the award for most meanings would go to the word “commala.” It can be a variety of rice, sexual intercourse, orgasm, a family feast, baldness, on and on and on. Including “schmoozing,” which is how Roland and his ka-tet spent the next five days. At night, Roland, Eddie and Susannah return to the rectory while Jake goes to the Rocking B Ranch, escorted most of the way by Andy.
Jake wonders why he’s being asked to spend so much time with the Slightmans. He still likes young Benny, but he wishes Roland would tell him if there’s something else he should be doing. “All I want is for you to keep your eyes open and tell me if you see something you don’t like or don’t understand,” Roland tells him. But Jake is still keeping his concerns about Benny the Elder and his dealings with Andy to himself.
Toward the end of this time, Susannah—who’s been practicing with the dish—invites the others to the Jaffords smallhold for a little demonstration. There’s quite a crowd gathered to watch, including Andy. The women will be throwing at wolf-shaped figures set up as targets. Susannah puts on quite a show with her two-handed drawing and throwing, with great accuracy, eight plates in fewer than three seconds. Yer-bugger!
What Constant Reader Learns: Repeat after me: Author Intrusion referring to a dictionary in our When is Annoying. Author Intrusion makes me want to hit someone…perhaps Author.
Wise young Jake is growing increasingly suspicious of Andy.
As he watches Susannah wield the plates, Roland is reminded of his hawk David, because of the sort of wild joy she seemed to take in throwing.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Chapter 1, “Secrets,” Section 6
Susannah jokes as they’re leaving that she might be tempted to give up the gun because she enjoys the plate so much, but reassures Roland that she’s just kidding since he’s one part amused and two parts aghast. She reports that of the women who’ve been practicing, Sarey Adams is not as good as the others, so Roland thinks he might find another job for her, depending on how she does in a little competition in two days’ time.
Roland wants to know if Susannah can teach the other women her cross-hand throw, but she thinks it’s best to let them throw one plate at a time as they’re accustomed to doing rather than risk spoiling their accuracy by forcing them to try something different.
As they ride along, Jake is quiet, thinking again about Andy and Benny the Elder having their palaver by the river, after which Benny had gone riding in the east toward Thunderclap. He’s particularly thinking about the eyeglasses Benny Elder wears—he’s the only one in town with such a pair. Yet still Jake doesn’t want to tell Roland, and realizes it’s partly because he doesn’t want to hurt his friend Benny, the only friend he’s ever had.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland is a bit annoyed/discouraged at the public aspect of small-town doings—everyone is expected to show up for the throwing competition. “I’ve been too long out of the world of people,” Roland muses—and then insists no one but the women and himself should be there. He doesn’t want the townsfolk to know how well the women throw.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Chapter 1, “Secrets,” Section 7
Two days later, Rosalita, Zalia, Margaret Eisenhart, Sarey Adams and Susanna gather in a field near the rectory. Vaughn Eisenhart—since the others are forbidden to watch—asks to see Roland near the house. He knows Roland will be calling a meeting of the folken soon, and wants him to know that he, Eisenhart, will stand with him. Took will not, however, nor will Overholser. Roland’s not surprised at Took’s refusal to help, but he’s disappointed in Overholser. He’d hoped the rancher would come around. Still, Roland knows he has the help he needs, and he suspects Overholser knows it as well. This way, the rancher doesn’t stand to lose anything no matter how it goes.
Eisenhart admits he’s only in it because of his wife, and she’s in it because she wants to fight—not the natural way of things, since a wife should be ruled by her husband except in the matter of babies. And if she’s hurt, he tells Roland he’ll carry the rancher’s curse with him when he leaves the Calla. If he leaves the Calla.
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, I must be wearing my sexism-detector today, because while I accepted Eisenhart’s attempt at chauvinism, I found it insultingly patronizing that, upon arrival, Roland, Eddie and Jake go off like patient, indulgent males to wait while the women “giggle” and emit “nervous, shrieky” laughter. “Best to let them get it out of their systems,” Roland thinks.
Because, you know, women couldn’t possibly approach a serious task without giggling.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Chapter 1, “Secrets,” Section 8
The women have their throwing competition, and Roland was able to gauge their accuracy at different distances from the target. As Susannah predicted, Sarey Adams is not quite up to par with the others. Roland has Susannah deliberately throw a couple of her shots high so one of the Calla women will win the second round, and it turns out to be Rosalita.
What Constant Reader Learns: Sarey realizes she’s not top dish-throwing material, and Roland is unexpectedly kind to her, and assures her there will be work for her to do.
Ugh. After Rosalita wins her round, Roland hugs her and whispers a few bawdy nothings in her ear. I’m sure she giggled appropriately.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Chapter 1, “Secrets,” Section 9
Later, when the women had gone, Jake asks if he can take the Ruger with him to the Rocking B. He promises to keep it hidden, and assures Roland that he doesn’t want it just to show it off to Benny. When Roland asks why he wants it, Jake has his answer ready: “Do you ask as my dinh?” So Roland says no, recognizing that Jake needs some independence. He tells Jake he can take the gun anywhere, at any time.
Roland says that, according to Andy, they have ten days left before the Wolves come, so he’d like to call a town meeting in six days.
They’re about to call it a night when Eddie says he has something to discuss: He wants to go to New York, and he wants to use Black Thirteen to guarantee he gets to the right When. He worries about the time of that When moving faster, and wants to see how close they’re getting to their July 15 deadline. The area of the city where the rose is located is “one big doorway,” he thinks. “We’ve been dumb about that vacant lot,” he tells the others. “I mean really dumb.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Hmmmm…what has Eddie figured out?
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Chapter 1, “Secrets,” Section 10
Eddie believes they were wrong in thinking they needed to get money from Susannah’s trust fund in her When in order to pay for the vacant lot in 1977 New York. Calvin Tower had saved Callahan, and Calvin Tower had refused to sell the vacant lot to the Sombra Corporation. He thinks Calvin wants to be rid of the lot, but not until the right person—or ka-tet—comes along. Just as Callahan wants to be rid of Black Thirteen, but he’d kept it anyway until he sensed the time was right to let it go.
Eddie says he has to go to New York alone since Susannah’s pregnant and Jake isn’t old enough to sign a legal contract. He plans to offer Tower a buck for the property if he can scrape it up—turns out Jake has a few dollars in his knapsack. Roland points out that Balazar won’t be happy, but that’s fine with Eddie: “Enrico Balazar’s the kind of guy I wouldn’t mind killing twice.”
Roland agrees, and says they’ll take Black Thirteen to the cave the next day and he can try to get Eddie to Calvin Tower’s where and when.
What Constant Reader Learns: Good thinking, Eddie. And sure makes it easier than trying to get money from Susannah’s When to 1977 When. Love Eddie’s explanation of why Roland shouldn’t go: “No offense, boss, but you’re not all that suave in our world. You…um…lose something in the translation.”
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll tackle the next chapter of Wolves of the Calla.