Mon
Nov 12 2012 11:00am

A Read of the Dark Tower: Constant Reader Tackles Wolves of the Calla, Prologue: “Roont”

“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.

Last week, we completed our read of book four, Wizard and Glass, at the end of which our ka-tet members found themselves back in Mid-World and again following the Path of the Beam in their quest for the Dark Tower.

Wolves of the Calla, Prologue, “Roont,” Section 1

The section begins with a farmer named Tian, ruminating over his fields: River Field; Roadside Field; and Son of a Bitch, “a thankless tract which mostly grew rocks, blisters, and busted hopes.” Tian is a member of a clan, Jaffords, who’ve been farming these lands for a long time, with varying degrees of failure in Son of a Bitch—although he has hopes for growing madrigal there. He has a thousand seeds hidden under the floorboards of his bedroom.

Clan Jaffords has livestock, but it’s too hazardous to use them to pull a plow in Son of a Bitch. There are too many holes, and nests of “huge mutie wasps with stingers the size of nails.” So instead, he harnesses up his sister Tia and lets her pull the plow. Tia, it seems, has been “roont,” and the “roont ones” always grow to a huge size.

It’s hard work for both of them, but they’re interrupted by Andy (who we’d been told was immune to the mutie wasps). Andy is a seven-foot-tall robot with a “large and meaningless smile,” the last robot in this place, whose job it is to deliver the news and an occasional horoscope. And also to let the people know when the Wolves are coming from Thunderclap.

The news that the Wolves are coming in thirty days’ time frightens Tian, but Andy is of little help, spewing out horoscopes and a religious song he’d learned from the Manni. Tian loses his temper, which upsets Tia, and he’s able to comfort her even though she’s a foot taller than him. We learn they are twins.

Tian is growing more and more angry about the injustice of the Wolves, and it’s a new feeling for him.

Meanwhile, Andy goes toward town and Our Lady of Serenity, in search of someone called the Old Fella.

What Constant Reader Learns: There was a large, ominous number 19 on the page before the prologue began.

We learn the name of this place is Calla Bryn Sturgis, and that Tia had not been born “roont,” but was a pretty and smart little girl. Also, there’s an Old Fella, who had carved a “crusie-fix,” or “Jesus-Tree” for Tia to wear around her neck, and whom Andy thinks is always ready to hear a horoscope and always interested in strangers. I assume the Old Fella is a priest.

The idea of “loose ground,” pocked with holes, seems appropriately symbolic for this world, with its doors and holes into other worlds.

The description of Andy, with his stainless-steel barrel body and metallic arms and legs, makes him sound like a cross (in appearance) between C-3PO and the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz. Stamped in the middle of his “chest” are some familiar words: NORTH CENTRAL POSITRONICS LTD. IN ASSOCIATION WITH LaMERK INDUSTRIES Presents ANDY. Design: Messenger (Many Other Functions). Serial #DNF-44821-V-63.”

So Tia and Tian are twins, and she had “come back roont from the east.” And even though everyone considers Andy’s horoscopes to be nonsense, he does say Tian’s future involves “bright coins and a beautiful dark lady” as well as “strangers from Out-World.”

Hm...wonder what the Wolves are doing to “roont” people? Some kind of nefarious experiments?

 

Wolves of the Calla, Prologue, “Roont,” Section 2

Tian’s wife, Zalia, is at the clothesline when she looks up and sees her husband in the house. She goes in to see about him, leaving her twins Heddon and Hedda to watch the younger twins Lyman and Lia, age 5, and the 2-year-old baby, Aaron, a “rare singleton.”

“Tell me it isn’t the Wolves,” she says to Tian as soon as she gets in the door. She knows Heddon and Hedda will be taken, but maybe not Lyman and Lia since they’re not six—but Tian points out the Wolves have taken them as young as three.

But Tian’s still angry. “Mayhap it’s time to say no,” he says, and pulls her to the window, through which they can see Tia and Zalia’s brother, Zalman, also roont. But saying no isn’t an option to Zalia: “Would you have the Wolves burn the Calla to the ground, then? Leave us all with our throats cut and our eyes fried in our heads? For it’s happened before.”

But there’s no one else to protect them, Tian thinks. Calla Bryn Sturgis is on the borderlands, where “life had always been strange.” The Wolves had been raiding the borderland villages as long as he can remember, and had even took his grandfather’s own twin. Zalia makes Tian promise to not do anything, but he promises too quickly and she knows he’s already begun to plan something.

Tian tells her he’s going to call a Town Gathering, and maybe they’ll fight this time.

What Constant Reader Learns: Tian is smarter than your average Calla Bryn Sturgis man. He is able to write, which is very unusual. He can add numbers and has a memory to recall series of numbers.

I’m really curious about the wolves now—what they are, whether the name “wolves” is symbolic or literal.

 

Wolves of the Calla, Prologue, “Roont,” Section 3

Tian calls the town meeting at the Calla Gathering Hall. Farmers and ranchers come, some on horseback, some heavily armed. Some of the Manni-folk come in a buckboard pulled by mutie horses. Most, though, came on “donks and burros.” Without the women and the roont ones, the men number about one hundred-forty.

Tian tells them the Wolves are coming. There’s some disagreement about when the Wolves last came, but it’s in the twenty-three-year range since the Wolves took the town's children into Thunderclap and sent half of them back roont.

A man in a long black coat with a scar on his forehead slips in just as the Manni begins to speak, and no one notices him. The Manni tells the Old Testament story of the Passover, where the firstborn of every household who did not spread the blood of a sacrificial lamb above their doors would be killed by the Angel of Death. The Manni suggests they have a thirty-day festival, and then kill their own children so the best the Wolves can do is to take corpses into the east.

This doesn’t go over well, since, as a farmer points out, only one of two children are roont. But another Manni says that perhaps if the Wolves came and all the pre-pubescent children were dead they might not come back any more.

Another man asked what would happen if they took their children and went back west, to the west branch of the Big River. That is almost to Mid-World, “where, according to Andy, a great palace of green glass had lately appeared and even more lately disappeared again.” But the shopkeeper points out that if the wolves came and found the town empty, they’d burn it down. Or they might follow the townspeople.

Ultimately, the opinion not to anger the wolves appears to be prevailing, so Tian has to speak, pointing out that the ringleader of the “don’t anger the wolves” movement doesn’t have children to lose and that the Wolves haven’t always been with them—six generations at most, “when the darkness in Thunderclap hadn’t yet come.”  Tian presses his case, asking how many of the men there have twins who haven’t reached puberty, and at least twenty-two raise their hands.

Finally, the man who’d slipped in late speaks up, telling the rich rancher with no twins to shut up and let Tian finish. Tian likens the village to a tree that dies from the inside out a little at a time, every time they stand by and let their children be taken. “If we don’t stand and fight soon, we’ll be roont ourselves,” he tells them.

Another wealthy rancher asks for the feather—holding the feather gives the holder the floor. Tian hands it over, thinking maybe he and Zalia will flee with their children and see how far they can get. This farmer, George Telford, points out that they’ll all die if they try to fight. He’s getting wound up and pulling people back to his side when a voice comes from the back: “Stop that yellow talk, Telford.”

The Old Fella—the priest—finally rises from the back and comes forward. When Telford points out that he has the feather, Pere Callahan says, “to hell with your heathen feather and to hell with your cowardly counsel.”

Pere Callahan, head of the Man Jesus church, isn’t a local. He speaks in an obscure form of slang he calls “street-jive.”

What Constant Reader Learns: It’s almost time for the town’s women to begin planning for Reaping Night, although we’re told it had never been a big celebration in the Calla. “Out here they had more serious things to worry about than Reaping Day Fairs. Things like the Wolves.”

Tian is an interesting character, clearly intelligent and possessing an intuitive sense of crowd psychology.

We learn a little more about the Wolves’ weaponry—“fire-hurling weapons and guns and flying metal things that…fly through the air, seeking their targets, and when they lock on, they put forth whirling blades as sharp as razors. They can strip a man from top to toe in five seconds, leaving nothing around him but a circle of blood and hair.” The Wolves themselves look somewhat like men and yet are not men. And in Thunderclap, the Wolves serve Vampires—men with the heads of birds and animals…undead ronin. Warriors of the Scarlet Eye.”

And Pere Callahan knows all about vampires—’Salem’s Lot makes an appearance! I’m trying to remember our last look at him. He lost his faith and was drowning himself in alcohol, I’m thinking, but it has been a looooong time since I read ’Salem’s Lot.

 

Wolves of the Calla, Prologue, “Roont,” Section 4

“This is chickenshit,” Pere Callahan tells the assembly. Most people won’t meet his gaze. “The Calla is in dire danger,” he says. “Your souls are in danger.” When someone in the group begins citing a Rosary, Callahan tells him to “bag it” and “save it for Sunday.” “You must fight,” he tells them. “Act like men. Stop behaving like dogs crawling on their bellies to lick the boots of a cruel master.”

When someone asks how farmers can fight against armed killers, Callahan replies, “By hiring armed killers of our own…Not six days’ ride nor’west of us, and bound southeast along the Path of the Beam, come three gunslingers and one ‘prentice.”

The word “gunslingers” freezes everyone in place except the richest rancher, who argues that “if there ever were such men, they passed out of existence with Gilead. And Gilead has been dust in the wind for a thousand years.”

To prove him wrong, Callahan proposes a small scouting party to ride out and see for themselves. He points out that he has books—“half a dozen” of them—that say gunslingers were forbidden to take reward for their work because they were descended from Arthur Eld. Plus, Callahan thinks the gunslingers will want to fight for what’s buried beneath the floorboards of the church. “And that was good, because that thing had awakened. The Old Fella, who had once run from a town called Jerusalem’s Lot in another world, wanted to be rid of it.”

“Time to be men,” Pere Callahan tells them. “Time to stand and be true.”

What Constant Reader Learns: The scar on Callahan’s face is a cross that Zalia believes he’d carved into himself with his own thumbnail in penance.

Calla….Callahan….coincidence?

So, when Callahan mentions Arthur Eld, the Manni raise two hooked fingers, to which the priest thinks “hook ’em horns…Go Texas.” We had the Crimson Tide last week, so might as well get the Longhorns in this week. Stephen King must’ve been going through a college football phase.

Trying to remember if we'd heard before how many years had passed since the fall of Gilead. Although time is relative....


That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll put Wizard and Glass behind us and venture into the world of Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla.

31 comments
Jack Flynn
1. JackofMidworld
Look at Father Callahan channeling a little Mother Abigail!

And I don't think anybody's said how long Gilead's really been long, maybe the old folks the ka-tet passed back before they reached Lud but I don't think there was actual number.
Lsana
2. Lsana
In objective terms, we know that it took Roland 20 years to reach the Western Sea, that it was about 3 months between the drawing of Eddie and Susannah and when they found the path of the beam, and less than a year between when they drew Jake and now (if it's not obvious now why it's been less than a year, it will become so shortly). Even if we round up on pretty much everything, that still makes it less than 25 years. But of course, the world has moved on and time is soft...

Don't worry if you can't remember exactly where we last left Pere Callahan. We'll get fully caught up with him soon enough, perhaps too fully depending on your flashback tolerance.
Lsana
3. Lsana
Oops! Just realized I left something out of my count of the time: after Roland met up with the Man in Black and they had their talk, he dreamed for what seemed like a very long time. It's possible that he was in a Princess Aurora/Rip Van Winkle sleep during that time that could have lasted anywhere from a single night to 1000 years.
Suzanne Johnson
4. SuzanneJohnson
Yes, that's how I was accounting for time...the palaver with the Man in Black. I'd have to look up the exact wording, but I think there was a reference to how much Roland had aged (either from passage of time and/or stress).

RE: Father Callahan. I ended up really liking Wizard and Glass, so maybe my flashback tolerance is higher than I thought!
Risha Jorgensen
5. RishaBree
Father Callahan is a pretty controversial character in this book. I don't particularly care for him myself, and my tolerence for extended flashbacks is close to non-existent. Fortunately, the flashback comes in multiple sections, and has enough interruptions that I can plow through without wanting to gnaw my own foot off.

But I like the rest of the story and characters enough that I give the book an overall thumbs up. My liking for the people of Calla Bryn Sturgisis a big part of that.
Chris Nelly
6. Aeryl
My favorite of the DT books!! YAY!

And a big chunk of that is this town.

Welcome to the Calla!!

Also, just to clarify, the Wolves don't take all of the children and send half back roont. They take half the children and send them back roont. Tia and Zalman were taken, Tian and Zalia were left.
Lsana
7. StrongDreams
From book 5 forward, there are no more coincidences. If King wasn't quite sure where the story was going before (see the afterword to Wastelands for example) he sure knows where it is going now.

Pere's flashback, when we come to it, basically amounts to "once I met a vampire, and then some other bad stuff happened to me, then I wound up here." If you hate, you can skip 95% of it and never miss it later. (5% is important but also the most irritating part. Oh well.) However, if you see parallels between King and Jack Torrance, you might also see parallels between King and Pere Callahan, which are interesting for meta reasons even if all you really want to do is get to the big showdown at the end of the book.
Suzanne Johnson
8. SuzanneJohnson
@Aeryl--thanks for the "roont" clarification.

I'm really liking the book so far. It's been so long since I read 'Salem's Lot, I need a refresher!
Lsana
9. The Cursed Meatball
I personally did not mind the flashback sequences, as there are not very much action happening in the lands of Callas before the wolves starts making their way.

Also, it was stated that Roland had aged ten years after he woke up in Golgotha.
Lsana
10. StrongDreams
I think the old folk of River Crossing said it had been two or three hundred years since the last Gunslinger came of out Gilead, and I trust those folks. But remember that civilization had been contracting for a long time. Consider how long the reach of Gilead's tax collector was in the "Tim" story in Keyhold (told by Roland but of a time long ago) with the much more limited reach of In-World in W&G. On the other hand, we are specifically told that time is funny and that Roland has slipped. (He aged 10 years in the golgotha, who knows how much more time slipped by.)

So I'd guess it could be anywhere from 50-300 years since the fall of Gilead, and the bluster from the fellow about "thousands" of years was just that, to the average illiterate peasant, anything longer ago than his great-gran's time is unfathomable.
Lsana
11. arby64
don't forget that they have no idea how long they were listening to Roland in book 4. They could have been there forever.
Lsana
12. Lsana
After reading the comments here, does anyone else have the song "Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?" stuck in their heads? :)

@9,

He'd "aged" 10 years, but I don't think that necessarily means that it was 10 years.

@11,

Maybe it's just me, but I like to think it was a single night. A weird night, perhaps, but really just a night.

On the other hand, W&G does have another potential source of added time: the Gunslingers left Roland's world and came back to it, and there's no guarantee that the amount of time that passed for the ka-tet in Kansas was the same amount of time that passed for the people of Roland's world.
Chris Nelly
13. Aeryl
Part of what I enjoy about this book so much, is the language. King really uses the dialect to give us the broad outlines of these people, moreso than in any other book I can think of.

King's dialect has drawn criticism before, especially the offensive Mammy voice he tends to give to black women, but I think he nails it here in the Calla. The way the lingo works feels like it evolved naturally, like "Roont" and "Jesus Tree" I can't wait to get to Tian's GrandPere.

So, Suzanne, did you figure out Callahan's identity before it was revealed he was from Salem's Lot? I knew going into this one that a character from a previous King novel would be making an appearance, and I figured it wouldn't be Flagg, as he was in the last one, so I was on the lookout. But it had been so long since I'd read it, that I completely forgot about the preacher.
Suzanne Johnson
14. SuzanneJohnson
@Aeryl....I was thinking and thinking--his name was familiar but I couldn't place it. Then I had a "doh" moment when I realized who he was. I love that about these books, the bleeding between worlds.
Lsana
15. Krajaxs
I seem to remember someone explaining that time moves faster the closer you get to the Tower. that would explain why its 300 years for the folks outside Lud and 1000 years for the folks in the Calla.
Lsana
16. Kadere
As I recall the last we saw of Callahan in Salem's Lot, he was at the a rest stop on his way out of Jerusalem's Lot. He'd gone back to the church and found it locked, so he goes to the bus station and purchases a ticket, gets on the next bus out of dodge, and then we see him at a rest stop and don't see him after that. What happens next will be covered in detail here. But I don't have the book handy. My King collection is in storage at the moment.
Lsana
17. Kadere
Also, Suzanne, you always seem to read versions of these books without the beautiful illustrations. Which is kind of a blessing and a curse. Cause I find them to be a wonderful layer to these novels, and the experience of reading them, but at the same time if you had the illustartions you could see what the wolves are already, and other things just flipping through them. Makes me wonder how you're experience reading these books would change if you had them. From what I understand you're reading the ebooks.
Lsana
18. sertaki
so let's have some badass western action!

i really enjoyed what king did with callahan in these books.
Actually i met him here the first time, since i didn't read salem's lot before.
Btw, i'm doing that right now - you reading the calla put me in the mood for more callahan :D
And somehow i get the impression salem's lot will get pretty bloody very soon :O
craig thrift
19. gagecreedlives
Just a quick note on father Callahan I'm pretty sure I remember reading somewhere that he was the street priest in the Bachman novel Roadwork.

And considering people can't agree on how long ago it was since the wolves last came I would take the 1000 years assertion with a grain of salt. Or could be a Calla term for freaking long time
Sydo Zandstra
20. Fiddler
I agree with Kadere on illustrations.
The hardcover edition has some good ones. I love the one where we see Roland and the remaining Gunslingers' last stand (it's in a flashback)
Matthew Abel
21. MatthewAbel
Especially following Wizard and Glass (ugh!) this book moves pretty well. King is always too wordy for me, but this book was incredibly fun. This and the other final two are well-plotted - he wrote them all together, really.

I enjoy the looseness of the narrative from Gunslinger up to Dark Tower, though. I think it fits well with the soft time motifs throughout. Why wouldn't it start in the 80s and end twenty years later?
Lsana
22. Callahan OTheRoads
Kudos to gagecreedlives! The former priest was in Roadwork (under a different name though).
@ Kadere- The door to the church wasn't locked, though Callahan was denied entry.
Sorry to see so many people that don't like back-story so much. In a way, pretty much EVERY story is back-story.
I was glad and surprised to see my old friend- Stephen King mentions Callahan in the afterword of W&G, but it had been 6 or 7 years since I had read it.
There is a lot more action in this story, and you begin to realize the true scope of the meaning of "there are other worlds than these".
Suzanne Johnson
23. SuzanneJohnson
@17...Yes, I'm reading the ebooks. I have the paperbacks, but they're of recent vintage and have very crude illustrations IMHO. I can have the ebook open on my computer on one screen, and write my comments in a second screen, side by side. Yeah...probably TMI :-) But the ones a few of you have linked to along the way have been really great.
Emmet O'Brien
24. EmmetAOBrien
Wasn't there a "What has Gone Before" in this book ? I think that's the first place we learn the Turtle's name.
Lsana
25. Gentleman Farmer
I reached this point and decided I had to re-read Salem's Lot before going further. I enjoyed reading it again, but based on the flashbacks later on, I'm not sure there's a lot to get out of it that's necessary for the purposes of this book.
Lsana
26. Observation
Rerereading your DT reads through the Gunslinger. I like how detailed your What Constant Reader Learns segments were back then after you got dropped in the middle of Roland's empty and broken world with no information about it. :)
Lsana
27. Juanma Guerrero
"Serial #DNF-44821-V-63."...
4+4+8+2+1 = 19 ^___^
Lsana
28. Georgie
Calla is pronounced cay-ya, not like calla lily. It is supposed to be a Spanish sort of word, I think it means Street. Like Mejis, we are supposed to be sort of Mexican bordertown-y here.
Chris Nelly
29. Aeryl
I agree with you that's the proper pronunciation. But the characters have already directly linked it to Callahan's name, which I take to mean they are using a bastardized pronunciation.

Also, welcome to the read!! Do you float down here?
Lsana
30. Georgie
Thanks! It's been awhile since I read these books and I am sad now that I am caught up on the read. I think we all float.

I am also from Arizona so am more apt than others to leap to the "correct" pronunciation of calla. ;-)
adam miller
31. adamjmil
Cay-ya may be the proper pronunciation, but I recall hearing audio of King pronouncing it "cawl-a" e.g. how you'd say "phone call".

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