“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, our ka-tet appeared to have split up as Eddie, Jake and Oy went on a muffinball-induced out-of-body trip to New York City.
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 3, “Mia,” Section 1
We’re reminded that back in the 1960s (“before the world moved on”), there was a lovely young woman named Odetta Holmes who shared her body with “a far less pleasant creature” named Detta Walker. On the “other side of Mid-World” Roland of Gilead had created a third, better, woman named Susannah.
Now, there is a fourth woman who doesn’t care about Odetta, Detta, or Susannah—she only cares about the “new chap who was on his way.” Her name is Mia, which in the High Speech means “mother.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Oh no no no no. Another altar. I’d honestly never anticipated another altar, but it makes total sense that a new altar would come out with a pregnancy…especially if it’s a pregnancy resulting from invisible demon sex. Okay. Shall soldier on.
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 3, “Mia,” Section 2
Detta-Odetta-Susannah-Mia walks down long stone corridors toward the “place of feasting.” She walks past “the rooms of ruin” and “forgotten galleries where the apartments were hollow.” She is in a castle with “an old throne drenched in ancient blood.” And she knows there is rich life under her feet, in the crypts.
She comes to a staircase and from below she hears the sounds of slotrans engines. She “cared nothing for them, nor for North Central Positronics Ltd., which had built them and set them in motion tens of thousands of years before. She cared nothing for the dipolar computers, or the doors, or the Beams, or the Dark Tower which stood at the center of everything.”
She’s focused on the smells of food drifting her way—all kinds of food, but heavy on the proteins—and hurries down the stairs on “small slippered feet.” She had a dream once that she’d been pushed in front of an underground train and had her legs cut off—but “dreams were foolish.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Clearly, since Mia is walking, she has lower legs and feet, and clearly, since there are no stone steps or banquet halls in the woods, this is another mental-yet-not-quite-only-mental journey. Question is, what’s her physical body doing? Interesting that Mia is at least vaguely aware of Odetta. If past experiences prove true, Odetta would not be aware of Mia. But will the formerly-integrated Susannah?
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 3, “Mia,” Section 3
Mia hurries into the bowels of her castle, unaware of the man with “cold and blue and steady” eyes who’s following her. She walks into a banquet hall about three-quarters the size of a football field, lit by electric torches and with a large table laden with food and a “forspecial” plate in front of each chair. The chairs and plates are empty.
Mia’s visited this place before—it’s “always within reach,” with its smell of dampness and ancient mud. This altar seems to take an etiquette lesson from Detta Walker as she cruises around the buffet table, stuffing down juicy meats and breaking dishes and getting all sexy with her greasy hands.
As she eats, she talks to herself in “a kind of lunatic chitchat”:
How they hangin, honey? Oh they hanging just fine, thank you so much for asking Mia. Do you really believe that Oswald was working alone when he shot Kennedy? Never in a million years, darling—that was a CIA job the whole way. Them, or those honky millionaires from the Alabama steel crescent. Bombingham, Alabama, honey, ain’t it the truth? Have you heard the new Joan Baez record? My God, yes, doesn’t she sing like an angel? I hear she and Bob Dylan are going to get themselves married….
Roland recognizes the voices of Odetta, Detta, Susannah, “and many others as well.” It’s clear that Roland isn’t seeing what Mia sees.
What Constant Reader Learns: Gulp. Many others? How many others?
Wonder if this is a castle conjured by DOSM’s imagination or if it’s some bizarre ka-induced vision from Gilead? There’s a steel statue of a knight errant with a short sword or a sixgun raised above his head. “I salute thee, Arthur Eld,” she says as she passes, without a shred of sincerity.
Our first physical description of Roland in a while: “He wore faded jeans and a shirt of blue chambray…One gun, a pistol with a worn sandalwood grip, hung at his left side, the holster tied down with rawhide. His face was tanned and lined and weathered. His hair was black, although now seeded with growing streaks of white. His eyes were his his most striking feature. They were blue and cold and steady. Detta Walker had feared no man…but she had feared those shooter’s eyes.”
Doesn’t Susannah keep the other pistol? Does that mean Mia has it? That can’t be good news.
This was just a seriously creepy, disturbing scene as DOSM’s different personalities talk trash and she bathes in pretend-grease and…ick.
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 3, “Mia,” Section 4
Roland has been aware of Susannah’s nighttime “wandering” for a while, and has been following her in order to protect her. He’s gotten where he can tell when she’s about to go. Her movements grow jerky, her speech clipped.
Roland lies quietly, waiting for Susannah to rise and go wandering. But before that happens, Jake, Eddie, and Oy “went todash.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland wonders why Eddie doesn’t see the signs that something’s wrong with Susannah. He figures it’s because Eddie doesn’t want to see it. But Roland realizes that this new incarnation isn’t about Susannah, but about a baby.
“Todash.” So that’s the name for their out-of-body travels.
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 3, “Mia,” Section 5
Roland, we’re told, learned about todash from his childhood tutor, Vannay. While Cort taught them to be gunslingers in the physical sense, Vannay provided their more formal education. Roland hated exercises in logic, but Vannay pushed him. “Your imagination is a poor thing, Roland,” Vannay told him when he was about eleven. “I will not let you feed it short rations and make it poorer still.”
Roland has a rare moment of self-doubt when he realizes that maybe he’d gone todash himself and not realized it…and that he assumes there’s no Wizard’s Glass involved in Eddie and Jake’s current todash. Or is there?
What Constant Reader Learns: Among the things Roland was taught were the universal truths (violence often makes things worse), chemistry (such as there was), physics (ditto), and the “Seven Dials of Magic”—during which lesson todash was mentioned, maybe along with the Manni, people who were far travelers, and the Wizard’s Rainbow.
Roland thinks that, even though he’d been inside the pink Wizard’s Glass twice, he’d never gone todash…but then he wonders. Would Cuthbert and Alain have told him?
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 3, “Mia,” Section 6
Roland hears a low crackling sound, which grows into an electric buzzing. He sits up and looks across the dying campfire as Jake and Eddie reach out and touch their hands together…then begin fading in and out of existence along with Oy. When they are gone, their ghosted images replace their bodies “as if something was holding their places in reality.”
This is not mere dreaming, Roland thinks, but todash, the passing between two worlds. “They could get caught and fall,” he thinks. “Vannay…said going todash was full of peril.”
But he can’t think on it longer because Susannah has gotten up, made her way to her wheelchair, and gone rolling off toward the woods. He hates to leave Jake and Eddie while they’re todashing, but he has to keep Susannah safe.
What Constant Reader Learns:Roland’s got quite a quandary here. He can’t keep an eye on the todash trio and follow Susannah at the same time. He can’t wake Eddie and Jake up while they’ve gone todash or they might not be able to get back into their bodies. So he decides to follow Susannah.
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 3, “Mia,” Section 7
Roland follows Susannah through the woods. He somehow knows she calls herself Mia. He’s lagging a bit behind, and just after entering a swampy area, he finds the wheelchair abandoned, with her clothes on the seat.
Roland sees a human skeleton with a smashed-in skull along the way, and has trouble keeping up with Mia, “partly because she hadn’t Roland’s interest in staying as dry as possible.”
They finally come to the edge of a pond, which seems to have some radiance emanating from underwater (submerged logs emitting gas, or electric wall sconces?). Roland watches as Mia surveys what he’s decided is in her mind a banquet hall—“her mind’s ingenious way of keeping Susannah apart from Mia as it had kept Odetta apart from Detta all those years.”
In the swamp, she chows down on some leeches. She squeezes some frogs till their guts spill out and eats them “while its greenish-white rear legs still twitched.” Gobbles down a fish. Then crushes a big water rat and stuffs it into her mouth, “paws and all.” Then she throws up the fur and bones.
Meanwhile, Roland is having an internal conversation about what to tell Eddie. Eddie will think it might be his baby, that that Susannah’s just trying to nourish his child. He thinks maybe he’ll let Eddie follow along with him one night so he can see her “questing through the reeds and ooze like some sort of human alligator.”
And Roland wonders what Susannah will do when Ro tells her she’s “growing something that craves raw meat in the middle of the night.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Love this: “Roland didn’t care if she called herself Queen o’ Green Days, as long as she came back safe, and the other two were still there when she did.”
Trying desperately not to visualize a naked, legless woman stumping her way into a swamp, but am having trouble getting it out of my head. Nightmares might be forthcoming.
“Roland watched her with an expression that contained both horror and lust” as she starts picking off leeches and eating them. Yeah, sure incites lust in me. I do love it that Stephen King is often just a sick freak. I mean that in the nicest way.
Ro does spare a few thoughts for the people who are following them, although he knows they want his help and are the least of his worries.
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 3, “Mia,” Section 8
Roland listens to the babbling part of Susannah-Mia’s nightly adventure and finds it chilling as she talks in all these different voices. On her way out of the swamp, she catches a small animal and “plunged her face into its writhing belly. There was a wet crunching noise, followed by several smacking bites.” Then she belches, washes herself off, and Roland heads back to camp so he can be in place when she arrives.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland’s having problems with his hip, which seems to be getting worse.
We learn that Roland only happened to wake up one night needing to “make water” when Susannah was on her way out—otherwise, he wouldn’t have known what she was doing. And he hears Cort’s voice this time, telling him he’s not as clever as she is.
Wolves of the Calla, Part I, Todash; Chapter 3, “Mia,” Section 9
Roland holds his breath as he approaches camp, and is relieved to see Eddie, Jake and Oy lying beside the fire, back in place and sleeping normally. Ro lies down quickly and pretends to sleep as Susannah rolls back to the camp in her now-clean wheelchair, slips out of it and stretches out next to Eddie. Roland stays awake until he’s sure it’s Susannah, and not Mia, lying across the campfire. Then he sleeps.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland’s having problems with his hip, which seems to be getting worse.
Well, well. This is getting interesting….
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with the next chapter of Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla.