“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 as Callahan continued (and continued) his story, telling about moving todash and back for years as he traveled on the road and, occasionally being pursued (along with others) by the low men.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale Continued (Highways in Hiding),” Section 5
Callahan continues to move around the country, jumping from when to when, with presidents that include Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Gerald Ford and Ernest “Fritz” Hollings. Sometimes he’s sober. Sometimes, not so much. He kills an occasional vampire but usually doesn’t so as not to draw attention to himself. “He’s in hobo heaven, lost in the split personalities of America.”
In the spring of 1981, he’s in Sacramento doing day work with a few dozen illegal workers from Mexico, unloading trucks at a mattress store. At lunch, a girl from the mattress store hands him a newspaper. While everyone’s sitting around having lunch, he reads the paper and comes across a story: “Award-Winning ‘Street Angel’ Critical.” Seems that Rowan Magruder, Lupe’s friend who went on from the Home to become a bit of a celebrity when Mother Teresa visited the shelter, had been attacked by the “Hitler Brothers,” a swastika cut into his forehead and multiple stab wounds leaving him in critical condition. He wasn’t expected to survive.
Callahan feels he was meant to see this item, although “ka” isn’t a term he yet knows, and that he’s in the “real world” currently. He realizes he’s crying, and that he has to go back. He’s been hiding and running long enough.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ernest “Fritz” Hollings was governor of South Carolina in the early 1960s and later served in the Senate. He’s still living, and is 91 years old. No word on whether he was ever made aware of being elected president in another when. He sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1984, but wasn’t a serious contender. Whether it was because he called Walter Mondale a “lap dog,” John Glenn “Sky King,” and Republican opponent Bob Inglis a “goddamn skunk” or not isn’t clear, or whether it was because he referred to “Beavis and Butt-head” as “Buffcoat and Beaver.”
And that’s what I like about the South.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale Continued (Highways in Hiding),” Section 6
Callahan tells the ka-tet that he had a couple of hundred dollars stashed away and used it to buy a plane ticket back to New York—the better to get him off the “highways in hiding” or “todash turnpikes.” He says they’re as addictive as alcohol.
No, more addictive, Roland says: “Wandering’s the most addictive drug there is, I think, and every hidden road leads on to a dozen more.”
They notice Rosalita heading for them with the Tavery twins in tow. The girl is holding a sheet of paper in front of her, and Roland notes that the young girl has a bit of a crush on Eddie. Roland tells Callahan they’ll have to hear the rest of his story later, and is relieved when Susannah says she’ll just stay behind and rest on the church steps.
While walking to meet the kids, Roland says he wants to go into the church with Callahan alone to see Black Thirteen—he doesn’t want Susannah near it. Not, as Eddie initially thinks, because she might have a miscarriage, but because he worries Black Thirteen will make whatever’s gestating inside her stronger (and perhaps Mia as well).
The map is brilliantly done, of course, and Roland apologizes as he actually folds it so it will go in his man-purse. “It’s not blasphemy to treat it so because it’s no longer just paper,” Roland tells them. “It has become a tool, and tools must be protected.” Then he thanks them and says, “You may have saved lives with your hands and eyes.” Both twins cry.
What Constant Reader Learns: How much of Roland’s long journey to the Tower has been taken up by his giving in to the addiction of “wandering”?
Hm...it will be very interesting to see what kind of impact Black Thirteen has on Susannah and the demon-baby and the frog-chomping Mia.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale Continued (Highways in Hiding),” Section 7
As they walk back to the church steps where Susannah and Callahan wait, Eddie asks, “Can you see one of them (the twins) coming back from Thunderclap a drooling idiot?”
What Constant Reader Learns: Just in case we forgot what is at stake.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale Continued (Highways in Hiding),” Section 8
Susannah doesn’t put up any argument when Roland suggests she and Eddie wait outside while he goes in the church with Callahan. When Eddie asks how long he should wait before coming to drag Roland out, Roland doesn’t think it’s a flippant question. Callahan suggests that Roland not take his gun in, so he hands his pistol to Eddie and his man-purse to Susannah. “Five minutes,” he tells them. And if Jake shows up, he needs to be held outside.
What Constant Reader Learns: When Suze doesn’t show any interest in entering the church, Roland remembers her reluctance to enter the vacant lot where the rose was, and he wonders if, on some level, she was afraid of the same thing he was. “If that was the case,” he thinks, “her battle had already begun.”
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 3, “The Priest’s Tale Continued (Highways in Hiding),” Section 9
Roland feels an uncommon thing as he enters the church: fear—“afraid in the deeply superstitious way that goes with a believed religion.” He can feel the presence of the glass “with his bones,” in a steady, low hum with the opposite kind of power than that of the rose. “This hum spoke of colossal emptiness. A void like the one they had all sensed behind the surface reality of todash New York. A void that could become a voice.”
Callahan kneels next to the “hidey-hole” in which he’s kept the box, untouched since he put it there. Roland’s having a bit of a freakout, thinking how if Black Thirteen awakens, it could send the whole town “to the nineteen points of nowhere in the blink of an eye...He had faced both men and monsters in his time, but had never been close to anything like this. The sense of its evil was terrible, almost unmanning. The sense of its malevolent emptiness was far, far worse.”
Callahan pulls the boards over the hiding place free and they look inside. The thing inside is wrapped in white linen—an altar boy’s surplice. Roland’s already dreading transferring the thing from its linen shroud to the pink bowling bag Jake found.
Ro reaches out to touch the heavy wood box it’s in and feels “an erotic shiver shake itself deep inside him; it kissed his fear like an old lover and then was gone.” He recognizes it as “black ironwood,” which he’s heard of but never seen. Callahan says that in his Tales of Arthur book, it’s called ghostwood. Roland is tempted to touch it again, to feel its rise of power under his fingers. Three objects are carved into the top of the ox: a rose, a stone, and a door. Beneath the door was an engraving of...runes...maybe?
Roland touches the carving and the hum rises again from the box. “Un-found?...Not what he read but what his fingertips heard.” Callahan thinks so too: “A leaf, a stone, an unfound door. They’re symbols in a book from my side. Look Homeward, Angel, it’s called.”
Finally, Callahan asks the important question: “Will you take it, gunslinger?” When Roland says yes, he hears the chime of bells as if Black Thirteen were mocking him: “Beware, gunslinger! Beware, shaman! The abyss is all around you. You float or fall into it at my whim.”
When? Callahan asks, and Roland answers: Soon. Too soon.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah...Roland realizes that during his long palaver with Walter, in the place of bones, he had gone todash, and “there had been a sense of growing, of swelling, until he had been bigger than the earth, the stars, the very universe itself. That power was here, in this room, and he was afraid of it.” I’d like to think Stephen King had envisioned todash when writing The Gunslinger, but I suspect not. Neat way to tie it up, though.
Callahan crosses himself with holy water when he goes in the church, and tells Roland God has taken him back. At least on a “trial basis.”
I like the building sense of evil that’s being heaped upon Black Thirteen. I can’t help but wonder how bad it will be....
Anyone familiar enough with Look Homeward, Angel to pick up on parallels or ironies?
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll tackle the next chapter of Wolves of the Calla.