“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 finished (or at least took a break in) his story for Roland, Eddie, and Susannah, and Roland got his first look at the hiding place for Black Thirteen.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 5, “The Tale of Gray Dick,” Section 1
Roland is hanging out at the Eisenhart’s Rocking B ranch, pondering the fact that there are only twenty-three more days before the Wolves arrive. He’s also worried that Susannah, or Mia, might “give birth to her monstrosity” on the same day the Wolves get there. He’s sent Eddie and Susannah to stay with the Jaffordses. Roland and Eisenhart, we learn, have spent the day visiting area farms, where Roland asks the first two of his three questions.
Meanwhile, Jake and Benny are swinging on a rope out of the barn loft and dropping into the piles of hay, wearing matching bib overalls—a sight that makes Roland smile. Oy and Andy are watching them from the ground. Benny yells “Gilead and the Eld” as he jumps—something Jake has taught him—while Jake yells “Times Square! Empire State Building! Twin Towers! Statue of Liberty!”
Finally, Eisenhart speaks his mind. He’s concerned the Wolves will come in greater numbers and overwhelm them all. Suppose they do manage to kill this group of Wolves? What’s to prevent the Wolves from coming back in even greater numbers a week or month later, when the gunslingers have moved on?
As Roland considers his answer, Margaret Eisenhart joins them with a hand hidden beneath her apron. She urges her husband to give Roland and his friends a week to “peek about” before making him respond. She tells Roland that she and her husband had three sets of twins but they’d all grown up between Wolf visits, so they never had to go through it themselves.
Roland and Eisenhart are studying the rancher’s three guns, and Roland’s cleaning them—an activity he finds soothing. There’s a decent rifle, and two pistols. Roland thinks one of the pistols might fire but he might as well throw the other one away. Eisenhart says the men of the Calla are better with the “bah” than the bow. Roland can tell there’s a silent conversation going on between the Eisenharts, and finally he nods and asks Roland if he knows the story of Lady Oriza—the Lady of the Rice—and how she “did away with Gray Dick, who killed her father.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland wonders “how many (days) until Susannah foals.” Oh come on, Ro. She ain’t a horse. Maybe “brings forth spawn” instead.
We learn that Eisenhart had a twin sister, Verna, who was roont and died a decade earlier. It’s still painful for him to think about, and I liked this description: “[Eisenhart] smiled easily and often and did so now beneath his great graying bush of a mustache, but it was painful—the smile of a man who doesn’t want you to know he’s bleeding somewhere inside his clothes.” It has been wonderful to see Stephen King’s writing grow so beautifully as these books progress.
Jake’s yelling “Twin Towers” startled me, and it was sad. The world has, indeed, moved on.
LOL. Oy gets to eat pie with the boys.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 5, “The Tale of Gray Dick,” Section 2
In this section, we get Roland remembering the story in question. Lady Oriza, enraged over the death of her father and vowing vengeance, invites the famous outlaw prince Gray Dick to a lavish dinner party. He suspects a setup, but she insists they will allow no weapons inside the banquet hall, and they will be the only ones at the table. Nope, he says, you’ll hide a knife in your dress, to which she replies they’ll both be naked, so no weapon-hiding. Well, Gray Dick, who no doubt has lived up to his name and could certainly understand why the Lady would want to see him thus, thought this was a fine idea. He has his posse search the banquet hall, but they don’t notice the specially weighted dinner plate with the sharpened rim.
The happy couple enjoys a toast, and maybe even a dozen-course meal (this being a legend of long telling, it varies with the teller), before she raises a final toast: May your first day in hell last ten-thousand years, and may it be the shortest. Then she Frisbees the plate at him and beheads him.
What Constant Reader Learns: With a name like “The Tale of Gray Dick,” you know there had to be at least one bad joke in there, and of course there is: After the rogue’s head goes bouncing off into the foyer, “his body stood there with its penis pointing at her like an accusing finger. Then the dick shriveled and the Dick behind it crashed forward onto a huge roast of beef.” I knew Stevie wouldn’t let me down.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 5, “The Tale of Gray Dick,” Section 3
After Roland comes back to reality from his recalling of the story, Margaret Eisenhart points out that their six children might not have been subject to the Wolves, but their children would be—so their family has all moved away, looking for a place where the Wolves don’t come. So in a way, she says, the Wolves took all of their children, and their grandchildren too.
Finally, Eisenhart tells his wife to go and get her “Oriza” and show Roland what she can do. And, of course, that’s what she’s been hiding beneath her apron.
What Constant Reader Learns: There’s a nice relationship between the Eisenharts. He clearly respects his wife and her wishes, but she also respects him. Nice little vignette of unspoken emotions between them.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 5, “The Tale of Gray Dick,” Section 4
The Oriza is a “plate both Detta and Mia would have recognized, a blue plate with a delicate webbed pattern. A forspecial plate.” Roland holds his hand out to take it, and when Margaret hesitates, he hands her his pistol in exchange, butt first, so she apologizes and lets him have it—with a warning that it is very sharp.
For the first time since arriving in town, Roland feels a spark of excitement. “It had been long years since he’d seen a new weapon of worth, and never one like this.” It’s about twelve inches in diameter, made of a lightweight metal she later identifies as titanium, which comes from an old factory building in the north. The women make the plates themselves. The rice stalks around the edges cross in the “Great Letter Zn,” which means both eternity and now. At the part where the stalks cross, the rim is thicker and dull—a handle of sorts. In the middle is a metal pod that whistles as the plate flies.
Seems that Margaret belongs to a club of sorts, the Sisters of Oriza, who cook for festivals, have quilting bees, and practice throwing the Oriza. Few of them are very good, she says. “Are you good at it, sai?” Roland asks her, to which her husband replies, “Show him and be done.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, I’m seeing an army of titanium Frisbee-throwing women taking on the Wolves in my future. Sweet.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 5, “The Tale of Gray Dick,” Section 5
The Eisenharts and Roland walk to the barn, followed by Benny and Jake. Margaret wants to send the boys back in the house, but both Eisenhart and Roland agree that they need to see. Roland looks at this middle-aged woman and sees a “hunter’s heart. Not a gunslinger’s heart, but at this point he would settle for a few hunters—a few killers—male or female.”
She seems a bit nervous to have “a gunslinger from the Line of Eld” watching over her shoulder, but when Roland sets up a tiny target for her—a potato on the shoulder of a stuffy guy—she throws true. The plate flies so fast that of all those watching, only Roland can see its flight.
She has an odd reaction to her success, and the boys heed her advice to go back into the kitchen. When Roland presents the plate back to her and says, “Thy tool,” she realizes he somehow knows that she is from the Manni Clan.
“It was the rose, of course—an intuition left by the touch of the rose—and it was also the tale of her face, which was a womanly version of the old Henchick’s. But how he knew what he knew was no part of this woman’s business.” So he doesn’t tell her.
She grabs Roland and whispers to him that she saw him talking to Henchick earlier and asks if he’ll speak to him more. “Tell him Margaret of the Redpath Clan does fine with her heathen man...Tell him she regrets nothing.”
Roland agrees to tell him.
Through this whole show, some of the cowboys who work the ranch have been leaning over the fence and watching. Roland tells them if they’re tempted to tell anyone what they saw, he will kill every one of them. And they look appropriately frightened. Eisenhart wants Roland to back down and not be so harsh but Roland refuses.
Roland tells Eisenhart he wants to talk to him and Margaret alone, and out of Andy’s hearing range.
What Constant Reader Learns: So, I’m envisioning the Manni as a tribute of shamans, with sort of a native spiritualism. Is that accurate? What do we know of them?
So, as a general rule, women don’t fare well in the writing of Stephen King, although the strong female characters have tended to grow as his work has progressed. I hope Margaret doesn’t turn out to be weak, because I like this little twist.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter 5, “The Tale of Gray Dick,” Section 6
Roland, Margaret and Eisenhart go into the stockline office, where Ro shows the others the twins’ map. Margaret grasps its significance immediately, while Eisenhart doesn’t, and Roland sees why she couldn’t remain with her peaceful people. She is not peaceful at all.
Roland wants to know what others of her group can throw as well as her. Zalia Jaffords is better than her, she says, and also names Sarey Adams, wife of Diego, and Rosalita Munoz—which surprises Roland.
Ro is relieved. He’d been worried that they’d have to go todash to New York and bring back weapons and he didn’t want to mix the business of the Calla with the business of the rose.
He tells her he wants to meet with the four women at Callahan’s rectory in ten days’ time—without the husbands. Eisenhart protests but Margaret shushes him. She tells Roland she’ll meet him, but will not throw against the Wolves if her husband still says no. Roland says he understands, but “knows that she would do as he said, like it or not. When the time came they all would.”
Roland looks out the window and sees Andy walking around. He points out the problem with Andy that none of the locals seems to have thought of. They all agree that the Old People made him. But Andy knows about the Wolves—which came two thousand years after the Old People had gone. So who programmed Andy not to talk about the Wolves? And why does he tell them when the Wolves are coming but tell them nothing else?
Benny the elder comes in and says the boys are off camping in a tent. There’s been a wildcat up in the hills, but Andy will be nearby if it tries to attack them. Turns out Andy’s quite quick on his feet for a robot. Eisenhart asks Ben if he’s considered why Andy knows about the Wolves when the Old People died out; Ben says there was probably something like the Wolves in their time and Andy can’t tell the difference.
Roland takes out the map and points out an area in the hills that made up an old garnet mine. It has a shaft that goes thirty feet into a hillside and then stops. It reminds him of Eyebolt Canyon and strikes him as a perfect place to ambush the Wolves...or at least that’s what he will tell the others and assume word will get back to the Wolves.
So he suggests they hide the children in the mine and use them as bait to lure the Wolves. Of course, he has no intention of putting the children anywhere near the mine, but he lets the others think he’s just that hard.
What Constant Reader Learns: It is hard to understand why the Calla people hadn’t considered the Andy issue earlier, although I guess if one grows up accepting a certain truth, one doesn’t necessarily question it.
Roland raises an eyebrow at Ben Slightman’s explanation of the Andy conundrum, but it’s not clear if it’s because he can’t believe Ben would be that stupid, or if he thinks Ben might be duplicitous.
Roland realizes he’s going to need to entrust his plan to someone, but he doesn’t know who. Susannah’s not an option because of Mia. Eddie isn’t, because he might let something slip to Susannah. Not Jake, because he’s become friends with Benny Slightman. “[Roland] was on his own again, and this condition had never felt more lonely to him.” So I’m thinking, what about Callahan?
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll tackle the next chapter of Wolves of the Calla.