“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.
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.