“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 ka-tet being grilled like steaks by the fine folken of Calla Bryn Sturgis, who are still under the mistaken impression that they can ask the gunslingers to prove themselves.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter I, “The Pavilion,” Section 8
The moon rises upon quite a bit of dancing. Eddie dances with the local ladies as well as Susannah (in her wheelchair). Roland dances “with no real enjoyment or flair for it,” Eddie thinks. Jake and Benny the Younger are off being boys. Then comes some singing of ribald songs and ballads, including a set of young girls, twins, who sang so beautifully everyone stopped to listen quietly. Some cried. Eddie knows they are all thinking one of those girls will be “roont” before long.
Next, Callahan gets onstage and sings an Irish song: “Buy Me Another Round You Booger You,” which delights the crowd and cheers them up again.
Susannah sings “Maid of Constant Sorrow.” Eddie thinks she isn’t ready for a record contract, but still does quite well, and the crowd loves it.
Just as it seems no more surprises could be possible, Roland takes the stage. “Can he sing?” Jake asks Eddie, who replies: “News to me, kiddo. Let’s see.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, my experts, is “Maid of Constant Sorrow” a version of “Man of Constant Sorrow,” or is it a different song?
Let’s see, indeed!
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter I, “The Pavilion,” Section 9
Roland takes off his gun and hands it to Susannah. The crowd falls silent again, waiting. “Never had he seen a man who looked so lonely, so far from the run of human life with its fellowship and warmth,” Eddie thinks. “To see him here, in this place of fiesta…only underlined the truth of him: he was the last. There was no other. If Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy were of his line, they were only a distant shoot, far from the trunk.”
Roland crosses his arms over his chest, placing each palm on the opposite cheek—a movement that gets a big, thunderous reaction from the crowd that Eddie likens to a Rolling Stones concert when Charlie Watts tapped the cowbell to kick off “Honky Tonk Women.”
He asks the people a couple of innocuous questions that Eddie realizes, with a chill, are the first of the three questions the people must answer to seek the gunslingers’ help: “Will you open to us if we open to you?” And then, “Do you see us for what we are, and accept what we do?”
Some of the naysayers in the crowd are uncomfortable but the great unwashed masses answer, “Gunslingers!”
Eddie waits for Roland to ask the final question: Do you seek aid and succor? But he doesn’t. Instead, he says he’ll give them one final song and “a little step-toe.” At first it’s a slow and simple dance, his boots making that fist-on-coffin sound. Then he picks up speed.
What Constant Reader Learns: I can’t help pondering Oy as a descendant of Arthur Eld…Oh, why not.
Eddie and Jake both realize Roland’s great history before he starts his “step-toe.” “Oh my God,” Jake says. “He knows so much…” He seems, in the presence of these people, to take on a largeness, or a broader cultural significance, that it’s easy to forget when he’s alone with the ka-tet.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter I, “The Pavilion,” Section 10
“Faster moved the gunslinger’s feet in their battered and broken old boots. Then faster still.” As Eddie and Jake and Susannah watch, Jake realizes it was the same beat he’d heard from the boombox being carried by a young black man the first time he’d gone todash to New York.
The dance mesmerizes the crowd. People begin to clap on the off-beat, with ecstatic looks on their faces, what Jake thinks of as “the ecstasy of perfect recognition.” They begin to chant “Come…Come…Come…” “It’s all the Beam,” Jake thinks. “It’s all nineteen.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, this is…odd. I hope we eventually learn the history/significance of the Roland dance. I’m imagining a gunslinger version of “River Dance.”
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter I, “The Pavilion,” Section 11
In the end, Roland is singing and dancing so fast, Eddie can’t understand the words and Ro’s feet are nothing but a blur—Eddie likens it to a “delirious street-corner hip-hop” or an auctioneer.
Suddenly, Roland and the Calla-folken stop, throw their hands in the air, and yell, “Commala,” with a nice, sexual thrust of the hips. After which Roland tumbles off the stage into the crowd, where he’s carried aloft like a beach ball at a Rolling Stones concert. Concerned at first, the ka-tet soon realizes it’s part of the show.
Eddie sums it up well: “Roland sings, Roland dances, and to top it all off Roland stage-dives like Joey Ramone.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Ha. Eddie’s practical. He’s not too mesmerized by Roland’s performance to begin worrying the gunslinger will give himself a heart attack: “It’s not like we can call 911 if you vapor-lock,” he thinks.
I’m not sure exactly what to make of the dance—clearly, it establishes Roland further as a gunslinger in the minds of the Calla folken, and is a link to a world moved on. Perhaps it’s because it’s midnight and I have to be at the Evil Day Job in seven hours but it strikes me as bizarre.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter I, “The Pavilion,” Section 12
Roland’s performance can’t possibly be topped, so the party’s over. Half an hour later, with Jake dispatched to go home with Benny the Younger, Roland, Eddie, Susannah and Callahan ride through town. The priest has wrapped Roland in the heavy blanket, saying it’s cold and Roland’s “danced a commala such as I’ve never seen in my years here.” When Roland asks how long that’s been, Callahan says he doesn’t know.
Eddie surprises himself by feeling a pang of worry as he watches Jake ride off with the Slightmans. “Will he be all right, Roland?” he asks, expecting a yes. Instead, he gets a long silence followed by “We’ll hope so.”
What Constant Reader Learns: So, Callahan came to the town in the winter of 1983, nine years after he left Jerusalem’s Lot. So HOW did he get there? And how did he get possession of Black Thirteen? Answers that will come in time, I’m sure.
A little more foreshadowing of Jake’s upcoming trauma. Poor kid.
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter I, “The Pavilion,” Section 13
They reach Callahan’s church, a log building with a cross mounted over the door. It’s called “Our Lady of Serenity.”
“Do you feel it?” Callahan asks. They all know what he means, but decide the answer is no. “It sleeps,” Callahan says, “Tell God thankya.” Yet it’s not completely undetectable. “There’s something there. It’s like a weight,” Eddie says.
Another log cabin—the rectory—lies down a dirt path, and as they head there, Roland asks Callahan for his story. But the priest refuses. “Mine is no story for starlight,” he says.
Susannah asks what they’ll do if Black Thirteen wakes in the night and sends them todash. “Then we’ll go,” Roland says. He admits he might have an idea what they’re meant to do with it, but won’t say what.
Over hot chocolate, Susannah shares with Roland some information she got from Zalia Jaffords: The oldest man in town, Tian Jaffords’ grandfather, lives with them, and claims to have killed one of the Wolves almost seventy years earlier. Susannah’s just about to say they need to go and talk to the old man when a snore sounds from Roland’s direction. He’s danced himself into a deep sleep.
What Constant Reader Learns: I like Callahan’s blend of modern and folken-speak.
We also learn that Callahan has gone todash twice. The first time was to Los Zapatos, Mexico. (Spanish for shoes. Too bad it wasn’t zapatos rojos.) The second time was to “the Castle of the King,” and he thought he was lucky to get back that time. So, is this the King of the Tower, or the King of the Stephen?
Wolves of the Calla—“Telling Tales,” Chapter I, “The Pavilion,” Section 14
Roland bunks with Callahan, giving Eddie and Susannah their first night together alone, and in a real bed. They take advantage of it, during which time Eddie is still not picking up on a potential pregnancy. Later, while Susannah sleeps, he starts ruminating on Black Thirteen. He could wake it up, he realizes, and even though he knows it would be a bad thing to do he can’t help but think of it. He thinks back over the evening, of all the surprises that have happened, and then finally drifts off to sleep.
“There were no dreams. And beneath them as the night latened and the moon set, this borderland world turned like a dying clock.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Nice ending. All in all, the Great Dancing Roland was pretty surprising, but most of these sections were strictly setup. Time for something to happen!
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll tackle the next chapter of Wolves of the Calla.