“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 with Roland having a dramatic reaction to the little bit he could read from a book he found in the cave while Callahan was running around New York.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 5, “The Meeting of the Folken,” Section 1
It’s town meeting day, and Tian Jaffords is nervous as he stands on the stage in the Pavilion, shaken by his fellow folken’s “taut silence.” He’s having second thoughts about having started this whole thing in motion to begin with. He has no doubts Roland will come to the stage and, this time, dance a “death dance” instead of a life dance. “Because death was what this man and his friends were about; it was their bread and wine.”
Everyone is accounted for, including Andy. At Margaret Eisenhart’s suggestion, three sets of twins bring in the feather. One set is twenty-three-year-olds, born the year of the last visit by the Wolves; then the Tavery twins, who’d drawn the maps; then the Jaffords twins Heddon and Hedda.
Finally, Roland catches Tian’s eye and nods slightly. Tian thinks Roland’s blue eyes are almost as cold as Andy’s electric ones, but he takes the feather and reminds the people why they’re there. “When the Wolves come, they don’t just take our children but our hearts and souls. Each time they steal and we stand by, they cut us a little deeper. If you cut a tree deep enough, it dies. Cut a town deep enough, that dies, too.” He gets a little encouragement from the crowd—and some opposition, first from Eben Took.
When he asks if they are ready to hear Roland Deschain, of Gilead, the people respond with a thumping of their shor’boots. Roland mounts the stage and takes the feather, and silence finally falls.
What Constant Reader Learns: Even though the sky is a “pellucid, cloudless blue,” it was too dark for the late afternoon hour. Clouds are gathering in the southwest. Lightning is flashing in Thunderclap, and the sky is “omenish.” I like the way Thunderclap, through these many hundred pages, has become this huge mythical evil THING, almost a living entity in itself. I’m anxious to learn its secrets. Considering there are, like, two chapters left in the book, surely to God something will happen soon. I mean, this is like 400 pages and three months of foreplay, right?
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 5, “The Meeting of the Folken,” Section 2
Roland stands on stage a while, looking from person to person. Finally, he smiles, which relieves the tense crowd. He begins with the same words as his first appearance before them: “We are well-met in the Calla, hear me, I beg.” He asks if they recognize who and what they are, and accept what they do, and Henchick the Manni answers: “Y’are of Eld, White come to stand against Black.”
“Calla-folken, do you seek aid and succor of us?” he asks. Eddie thinks it’s awfully risky for Roland to ask this of the crowd, but he realizes it was wasted worry—most of the folken enthusiastically respond, “Aye, say thankya!” A few, such as Overholser, keep their mouths shut.
But when Roland begins to talk in earnest, Eddie’s attention is riveted back to him and he’s impressed. “Growing up where and how he had, Eddie had heard plenty of lies…By the time Roland reached the middle of his spiel, Eddie realized he had never been in the presence of a true genius of mendacity until this early evening in Calla Bryn Sturgis.” And, he notes, the folken are believing every word.
What Constant Reader Learns: So Roland’s kind of Gandalf in a cowboy hat. Well, actually, I don’t know if he has a cowboy hat. Does he wear a hat?
Eddie’s become quite the astute observer. He realizes that in normal circumstances, Overholser’s lack of response yea or nay would be the wisest, but not now. “If the Ka-Tet of Nineteen won against the Wolves, the people of this town would remember those who said no and those who said nothing. He wondered if Wayne Dale Overholster would still be the big farmer in these parts a year from now.” Personally, I’m hoping WDO doesn’t survive the battle, but he might yet have a part to play. Ka, you know.
I think it’s a clever bit of writing for SK to let us know via Roland’s warning to his ka-tet that everything he’s going to tell the folken will be a lie. It just increases the tension. Because, you know, we’re 85 percent of the way into the book and nothing has actually happened yet with regard to the Wolves of the Calla.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 5, “The Meeting of the Folken,” Section 3
Roland gets only a half-sentence out before he’s interrupted by George Telford, who shouts that he danced the commala very well, but how does he dance the “mortata”? Roland assures him his dancing in the Calla is done, and that they need to listen to him because the Wolves will arrive in less than a week.
Here’s the plan as Roland lays it out: On the night before the Wolves are due, all of the Calla’s twins under age seventeen will gather under a large tent near the pavilion. He wants them sleeping there so they can get an early start the next morning since they don’t know what time the Wolves will arrive.
Eben Took asks how Roland doesn’t know the Wolves won’t come a day early? “They can’t,” Roland answers—based on what old Jamie Jaffords told him. “They come from afar, and not all their traveling is on horseback. Their schedule is fixed far in advance.”
On the same night, “Wolf’s Eve,” he will have a dozen wagons there to take the children out north of town, using drivers Roland will appoint, as well as several babysitters. Roland won’t tell the people where they’ll be taking the children, but the folken are pretty sure it’s the Old Gloria mine (although Ben Slightman thinks it will be farther, to the Redbird Two). The Wolves will know where the children are, Roland tells them, and when they come for them, the ka-tet will be waiting. “It won’t be the first time we’ve stood against such as they.”
Again, George Telford speaks up and begs the townspeople to change their minds. Even if it works, he says, the Wolves will just come back and burn down the town. “People, hear me,” he pleads. “All this has been tried before.” It’s Jake who responds: “It hasn’t been tried by gunslingers, sai Telford.”
Roland acknowledges “there may be some burning,” but as he points out, “A burned building can be replaced. A roont child cannot.”
Roland surprises them next, by telling them he knows what the Wolves are, thanks to Jamie Jaffords. And Eddie hopes old Grand-pere doesn’t contradict whatever yarn Roland’s about to spin.
What Constant Reader Learns: I’ve been wondering how they could be so confident of the exact day of the Wolves’ arrival, given the “moving on” of time. It’s sort of danced around here: “Time might have grown slippery, but even low folken could still hold onto five days’ worth of it.” Which is sort of an arrogant way of saying even the stupid common folk can keep track of a few days. But if the Wolves are machines or programmable robots or something, I guess the slippage of time is not as apt to impact them. Maybe. Or not.
When someone asks how Roland knows about the Wolves’ schedule, he says he better not tell. “Mayhap the Wolves have long ears.” I wonder how nauseous Ben Slightman got in the silence that followed? Surely he wonders how much Roland and his friends know, although if he’s nervous we’ve seen no signs of it.
Who have Roland and his ka-tet past and present stood against? Big Coffin Hunters. Farson’s forces. The looney tunes in Lud. Eddie’s drug buds. House monsters. Invisible, sex-crazed demons.
Heh: “In Calla Bryn Sturgis (as in most other places), men in a state of sobriety did not much like to talk about their hearts.” Funny, that.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 5, “The Meeting of the Folken,” Section 4
“There aren’t living creatures beneath the masks,” Roland tells the dumbstruck crowd. “The Wolves are the undead servants of the vampires who rule Thunderclap.” They’re actually “zombis,” he tells them, who can only be killed by a shot to the brain or the heart. But the gunslingers will not be able to hit them in the brains because of the armor they wear beneath their hoods, so they’ll go for the heart. They have a gill over their heart through which they sort of breathe and it can’t be covered by armor, so it’s their point of vulnerability.
Finally, Roland tells a story of growing up in Gilead, when a plague fell upon a valuable species of tree. The forester ordered all the trees cut down at once to save the wood while it was still worth saving—and that was the end of the trees. “Here in the Calla, the Wolves harvest babies,” he says. Babies are a constantly renewable resource—or were, until now. “If they see the baby-farming is over for them here, this last time they won’t just take twins; this time they’ll take every child they can get their hands on while the taking’s good.”
Telford tries one last time but Roland’s had it, and points out that Telford has no children who aren’t grown, so he might as well shut up. Much applause ensues.
What Constant Reader Learns: Just in case we’re starting to fall for the human servants story, SK reminds us that this is a “carefully crafted bit of claptrap.” Eddie had asked Roland if Slightman and Andy would actually believe the nonsense and report it back to “Finli o’ Tego,” and if that person—and the whatever-they-ares in Thunderclap—would buy it. “I think they’d believe anything,’ Roland responds. “At this point their really vulnerable spot is their complacence.”
Hey, if the claptrap were true, this might be the first “zombi” apocalypse. (Sorry, it’s after midnight and I’m punchy.)
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 5, “The Meeting of the Folken,” Section 5
After the meeting, Roland finds Ben Slightman, who compliments the gunslinger on his speech. “I only told the truth.” Roland says. “Calla-folken assume there are thousands of Wolves over there in Thunderclap, maybe millions…but I don’t think that’s true…because things are running down.”
Roland asks Slightman to promise something: to make sure young Ben is with the other children on Wolf’s Eve—even though he’s now a single because of his dead twin, he’ll still be considered a twin by the Wolves. “He’s very likely got what it is they come for.” Slightman promises without hesitation. Roland also asks him to help watch the children when they’re taken out of town; of course, Slightman agrees. Mayhap things will not end well for Big Ben.
What Constant Reader Learns: Since Roland’s such a font of info, Slightman figures he’ll ask a few questions—like which mine the children will be taken to. Roland says they haven’t yet decided but they’ll be hiding below where the Wolves ride in and ambush them. A nice tidbit for Slightman to report back.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 5, “The Meeting of the Folken,” Section 6
Later, the ka-tet rides back toward the rectory. Roland asks if Mia is still quiet, and Susannah says yes. She figures she’ll worry about the “chap” after the Wolf business is done, should she survive. She doesn’t want to tell them about the cramps she’s been having.
After riding in silence awhile, Roland tells Jake and Eddie he hopes they’re ready to do some digging. “Graves?” Eddie asks, sort of joking. “Graves come later,” Roland responds. “Just remember—it’s the winners who dig them.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland rolls a smoke, but everyone has a hissy-fit when Jake says he wants one, which seems sort of hypocritical since he’s being asked to fight like an adult. Jake drops it pretty quickly, though.
Uh oh. I knew that chap was going to cause trouble. Maybe Mia will develop an appetite for Wolves.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll tackle the next chapter of Wolves of the Calla.