“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.
After seven hundred pages of buildup, our ka-tet and the fair folken of the Calla prepare to meet the Wolves. Let the gunfire begin.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 1
“See this now, see it very well,” intones our omniscient narrator in the distinctive New England tone of Stephen King as he sets the stage for the five minutes of gunfire. The “wagons” are rolling along the road, filled with ninety-nine children (twins plus Benny the Younger) and their “minders.” Overholser drives the lead wagon; Callahan and Rosa Munoz the last. The drivers keep an eye on the direction of Thunderclap, waiting for the telltale sign of a dust-cloud.
What Constant Reader Learns: As Callahan predicted, the “seminon” winds have died down, which makes me wonder what the point of having them was in the first place. Just so people like me would think they might be a factor, I suppose. Damn it, I want bloodshed and tornadoes, and I want them now.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 2
Roland is riding in the bucka with Ben Slightman, who asks, “What will’ee do to me, then?” When Ro turns to stare at him, he says, “Yar, I know…that you know.” He says he knew they’d discovered his betrayal because he felt something change in the way Jake acted around Benny.
Roland tells him that Jake was at the Dogan one night when Andy and Ben came to make a report. Ben admitted that he’d felt something off that night, so Roland asks the most important question: if Slightman had caught Jake, would he have killed the boy? Slightman admits that he would have.
In trying to explain to Roland about the telepaths and psychokinetics who are being held prisoner in Thunderclap, Ben says he doesn’t know what these “Breakers” are meant to break—but Roland does. “The two Beams that still hold the Tower,” he says. Roland asks who “Finli o’Tego” is, but Slightman doesn’t know, maybe a “taheen.” Neither of them knows what the word means.
Finally, Roland tells Slightman if he gets to die a hero today, “do your son a favor and take it.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, interesting. Old Ben is not as clueless as we’ve been led to believe. He expects Roland to kill him, later if not immediately, and asks that it not be done in front of his son. But Roland says, “I won’t be the one to stop your miserable breath.” I suspect only because he promised Jake.
“I’d not kill you unless I had to, Slightman, because I love my own boy. You must understand that much, don’t you? To love a boy?” But he also reminds Slightman that if the Wolves win, he will die—if the Wolves don’t kill him, his townspeople will, out of vengeance. If the Wolves lose, he might survive without anyone ever knowing.
Also interesting, although we knew Roland felt this way, that when he asks Slightman if he would’ve killed Jake that night, he says, “If you’d found my boy…” Several times in this section, he refers to Jake as his boy.
As Slightman tries to make excuses for himself, he tells us more about why the Wolves take the twins. There are prisoners called Breakers who are telepaths and psychokinetics, but they need to eat “brain food” to keep their special abilities. Brain food, as in brains. It reminds Roland of Mia’s nighttime prowls for her chow-downs.
Obviously, Roland was aware that there were only two Beams still holding the Tower. Has he shared that with us previously? I don’t think it’s ever been explained that clearly, at least.
I love this part. Slightman keeps trying to excuse himself, but Roland’s had enough, calling him a “carrion-bird…a rustie turned vulture.” He’s not buying the excuse that the man sold out to protect his son. He reaches out and jiggles Slightman’s glasses. “Won’t wash because of these,” he says. “This is how they mark you, Slightman. This is your brand. You tell yourself you did it for your boy because it gets you to sleep at night.” Roland knows this because he tells himself that he let Jake die because of the Tower, and it lets him sleep at night. “The difference between us, the only difference, is that I never took spectacles.” We knew Roland had given a lot of thought, and had been haunted, by what happened with Jake. And he’s pretty clear-eyed about it.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 3
“At first, everything went according to plan and they called it ka. When things began going wrong and the dying started, they called that ka, too.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Start the dying already!
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 4
The wagons reach the point a half mile or so from where the road splits and begins rising toward the mines. The children line up. The five women slated to throw Orizas get in position in one of the ditches, armed with two hundred plates. Roland tells Jake, Benny, and the Tavery twins to go up one of the paths and drop something every few feet—hair ribbons, combs, toys—and take them to the point the road splits. Then they’re to rush back.
Only now does he tell them all that the children are going to hide in the rice fields. They all look toward the fields and, beyond them, they see the dust cloud as the Wolves ride toward them. He tells the children to head up the road to lay a false trail, and when he whistles, to run back to him.
What Constant Reader Learns: Showtime!
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 5
Jake and his companions do as they’re told, and the children join hands and start walking up the road. Roland finally tells his fighters—Overholser and Tian and the women—that the Wolves are not men or monsters, but robots “of a kind my ka-tet has seen before.” He says that in his story, Jamie Jaffords had said Molly Doolin accidentally snapped off that twirling thing by mistake and it’s what killed the Wolf.
Roland instructs the child-minders to take them into the fields and not disturb too much vegetation. Then he whistles for the kids to come back, which they do. Slightman, who’s supposed to be a child-minder, wants to wait for Benny to come back, but Roland tells him to go.
Eddie’s getting concerned about Jake and wants to go looking for them, but Roland says no. They need all their guns in place. But he, too, fears something has gone amiss.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah the thinking cap of Shardik. *Beats head on desk*
The fighters are a tad annoyed that Roland told them all the nonsense about the gills in the chest. “Someday, I’m going to know why there had to be so much buggering bullshit,” Tian says. Roland hopes there is a someday. Well of course there will be—there are two more books, Roland.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 6
Jake and Benny and the twins reach the fork in the trail and turn to start back. Then they hear Roland’s whistle, and the twins start to run despite earlier warnings not to because of the condition of the trail. Frank Tavery almost immediately steps in a hole, his ankle breaking with a loud snap. When he falls, he cracks his head open on a rock and loses consciousness.
Benny is gaping until Jake punches him and tells him to get moving.
What Constant Reader Learns: Benny might get a chance to prove he’s made of better stuff than his father.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 7
Jake goes into gunslinger mode, seeing everything “with a gunslinger’s cold, clear vision.” The touch is also at work. He knows the Wolves are coming, and he knows Eddie is threatening to come after them. He also knows it will mess up Roland’s plans if Eddie comes to help.
Jake has never tried to send messages with the touch, but he does now, warning Eddie not to come: “Don’t you spoil things!”
Benny wants to leave the twins and keep going but Jake won’t do it. He slaps the hysterical Francine and tells her to get off her brother, then he and Benny try to pull Frank free—and fail.
What Constant Reader Learns: I’m liking Gunslinger Jake.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 8
Now the drumming of the horses’ hooves can be heard, and Eddie still wants to go after Jake. “Is that what Jake wants or what you want?” Roland asks him. Eddie is embarrassed because he’d heard Jake in his head, and figures Roland did too.
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie is surprised that Roland isn’t going after Jake, and as much as it bothers him, he does stay in place. He shouldn’t be surprised at this point, however. Roland is not big on improvisation, and he also sees Jake as more than a twelve-year-old. I’m not sure Eddie does.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 9
Jake orders Francine to pull on Frank as hard as she can when he tells her—even if her brother screams. He warns her that if they can’t get him unstuck from the hole this time, they’ll have to leave him. So when the newly revived Frank begs his sister not to hurt him, she tells him to shut up. Jake counts, and they pull.
What Constant Reader Learns: After his initial fear, Benny steps up. Since he’s being kind of heroic, that’s probably a bad sign for his longevity in this story. *has read too much Stephen King, from whom heroic acts are usually rewarded by pain and suffering*
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 10
Roland hears a scream and knows that a) something happened up the trail and 2) Jake had done something about it. But the Wolves are coming and he has to focus on them. He can see them clearly now, coming in “waves of five and six.” He estimates there are sixty of them. He also can see there will be one small period of time—a few seconds—when Jake can return without being seen.
What Constant Reader Learns: Dramatic, emphatic, cinematic: “Wolves streaming up the west bank of the river now, their horses casting off showers of droplets which glittered in the morning sun like gold. Clods of earth and sprays of sand flew. Now the hoof beats were an approaching thunder.”
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 11
Jake and Benny grab Frank and carry him down the path at “reckless speed.” They round the curve and see Roland briefly—before Ro drops out of sight. Frank tries to complain about his broken ankle, but Jake tells him to shut up. Benny laughs, their glances meet, Jake winks, and it’s as if the whole mess with Benny’s father never happened and they are friends again.
What Constant Reader Learns: Oh yeah, Benny’s not only acting heroically; he’s been redeemed. He’s doomed. I just hope Jake isn’t the one who ends up killing him.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 12
Hiding in the ditch with Eddie, Susannah gets a cramp and an “icepick of pain” in her brain. She sees an image of a banquet hall, and hears a piano with someone singing a song she’s never heard: “Someone saved…my li-iife tonight…”
She fights back, addressing Mia directly: You have to let me finish this! Afterward, if you want to have it, I’ll help you. I’ll help you have it. But if you try to force this on me now, I’ll fight you tooth and nail! And if it comes to getting myself killed, and killing your precious chap along with me, I’ll do it.
And Mia speaks to her for the first time: Fight your fight, woman. I’ll even help, if I can. And then keep your promise.
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, isn’t that a nice little setup for the next book? I say yes.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 13
Roland takes his spot in the ditch, “watching the Wolves with one eye of imagination and one of intuition.” He imagines where they are at each moment, and how close they’re growing. He knows the smart thing to do is stay down and leave Jake and the other kids to fend for themselves, but he can’t do it. He springs up from the ditch and motions them to him. Jake and Benny run, dragging Frank with them. They all fling themselves into the ditch, and Roland can only hope they got hidden before the lead Wolves came around the bend.
Roland warns the kids, except for Jake, to keep their mouths shut and stay out of the way.
What Constant Reader Learns: Yeah, that’s going to happen. Right.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 14
Roland knows they have only a few seconds left before the “red rage of battle” ends his ability to visualize what will happen. He hears the riders showing down, “the sun…gleaming on the metal of their masks. The joke of those masks, of course, was that there was more metal beneath them.”
With some robotic clicking and clacking and a “warbling whistle,” the Wolves begin to move again, following the stony path. They’ve taken the bait.
“For Gilead and the Calla!” Roland shouts. “Now, gunslingers! Now, you Sisters of Oriza! Now, now! Kill them! No quarter! Kill them all!”
What Constant Reader Learns: Convenient that Roland, who is not gifted with the touch, visualizes in such fine detail and with such accuracy. We owe it all to Cort, I suppose. SK is usually not shy about some authorial intrusion to tell us things going on outside our characters’ seeing and knowing, so this feels a bit awkward to me, Roland’s mind with its “nose” and its “eye” and its “ear.”
Love this: “Roland began counting to twenty, but when he got to nineteen decided he’d counted enough.” Well of course he had!
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 15
The gunslingers “burst up and out of the earth like dragon’s teeth.” Roland and Eddie have the big revolvers. Jake has the Ruger. The sisters and Susannah have their “Rizas.”
The Wolves are in the exact formation Roland had imagined them, so he “felt a moment of triumph before all lesser thought and emotion was swept away beneath the red curtain. As always, he was never so happy to be alive as when he was preparing to deal death. Five minutes’ worth of blood and stupidity, he’d told them, and here those five minutes were.”
Let the gunfire begin! Robotic thinking caps fly left and right as they begin shooting and throwing plates. Wolf bodies start piling up. Taken by surprise, the Wolves seem slow to respond but finally they begin throwing their “sneetches.” One flies past Jake’s head, and Susannah nails it with a plate, causing it to explode.
“Roland’s mind was gone; his eye saw everything.” Which is convenient as it allows us to see everything going on—otherwise we’d have missed Margaret Eisenhart being beheaded by a lightsaber, er, stick. Benny jumps out of the ditch and runs to her, only to be hit by a sneetch. His body explodes, one arm tearing free and landing in the road.
A Wolf’s horse knocks Roland down and the Wolf stands over him brandishing a neon sword, conveniently pausing long enough for a Detta-like “No you don’t, muhfuh” to come from Susannah’s mouth before she decimates the sword with a plate.
Screaming his friend’s name, Jake kicks some serious Wolf ass with the help of Eddie, who hands him a couple of sneetches he’s found. On the side they read: “SNEETCH: HARRY POTTER MODEL. SERIAL #465-11-AA HPJKR. CAUTION.”
Jake’s had enough of looking at repurposed cultural artifacts and starts up the path after the remaining Wolves. Eddie calls to him, but Roland stops him. “He can’t hear you,” Roland says. “Come on. We’ll stand with him.” Rosa, who’s lost her friend Margaret Eisenhart, wants a piece of Wolf for herself, too.
What Constant Reader Learns: I didn’t realize dragon’s teeth burst up and out of the earth, and can’t quite visualize it, but okay. It sounds impressive.
The image of Jake as gunslinger: “Jake was standing with his legs spread and the Ruger held out in this right hand, his left bracing his right wrist. His hair was blowing back from his brow. He was wide-eyed and handsome, smiling.” Childe Roland, in other words.
Re: Benny. Told ya.
Hahahaha. It is a Snitch! Too funny. And HPJKR is, I assume, a nod to JK Rowling. Jake assumes Harry Potter is the sneetch’s inventor. Eddie can’t know about Harry Potter, of course, but he does recognize the light-sticks as lightsabers like in the “Star Wars” movies. Okay, I didn’t like the “Wizard of Oz” stuff because I don’t like the “Wizard of Oz.” But I love me some Harry Potter and I’m at least Star Wars-neutral. So I don’t know what it has to do with the price of milk, or whatever fiction-as-reality tale we’re going to end up with here, but it made me laugh.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 16
Roland and Eddie shoot incoming sneetches out of the air and let Jake take out nine of the remaining wolves, then Rosa and Zalia Jaffords each take one. Roland and Eddie take out most of the rest. Jake leaves the last one for Susannah since she wasn’t able to follow them up the rocky, uneven path. This presence of mind tells Roland that, despite the shock of the day, Jake will be okay.
Susannah takes out the final Wolf and so, Roland thinks, “our five minutes are over.” Zalia, overtaken with the joy of battle and victory, throws herself at Roland for a lewd bit of kissing until Roland “holds her away.” Rosa wants the gunslingers to meet with the folken and be congratulated, but Roland says he needs to talk to his people an-tet, to make sure Jake is okay.
What Constant Reader Learns: Well of COURSE there were nineteen wolves in this last cluster.
Now, damn it. Why why why does SK have to ruin a perfectly good moment of victory by having one of the women—who are finally given a chance to be the heroes here—feel the need to throw herself at Roland and cheapen every good thing she’s just accomplished? Seriously? If, indeed, fiction is becoming real, the fictional character of Zalia Jaffords should march herself through the door in the cave, head to Maine, and beat the crap out of her author just for that snippet of a scene.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 17
Zalia, calmed from her survival-induced lust frenzy, joins Rosalita in thanking Susannah for her help. “The lady-sai looked up at them and smiled sweetly. For a moment Rosalita looked a little doubtful, as if maybe she saw something in that dark-brown face that she shouldn’t. Saw that Susannah Dean was no longer here, for instance.” And Mia answers her.
Mia watches Roland, Eddie and Jake approaching, and thinks maybe, since they look dazed, she can pass herself off as Susannah until she can slip away. They’ll know where you went, the chap says from inside her. Take the ball with you…Leave them no door to follow you through.
What Constant Reader Learns: Mia didn’t waste a minute, but I guess a deal is a deal. And oh boy. This definitely sets up the next book!
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 18
Jake is sitting on the wheel of an overturned wagon. From below them, in the rice field, comes the sound of both mourning and celebration. He’s staring at his dead friend.
There are two screams of grief below—one from Eisenhart and one from Slightman. “At a distance, Jake thought, you couldn’t tell the rancher from the foreman, the employer from the employee.”
The rice is swaying as the folken sing and dance. “We all danced this morning,” Jake thinks. “The dance we do. The only one we know. Benny Slightman? Died dancing. Sai Eisenhart, too.”
This time, when Roland’s rolling a smoke and Jake asks for one, Roland looks to Susannah for permission and she (really being Mia) nods. So he gives Jake a cigarette and lights it for him.
Roland looks down the hill and sees Slightman heading toward him, ahead of the others. “Good,” Roland says—he figures Slightman won’t be able to control his tongue, and if he can’t, he’ll inadvertently give himself away. If so, “his son’s death is only going to be the start of Ben Slightman’s commala.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Poor Jake. “The hand on the end of Benny’s arm lay palm-up, as if the dead boy wanted to shake hands with God. What God? According to current rumor, the top of the Dark Tower was empty.” God might not be dead, Jake. God might live in New England.
Methinks Jake won’t care much about Slightman anymore—he only wanted to ensure his survival in order to protect Benny. That dance has been done.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 19
Eisenhart’s on his way too, but Slightman reaches the battle site first. He stands for a while staring at his son’s body. Roland hadn’t touched it. “Slightman the Younger had reached the clearing at the end of his path. His father, as next of kin, had a right to see where and how it had happened.”
When the man shrieks, Eddie flinches and looks around for Susannah but doesn’t see her. He doesn’t blame her for not wanting to witness this. As expected, Slightman goes off on Roland, pulling out his bah to shoot. Eddie takes it away from him. “You killed my son to pay me back.”
Before he can keep talking, Roland, “moving with the eerie, spooky speed that Eddie could still not completely believe,” grabs Slightman around the neck and shuts him up. He doesn’t care about the father’s honor, he says, but he does care about the son’s: “If you don’t shut up this second, you worm of creation, I’ll shut you up myself.” Ben turns to Jake and asks him if his “dinh” killed Benny. Jake, despite his shock and grief, is levelheaded, pointing out that a bullet could not have done the damage to Benny that was done. He explains what happened and tries to say that if he could have saved his friend, he would have, but grief finally kicks in and he starts to sob.
“Was he brave?” Slightman asks, and Eddie answers. “Nothing but guts, your boy. Slide to side and all the way through the middle.” Slightman throws his spectacles to the ground and crushes them under his heel, saying he’s seen enough.
Eisenhart finally shows up, and is hysterical.
And then Callahan comes up holding the youngest Jaffords girl, who is asleep. He looks at the piles of dead Wolves and bodies and makes the sign of the cross. “Put one on me,” Roland says, nodding toward Vaughn Eisenhart. “That one promised I’d leave town with his curse on me if harm came to his wife.”
What Constant Reader Learns: How long is it going to take them to realize Susannah is gone? I mean GONE?
Interesting… “Although Eisenhart never kept his promise, the gunslinger was never sorry that he’d asked the Pere for that extra bit of protection.” Because there’s trouble ahead, no doubt.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 20
Now that things are calming down, Eddie tells Jake the light sticks the Wolves were wielding were from “Star Wars,” which Jake hadn’t seen. And the Wolves, he said, and Jake agreed, came from Marvel Comics’ Dr. Doom. Eddie’s relieved that Jake recognized that as well, and it wasn’t his imagination.
Eddie asks Jake if he’s ever heard of Harry Potter and when Jake says no, Eddie says it’s because it’s likely from the future—maybe some other comic book that’ll come out in 1990 or 1995 (1997, actually). But it’s all nineteen.
Eddie asks Jake where Susannah is, and Jake says she’s probably gone after her wheelchair. Then the folken show up to celebrate, and Eddie doesn’t follow up.
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, not a comic reader here, so Dr. Doom didn’t mean anything to me. But go here to see some, and it’s pretty much how a Wolf might look.
Wolves of the Calla—“The Wolves,” Part 3, Chapter 7, “The Wolves,” Section 22
Rosalita winds her way among the crowd and finds Roland being fawned over by Eben Took. Rosa wants to talk about Susannah. She’d noticed her missing and, fearing Suze was sick, had gone looking for her. And realized both Susannah and her wheelchair were gone.
Roland knows immediately what has happened, and asks where Eddie is. Roland “could feel a blackness filling his heart. His sinking heart.” He roars his favorite command (“Gunslingers! To me!”), and everyone falls silent. This time, when Eddie asks where Susannah is, Roland points toward the hills, toward the Doorway Cave. When Eddie says Suze wouldn’t go anywhere near Black Thirteen before, Roland points out that it’s Mia who’s in charge now.
“We’ll go after her,” Roland says. “And hope we’re not too late.”
What Constant Reader Learns: People are looting the bodies of the Wolves, taking their possessions. How much does a robot carry around with him that’s loot-worthy?
And of course Roland says he hopes they’re not too late, but he knows they are.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll finish the final sections of Wolves of the Calla.