Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER Book Profile: WOLVES OF THE CALLA

WotCcover

Swedish cover

Year Published: 2003

“Re” Word: Resistance

Dedication: “For Frank Muller, who hears the voices in my head.

As a dedication, I like this very much.  Regarding SK‘s sentiment for Muller in general, I’ll discuss that further when critiquing the afterword.

WotC6Overview: Using a similar plot structure to THE SEVEN SAMURAI/THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, Roland and our ka-tet come upon the town of Calla Bryn Sturgis, which is under attack by minions of the Crimson King known as the Wolves.  The ka-tet must help the folken protect themselves, while also dealing with a plot in New York involving the rose, Susannah’s pregnancy, Father Callahan, and Black Thirteen.

WotC1Critique: It’s become almost a cliche at this point to say the final three books were not as good as what came before them, despite the fact that there is quite a bit of good in them. In discussing this “trilogy” of sorts, I find the issue of Plot vs Story comes up a lot.  For an example of what I mean, the BACK TO THE FUTURE films prove my point.  BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II suffered from having a plot that was very heavy and convoluted, but light on emotions or characters.  In other words, there was a lot of Plot, but not Story. BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III was almost the polar opposite: charming and lighthearted, but a rehashed plot.  The first film is generally considered the best of the series as it has the most well-rounded story.  In an odd way, Plot and Story seem to often be at odds.  The DT books are very plot-heavy and with both this book and SONG OF SUSANNAH, I find myself often liking a lot of plot elements and the things that happen in the narrative, but not the way the story is put together.  DT7 is the opposite: it has a lot of problems with the plot and things I wish were different, yet the resulting book has an elegance that comes together well.

WotC5WOLVES OF THE CALLA leaves me feeling mixed.  It generally works, but the Wolves are so-so villains, and the book gets lost on a lot of filler, dedicating three whole chapters to Callahan’s life story.  And we also get material that just doesn’t really fit in the narrative at all, such as the Jericho Hill flashback.  This flashback is important for the end of the saga, and King just stuck it in the fifth book because he had to stick it somewhere.  On rereading it again recently, I was struck by how boring every single character in the Calla is, which plays a big role in why the climactic battle plays so flat.

In the end, I don’t know what to say about DT5.  It’s not a bad book; it’s just a particularly outstanding one either.

WotC4Trivia:

-Final book in the series to have a prologue, first one to have an epilogue, and therefore the only one to have both (although one could argue that the Final Shuffle section of DRAWING OF THE THREE was basically an epilogue).

-Although we technically met Mia in THE GUNSLINGER, we didn’t know it at the time.  She makes her first vocal appearance here, before being officially introduced in the following book.

-Final appearances and mention of Cuthbert, Alain, John Farson, Gilead, Steven, etc.  The Jericho Hill flashback, as brief as it is, is our last time looking at Roland’s past, letting us know we’re now entering the final leg of the story.

-Walter’s Cameo: Walter technically appears twice in this book.  The more prominent cameo is in the Way Station during Callahan’s flashback.  However, while not directly stated in the text, he is also present at Jericho Hill.  We later learn that it was he, under the name Rudin Filaro, who killed Cuthbert.

-At the end of this book, Susannah loses the wheelchair she got in WIZARD AND GLASS.  She will not have a permanent wheelchair again in the series.

-While he doesn’t appear, the Crimson King has a more prominent influence in the series beginning with this book.  In the first four books, all the villains we encountered were either rogues (Blaine the Mono, Rhea, Gasher) or were serving a greater evil but were generally unaware of it (Sylvia Pittston, Jonas, Balazar’s boys).  Throughout the final three books, all our villains are direct agents of the Crimson King and members of his hierarchy.

-The Argument (synopsis) at the beginning of this book reveals an interesting plot point: Balazar was the driver of the car that ran over Jake in THE GUNSLINGER.  It’s a bit odd to reveal this here and have it never be mentioned once within the text of the series.  This strikes me as just an idea SK came up with that was never fully developed.

-We are told that the Wolves physically resemble the Marvel Comics character Dr. Doom.  This foreshadows THE DARK TOWER literally becoming part of Marvel in 2007.

-SK is known for being a fan of HARRY POTTER, having championed the series in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY and having made appearances with JK Rowling.  There has always been many similarities between the two series: both have seven installments, both started small but reached mainstream popularity around the release of their third and fourth entries, and both saw an unusually long gap in publication between the fourth and fifth entries.  Comparing the two, while DT is obviously the series I have a stronger connection with and am still writing about all these years later, I do think HP was executed better with more consistent quality.  2003 was a big year for both franchises as ORDER OF THE PHOENIX was the first HP book in three years and WOLVES OF THE CALLA was the first DT book in six years.  It makes sense then that SK would want to pay tribute to his colleague’s work, and so HP is directly referenced by name in this book.  Even the title page for The Doorway Cave is written in the same typeface used in the HP series.

WotC3FINAL SCORES

The Book Itself: While it shines in some moments, WOLVES OF THE CALLA just isn’t very strong.  The fact that neither the Wolves nor the Calla are very interesting, added to a large amount of padding and filler, result in a book that’s so okay, it’s average. Verdict: This is the SIXTH BEST book of the seven.

Afterword: What afterword?  All this book has is an infomercial for a charity.

I already wrote about this in fuller detail here, but the short of it is as follows: SK created a little write-up here about Frank Muller, who recorded the audiobook versions of the first four books, and who was in an unfortunate motorcycle accident.  While I think it was noble of SK to use his celebrity status to raise awareness of a charity, this belongs as an announcement on a website, not as the afterword to a book published for posterity.  What made these afterwords such a great device was when they gave insight into the writing process, and this one isn’t even about the DARK TOWER series.  Furthermore, Muller passed away in 2008, making this afterword dated today.  I encourage SK to put out a new edition of this book where he either updates this afterword or removes it altogether.  Though this does make this the black sheep (or black wolf) as the only book in the series without an afterword.  Verdict: This is the WORST afterword of the entire series because it simply isn’t an afterword.

Illustrations: This book features illustrations by Bernie Wrightson, shown throughout this article.  I find these to be very similar to THE WASTE LANDS’s illustrations, although these are a little better and less cartoon-y. Once again, if you want straightforward depictions of certain scenes, they’re adequate.  As works of art, they’re not that that great.  Verdict: This book has the FOURTH BEST illustrations of the entire series, very middle of the road.

WotC2Click here for the next book in the series, and listen to the Turtle’s song!

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One thought on “Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER Book Profile: WOLVES OF THE CALLA

  1. Pingback: Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER Book Profile: WIZARD AND GLASS | Let Us Nerd

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