Wolves of the Calla

December 4, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

callaWolves of the Calla by Stephen King

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It’s tough writing a review of this book. I’m such a King fanboy it’s hard to be objective, but this was also the point where the whole Dark Tower-ness of King’s works had begun to annoy me. Black House preceded Wolves of the Calla by a year, and introduced us to the concept of the Breakers; Hearts in Atlantis also preceded the book by a year, and introduced us to the concept of the Low Men; and since five years had passed between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla, that was about all I could get regarding the Dark Tower. Both concepts are used in Wolves of the Calla, and I can’t help but wonder if they would make sense at all without me already knowing those two stories.

The Dark Tower is like the Star Wars movies, and the rest of King’s fiction is the Expanded Universe. Unfortunately, in King’s series, the EU is much more important to understanding what happens in the main series. To extend that analogy, King went back and revised The Gunslinger, even going so far as to change a key part of Roland’s character in his own “Han shot first” moment, and he chalks up the ridiculous amount of coincidence in the stories to ka, which may as well be the force.

King also peppers the story with more references to “nineteen”, possibly the most annoying thing about this cycle. Why this suddenly became important is beyond me, but admittedly, I haven’t made my way to the end of this series to see if its relevance becomes clear. My guess is that its relevance is hidden in the revised edition of The Gunslinger, which I have no interest in reading. Even more annoying are the fan sites about the number, because they use any format possible to find as many references as possible to nineteen in any of his works, including ones that preceded Wolves of the Calla. Some are straightforward (adding up a string of numbers), but others are ridiculously convoluted. Case in point: In The Dead Zone, “Herb turned fifty-two, Vera fifty-one, and Sarah Hazlett twenty-seven. Johnny had been in his coma for four years.” ((52 + 51 – 27) / 4 = 19). The last time I encountered mental gymnastics that complicated to prove a point, I was reading The Bible Code.

Wolves of the Calla also introduces Father Callahan from ‘Salem’s Lot because … well, to be honest, I’m not sure. My best guess is King wanted to hang yet another novel on the Dark Tower line, but at least a third of this book is telling Callahan’s story after the events of ‘Salem’s Lot. I’m thinking King will introduce vampires as an important part of this saga (I can’t remember many of the details from the last two books), but it’s annoying that he’s waiting until the last half of the series to introduce something that will be important to the journey. He wrote the last three novels in a rush, making them more one story broken across multiple volumes, which is fine, but the first four books don’t feel like that, and I feel like they’re better books because of it.

The writing in this book is different from that in the other four books, which surprises me. There are still all the King characteristics in the book, but the pacing and the style feel like a different writer. This isn’t limited to The Dark Tower, either; I think I started noticing this change with Bag of Bones, which followed a lot of change in King’s life. There was the accident, of course, but he also changed publishers, and (I assume) editors, which could account for the changes. That line started to blur after The Tommyknockers, but settled in with Bag of Bones (at least, that’s how I recall it happening).

Wolves of the Calla‘s main story is that of the Calla, and the obligation the gunslingers have to help them keep their children from being kidnapped and “roont” (which brings me to another frustration: Why does King have to invent a new dialect for every book in this series?). I’ll admit it’s an interesting story, and even admit that it adds to the mythology of the tower, but it’s still an aside (with Father Callahan being an additional aside), when by now people are probably ready to see the ka-tet finish their journey to the tower. At least when this book was published, readers knew that the last two books weren’t that far off.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my re-read of this series, it’s that the story is all about context, and if you’ve not read all of King’s works, then you’re missing a lot of it. I can’t imagine what people think reading Wizard and Glass if they haven’t read The Stand, and neither can I imagine what it’s like to read Wolves of the Calla without having read ‘Salem’s Lot. The real, honest, complete way to read this series is to find a chronological list of King’s works, and start from the beginning. I suppose that’s a brilliant marketing ploy by King, but it has to be frustrating to be a reader who’s only interested in The Dark Tower.

 

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