Wolves of the Calla is the fifth book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Most of the story is set in the small farming community of Calla Bryn Sturgis. The first chapter introduces Tian Jaffords, who is busy trying to plough a twenty acre field that is so impossible to work that it bears the name Son of a Bitch. It’s tough going for the farmer and the ground is so dangerous that he can’t risk using a mule to pull the plough because it would probably break a leg in one of the field’s many potholes. So instead of a Mule Tian has harnessed his twin sister, Tia, to the plough. Tia is roont and she may be daft as a brush, but she is strong.
There are a lot of twins in the Calla and half of them are roont. None of them are born that way though. Once every generation the Wolves ride down from Thunderclap Mountain. Called wolves because of the masks that they wear, they arrive on grey horses and harvest the twins. Only one is taken from each set of twins. The other is left behind. If and when the stolen children return from Thunderclap they are roont. The roont children grow freakishly big and strong, but their minds are gone.
While Tian and his sister are hard at work, Andy The Messenger Robot (many other functions) arrives. Andy spends a lot of his time walking and he wanders all over the Calla. He loves to tell horoscopes or sing a song or two and, if his programming permits, he helps the Calla folk in any way that he can. Today though, Andy has some unwelcome news: the wolves will be coming in just thirty days time.
Tian has two sets of twins and he can’t stand the thought of a roont child. He decides that enough is enough and sends out the feather to call a town meeting. He believes that this time the Calla should fight back.
Of course no one wants to have any of their children returned roont, but the Calla folk are farming folk and they have no idea how to fight the wolves, who ride into town wielding their light-sticks and throwing sneetches that lock onto their targets — advanced weapons indeed against a few farm tools and a couple of rusty, old shooting irons. Tian is scared himself and realizes the dangers, but he still wants to fight and delivers a very eloquent speech that makes some very good points.
Unfortunately, there are others in the Calla who are more eloquent and deliver better speeches. Then, just when all seems lost, the Old Fella steps up to speak. The Old Fella also believes the Calla should fight and he tells the assembly that, six days ride away, there are three gunslingers and one ‘prentice; perhaps they can be persuaded to help.
If you can’t guess who the three gunslingers and the apprentice are then you obviously have not read the previous Dark Tower books—there are four books and you need to read them first. For those who have read the other four books though, Roland and his ka-tet will need no introduction.
I bought a hardback copy of Wolves of the Calla; it is 616 pages long and has some rather nice colour pictures inside. The pictures are very good, but the artist’s impression of Roland is not the same as the one in my head and so I could have quite happily lived without them. I also wonder if the artist actually read the book, because some of the pictures of the action do not match the description of the same action in the text. I might be considered fussy, but this annoyed me. When I read, for example, that it was red-headed Molly who threw the dish at the Wolf and that she was wearing a white silk blouse that day, I don’t expect to a picture of a black-haired girl in an orange dress to illustrate the scene. This didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book; I just wish that the artist put in a little reading time.
In the previous Dark Tower Book, Wizard and Glass, the reader gets the chance to become better acquainted with Roland’s original travelling companions, Alain and Cuthbert. In Wolves of the Calla, the reader discovers what eventually happened to Alain and Bert. The main story concerns the wolves though and, although the ka-tet does not really get any closer to the Tower, they are kept pretty busy and there are plenty of interesting sub-plots. Susanna, for instance, is pregnant and the child she is carrying inside her is not Eddie’s. It is probably not even a child at all because it was fathered by a demon. Fans of the Dark Tower will probably remember how, in The Waste Lands, Susanna had to distract the Demon gate-keeper while Roland and Eddie Pulled Jake through the door out of New York and into their world. The only way that Susanna could do this was to offer her body to the demon, and it is in this book that the true ramifications of that selfless act become apparent.
The Old Fella is an interesting character and one of my favourites in the book. Before he came to the Calla though, he was known by another name: Father Callahan. If you are a fan of Stephen King, that name might sound familiar because, before coming to the Calla, Callahan used to tend a flock in Salem’s Lot, where he had a nasty encounter with a vampire named Barlow. A lot has happened to him since then. He has had an eventful life, to say the least, and this is where you get to read about it folks.
I am a fan of the Dark Tower series and I enjoyed Wolves of the Calla every bit as much the other books. As always, there is plenty of action and, no matter how fantastic the story gets, Stephen King always manages to make the unbelievable believable.