Finally through the boring fire that is book three of The Dark Tower by Stephen King we leave Wizard and Glass behind to return to the main story of the series with the Wolves of the Calla and The Song of Susannah. Though not the best in the series the Wolves of the Calla is definitely the best of the later books in the series while The Song of Susannah leaves you wondering whether it is wholly necessary or wishing there was more.
The prologue of the series is the hardest part to get through, and a clear sign it was written after Stephen King had reached writer superstardom. What it needs more than anything is an editor to tell him, can’t you get your point across with less words? It runs way too long. Condense the parts of Tian Jaffords tilling the field, finding out about the wolves, and sending the feather. You can have Andy stop Tian and Tia on their way back to the house, thus showing Tia’s deficientcy and tells us about robots such as Andy. He’ll come home, see his kids, and make a decision. You can reduce what the Sonofabitch lands are to a sentence or two to set up Tian and Eddie’s chat later in it and get straight to the town meeting.
Because, in my previous changes, Father Callahan joins Roland’s Kat-Tet much sooner you can have Henchick and the Manni tell the crowd about the Gunslingers rather than the priest. Though now that I’ve reread it I might’ve changed my mind about introducing Father Callahan earlier, as his settlement in the Calla is far more important than I originally thought. Plus, he’ll have an interaction with Roland later that makes me want him far away from the Ka-Tet.
I enjoy how the Rose connects Eddie’s, Susannah’s, Jake’s and later Callahan’s story with Roland’s world, but the real world story is dragged out for far too long. I started reading this series for Roland’s world, not ours. What makes the introduction of the three New Yorkers so great is they represent the reader in the mysterious place. To include our world so much gets kind of boring. I can say that for pretty much all of the remaining books after Wizard and Glass, but Callahan’s backstory is part of the reason this volume isn’t as good as The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, or The Wastelands. What’s the point of him being able to cross over into different Americas? Does it prove he’s experienced with crossing over to other worlds as much as the rest of the Kat-tet? Why so much exposition about the different types of vampires and the low men? Cut out some of the travelling, working, drinking, and the killing of vampires then get straight to the part where the Hitler brothers attack Rowan Magruder after running away due to Lupe’s death. Seems like it’s really more of a sequel to Salem’s Lot than belonging in The Dark Tower. Perhaps he should’ve written that and kept his backstory to a minimum. I will say this, when I realize who it was that was rescuing Callahan from the Hitler brothers, Calvin Tower and Aaron Deepneau, it blew my mind. When Callahan says though that he thinks he better speed up his tale I couldn’t agree more.
Eddie’s frustration with the Metafiction of their journey, everything going “all 19” because of how interconnected everything has become voices my own frustration with it. I like that Roland is a glutton for stories from their world, but King doesn’t need to be. Last book it was the Wizard of Oz. In this one, it’s Harry Potter, the Fantastic Four, Star Wars, the Magnificent Seven, and so on. At one point, Callahan mentions every fictional detective you can think of from popular culture. I wish King would let his own world stand on its own. Plus there is King commentary on book collecting through Eddie’s interaction with Calvin Tower that just seems unnecessary, whether he is being self-deprecating or criticizing others.
The bigger perpetrator of them all isn’t another story, but religion. This a world where the guardians of the beams exist, where the Dark Tower exists, Arthur Eld, the Crimson King, and Maerlyn. Yet Callahan has to come and build a church, trying to heal people with the power of communion, converting people and children to Catholicism in a world that does not have a history of Catholicism. Why did King have to insert a real world religion and the politics of it into this fictional one? In one interaction between Roland and Callahan King ruins Father Callahan for the rest of the novel. Susannah Dean is pregnant with a demon, and he’s talking about raising the town against Roland if he dares to give her an abortion because it is a “mortal sin” yet according to his own religion so is homosexuality, but he looks for approval from Roland and the others when he tells them he was in love with his friend Lupe Delgado, even exchanging a kiss, and thinking back on it fondly. He’s a hypocrite, which I guess makes him a well written, complex character but doesn’t make me sympathize with his story anymore. If I am supposed to see both sides of the argument by having Roland more concerned about the breaking of his Tet than the welfare of Susannah King has forgotten we’ve had four books to learn Roland has always been this way.
No, Callahan refers to Susannah as the woman, showing more concern for the sin rather than Susannah’s welfare makes him far the worst. The fact that he’s believed everything about Roland and his crew so far but suddenly he doesn’t believe Susannah’s pregnant with a demon makes him look like the biggest fool. Honestly, to me, it makes King look like a fool injecting the pro-choice/pro-life argument into this story rings hollow just as Callahan’s apology to Rolland for making his work more difficult. In this instance, everything Callahan does after is tainted. He says he won’t apologize for his belief, but it comes at a great cost. Eddie might be alive if it weren’t for his beliefs, Jake might be alive if it wasn’t for his beliefs, even Callahan himself. For that reason, I’ve changed my mind about wanting Callahan introduced earlier in the novels, though if he was that might make this even harsher, and for that reason Callahan will never be part of their Ka-Tet in my mind, no matter if Roland calls him “one of us” later or not. Eddie too is quick to let the subject drop when they discuss it later. Though he is not happy about it, he is far too forgiving considering his wife’s well-being. Roland tells him what he thinks of beliefs is nothing to him, and I couldn’t agree more. I’m just not sure who is to blame, Callahan or Stephen King’s writing. It’s hard to blame King’s writing, despite my criticism of the plot point in these past blog posts, as he is a damn fine storyteller. I know, because it takes careful consideration to criticize these novels without getting lost in them.
The best part of this one though, to go on to a positive note, are the Gunslingers as knight-errant. For the first time, at least as an adult, we get to read Roland’s displaying of diplomacy, his political savvy with people, and the traditions that come from Gilead for Gunslingers acting as emissaries to another city, town, or kingdom. Also, we get to read Roland’s strategic mind come up with a plan and a red herring to throw off any traitors in the town.
Anything that is wrong with this novel can be forgotten when the confrontation with the wolves. It is one of those moments where the tension is so high, you can’t read fast enough, and you can’t turn the page fast enough. It helps that King establishes all these red herrings of who is going to die during the coming of the Wolves. Margaret Eisenhart, Ben Slightman Sr., Wayne Overholser, Rosalita Munoz, even Susannah and Jake all have hints laid out that they may be the ones to die in the end. Besides the main cast, I was happy Zalia Jaffords lived to see what her husband and her started come to fruition.
The ending though goes a bit too long after the disappearance of Susannah. The reader doesn’t need to see how Susannah got to the Doorway Cave at the end of this book, watch Eddie’s breakdown, nor the discovery that Callahan’s life is in a book on Calvin Tower’s shelf. This could have all been saved for the beginning of The Song of Susannah, an already short edition in the series. What would have been better is if the celebration with the Calla folk had gone on longer making the Ka-Tet, and the reader too comfortable. Even Susannah should’ve stayed in control for a short while after the battle, just to make her think she might not have the baby after all. Then when we’re all celebrated out, the last scene should have been the one where Rosalita comes to Roland to tell him Susannah is gone. Roland then calls the gunslingers to him, and the final line of the book is given to Eddie when he asks “Where’s Susannah?”
Some other notes
- I can’t believe King quotes the dictionary to explain Cammala has so many different meanings in the Calla. We could’ve figured that out for ourselves, and quoting the dictionary is considered one of the hackiest things you can do in writing.
- Why did Calvin Tower’s ancestor, Steffon Torren, leave a letter with Roland’s name on it? What else written on it? How did he know Roland?
You can navigate to the other parts from here: