This post will probably be very short.
In addition to underestimating his readers and assuming they won’t be able to “keep up” with a really good story about time travel and parallel worlds, King has made the risky and ill-advised decision to try to combine a novel that’s mediocre at best with his heretofore original and engaging epic fantasy. At the end of Wizard and Glass, King talks about how he realised in writing that book that Midworld and the land of Roland Deshain’s Dark Tower is really a convergence of all worlds; it is a place where there are multiple doors to multiple wheres and multiple whens. This meant, of course, that King could bring in any number of storylines and plot elements from any number of his other books.
“Boo,” I said when I heard that. In fact, I was in the citrus fruit section of the grocery store when I heard that, and I suspect that some shoppers thought I was particularly displeased with some of the produce. But ‘boo’, indeed.
Part of my disgust at a large chunk of Wolves of the Calla is that it presents a continuation of one of Kings weakest novels (that being ‘Salem’s Lot). That book in and of itself came between Carrie, a stark and disturbing first novel, and The Shining, which is, arguably, one of the better examples of 20th century American literature. ‘Salem’s Lot is like the disappointing avocado which has gone decidedly off in an otherwise delicious deli sandwich. It’s a plodding tale about a small town beset by vampires. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
There are moments in the fifth book of the Dark Tower series that are part of the wild west high-ish fantasy that are still brilliant and wonderful. There are sections of Wolves of the Calla where the pacing is perfect and the scenery is so real you can smell the heat of late summer; there are portions of this book where you can hear the whisper of the wind as it tousles the dry stalks of corn in the fields. And then King goes and buggers everything up by tossing a character from a mediocre-at-best book into the mix and hijacks his own gorram story to write a second book in the ‘Salem’s Lot “series”.
I read an interview with the author where he talked about how ‘Salem’s Lot is his own personal favourite, and how he always wanted to write a sequel but then realised he didn’t have to because he could just incorporate that book into his Dark Tower series. And I said, “you twat”. I said it very derisively, too. If I wanted to read another book in that series, **I wouldn’t be reading the Dark Tower series**. So again, we’ve arrived at a point where Stephen King says, “screw you, reader. You’re not sophisticated enough/you’re too sophisticated for this whole story, and it’s not really the story I want to tell anymore, but since you seem to like this Dark Tower dreck, I’ll give it to you, but I’m going to tell this other story, and you can love THAT instead.”
To be completely fair, the story of the priest could have been a very interesting one. On its own. But because it’s an anecdotal recollection tossed into the middle of a book about something ENTIRELY DIFFERENT, King does *it* a grand injustice as well as the Dark Tower story he’s trying to tell. It seems to me that a good editor would have mentioned this to him, because it becomes readily apparent…very readily apparent…that King spreads himself too thin and tries to accomplish too much in this novel.
The story of the Calla itself; its history, its people…that story was thrown away, when it could have been almost as rich as the story of Mejis in Wizard and Glass (arguably the best book in the series). If King didn’t want to do another Mejis story, he could have told the story of the Manni people, but he doesn’t seem too interested in them (although they provide one of the most massive plot revelations in the entire series). He could have, for all that’s holy, chosen to tell the story of the fricking Dogan* (and I’m not sure if Stephen King even knows why using that word is funny). By focussing so much of this tale on a character from another novel, King has really diminished the Dark Tower tale.
I guess this post wasn’t as short as I thought it would be. It got a bit ranty. But if the point…or if part of the point…of literature is to tell a story, then Stephen King, in this book, has really effed up. It almost makes me not want to finish the Song of Susannah. You already know how I feel about that character (Susannah), and now I have another toss-away character in the mix to be poopy about.
Incidentally, on the heels of reiterating how much I dislike the character of Susannah Dean and think she is a flat and boring two-dimensional character, let me just say that the character of Rosalita in Wolves of the Calla is, in the limited time we know her in this book, FAR more developed than Susannah.
I also have to say that characters recurring in books isn’t in itself a Bad Thing. One of my very favourite Stephen King books is The Eyes of the Dragon, which features Flagg (who also appears in The Stand and in the Dark Tower series). I like that there are hints in many of King’s books that there might be something grander going on among all of them; that they could all be inter-related. That’s *REALLY COOL*. Partly because it’s subtle. It’s the sort of subtlety you pick up on when you read the books. What’s picking my arse about what King’s done in some of the Dark Tower books is that he’s tossed the subtlety to the hogs and is hoping that if he POINTS OUT ENOUGH TIMES that THESE THINGS! THESE THINGS HERE! also appear in other works of his, you will “get it”.
I think you’d have got it if you hadn’t been tugged along by the nose hairs, but maybe I’m expecting too much.
*In Canada (and I don’t know where else “they” use this expression), a “Dogan” is a Roman Catholic. The etymology of the derogatory term is unclear, although I suspect it has something to do with it sounding vaguely Irish, and with a large portion of poor, dirty, drunk Irish immigrants being Roman Catholic. Poor and dirty and drunk because they have altogether Too Many Children. Because they’re Roman Catholic. Anyway, in Wolves of the Calla, the character I’m peevish about is an Irish priest who drinks too much, loses his faith, becomes a ghoul, etc., etc., etc. and finds himself in another world eventually. During the course of the story (the main story, not the crappy Priest’s Tale), a book surfaces called “The Dogan”, and it’s a rare book because the title is misprinted (it’s supposed to be called “The Hogan”), the author is miscredited, and the author died before his Western series is completed. That book has a connexion with the Calla (“town”) in which the Gunslingers find themselves. Anyway. The Irish priest, the Dogan…it made *me* giggle something awful.