In his acknowledgements at the end of the novel Stephen King admits to being influeced by a number of sources, including spaghetti Westerns — those Italian-made westerns of the 70s starring the likes of Clint Eastwood — as well as other hero films like The Magnificent Seven. Or was it the Magnificent Eight? I can’t remember. In any event, King is forthright in naming those works that have molded our deifinition of the modern western, and their influence is evident in Wolves of the Calla. It’s an archetypal story: a small remote town is threatened by a powerful villain and decides to hire a few gunslingers to do their fighting for them. It is, in fact, the same premise of The Magnificent Seven and Kurasowa’s Seven Samurai.
This isn’t to say, however, that Wolves of the Calla is not a thoroughly imaginative and engrossing read. It is. Even though the basic plot may sound familiar, everything else about The Dark Tower feels new and inventive.
Book Five spends a great deal of time introducing a new member to the gunslinger’s ka-tet, one Father Callahan, a former priest and alcoholic from the New York of our world who now finds himself in the small town the gunslingers agree to protect. I liked Callahan, and I’m eager to see what happens with him next.
The coming threat are the wolves, a mysterious pack of creatures that come on horseback from Thunderclap every quarter century or so to steal the town’s children and carry them back to whatever hell they come from. The children eventually come back, but they return ruint, or vacant-eyed, mindless shells of their previous selves.
The town has put up a fight before but always with disastrous consequences and much of the book follows the believers and the doubters as they debate whther or not to allow the gunslingers to fight in their behalf. Many are content with simply giving the wolves what they come for, sacrificing their children for the good of the town.
Shadowed in the backdrop is the story Calvin Tower, the man from Jake Chamber’s New York who owns the plot of land where the rose resides; the rose that apparently is the antithesis to the Tower; the rose that drives out all frustration, evil and worry; the rose that Roland and his ka-tet are so determined to protect.
Toward the end of the novel, King introduces the story element that is the source of greatest frustration to some readers. I won’t let the cat out of the bag by revealing what that is — I’ve given away too much already. As for me, I found the idea introduced fascinating. And I can’t wait to get my hands on Book Six to see where King takes it from here.