Hearing the Dark Tower

Dark Tower V: Wolves of the CallaThe Dark Tower V – Wolves of the Calla
Stephen King
Read by George Guidall
ISBN: 0743533526

I own multiple versions of the first four installments of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, including Books I – III in softcover, Book IV in hardcover, Books I – III on CD, and Book IV on (gasp!) cassette. I’ve been slowly acquiring this series on CD over the past year, usually finding each installment for about $20 at Half Price Books.

Frank Muller originally read Books I – IV, at least three of which have been re-released on CD read by George Guidall. Muller was apparently involved in a motorcycle accident and unable to read Wolves of the Calla (Book V), so George Guidall stepped in to replace him. I’ve listened to both Muller and Guidall versions of the first three books (Guidall reads the revised and expanded version of Book I), and I can’t really say that I prefer one over the other. Both of these guys are excellent readers and the series is probably Stephen King’s best work.

I picked found Book V, Wolves of the Calla for (yup) $20 from Half Price Books on Friday and I’ve been listening to it anytime I’m in the van, including when Laura and I were riding around Saturday evening. Laura really likes George Guidall so she’s generally happy listening to anything he reads, even if she’s not familiar with the whole story.

I’m a little nervous about finishing up the series (there are seven books in all), as I’ve heard some less-than-enthusiastic things about the outcome. Nonetheless, it was nice to slip back into Mid-World Friday afternoon. King, never one to shy away from detail, has filled his bizarre parallel Earth with life, even in its most desolate regions. Every glimpse into the past of the world that has “moved on” hints at a lush, complex history that will never be fully revealed or understood. Elements of westerns, science fiction and Arthurian legend blend in a fascinating mosaic, and out of the colorful past comes the Gunslinger, Roland of Gilead. Everywhere he goes, Roland evokes a powerful reaction, be it fear, awe, wonder or simple hatred. To some, the Gunslinger is a walking myth, to others he is a relic of an age long lost. Most importantly, he is a man on a mission, a man who cannot be turned or swayed, a man who will stop at nothing to achieve his purpose. If Roland must sacrifice the members of his ka tet — the three companions he has drawn from our world — to reach the Dark Tower, he almost certainly will.

Roland of Gilead is part Man With No Name, part Terminator and part Arthur Pendragon (or perhaps Gandalf the Gray). He resembles, in many ways, the western vigilante hero played so well by Clint Eastwood. In fact, this resemblance is obvious in the illustrations from Book I, The Gunslinger. Later images of Roland move away from the physical resemblance, but the character has the same air of mystery about him and the same hardened steel resolve that drives him ever onward, even when the quest seems hopeless. Like the Terminator, he simply cannot stop. To do so is impossible for him. In spite of this singlemindedness, Roland has the uncanny ability to inspire those with whom he travels to love him unconditionally. Though they often recognize the hopelessness of Roland’s quest and understand that he will likely sacrifice them in order to reach the Dark Tower, Roland’s companions would follow him anywhere and do anything the Gunslinger demanded of them, such is his power. It is in this way that he resembles Arthur, King of the Britons, and Gandalf the Grey, both of whom could stir the hearts of men to action, both of whom could inspire others to sacrifice themselves to serve the greater good.

Quite a powerful character, in other words. Yet Stephen King wields Roland of Gilead like a surgeon wields a scalpel. If he didn’t, Roland would quickly become tiresome and dull. King allows Roland to be powerful, yet shows that there are chinks in his armor. The Gunslinger is human, after all, and he needs to be human in order for the story to work. Without Kryptonite, after all, Superman would be the single most boring hero ever created. The outcome of Roland’s quest is not assured, nor is the fate of his companions. Though the Gunslinger will likely sacrifice them all in service of his quest, there is just enough humanity within him to make the inevitability of that sacrifice uncertain. Whether the final three volumes of the Dark Tower saga bear me out or make me eat those words will be revealed in time…

2 thoughts on “Hearing the Dark Tower”

  1. Probably the best summary of a the first half of the saga I’ve ever read. My wife read all seven books as they were released. I myself have only made it though the middle of #4. But reading that makes me want to return to the series.

    Well done.

  2. Thank you. The Dark Tower saga really is one of the best series of books I’ve ever read, and certainly the best stuff Stephen King has written (in my opinion).

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