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Wenkman wrote on Nov 20th 2003, 12:04:53 about

wolves

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The fifth novel about the Dark Tower and Roland the gunslinger written by Stephen King has finally been poublished.

Say thankya, big-big!

Sai hear me, I beg:

»Wolves of the Calla,« which is beautifully illustrated by Bernie Wrightson, isn't one of King's well-loved horror novels, like »The Shining.« Neither is it as nearly mainstream as »The Green Mile.« Falling somewhere between those two poles – but just as brilliant in technique and ability as the latter – »Wolves of the Calla« is the fifth installment of seven books written about a parallel world in which gunslinger Roland Deschain and a rag-tag group of warriors who come from other worlds: Eddie, a former junkie; Susannah, a paraplegic who once had two personalities; and Jake, a young boy who has twice died and been reborn.

They are on a quest to reach the Dark Tower, hoping to stop the destruction of Roland's weird and sometimes wonderful world, which could have consequences in countless parallel worlds.

»Wolves of Calla« opens on a meeting in the village of Calla Bryn Sturgis. For as long as anyone can remember, the children of the village have been born in pairs. And for more than two decades, the villagers have stood by as marauders from the hills have swooped down wearing »masks that looked like metal and rotted in the sun like skin,« stealing away one of each set of twins after they reach 3 years old.

The children are always returned, but they're in a mentally reduced state, and physically changed in ways that the villagers refer to as »roont.« Misshapen, the children are sometimes used as beasts of burden – plowing fields, etc. – and always expected to die around age 30.

With another visit from the wolves pending (a robotic creature named Andy is able to warn the villagers up to a month in advance), Roland and his band of warriors happen by and find themselves being recruited by the townspeople, who hope to end the cycle of fear in which they live. One of the organizers of the uprising, Old Fella, helps Roland and his gang devise a plan. But as they proceed, Susannah's schizophrenic tendencies seem to be resurfacing, causing problems for Roland and his band of gunslingers.

One of the more fascinating elements of King's Dark Tower series is the obsession with reality vs. fantasy, and it shows up in things like multiple personas, such as with Susannah, formerly known as Detta and Odetta, and the various sides of even healthy psyches, like those of Roland and Eddie. Or King's interest in the way various songs and stories – with slight changes – are shared between Roland's and Eddie's (our) world.

In »WolvesKing ruminates further about the fuzzy line between fantasy and reality. In fact, Old Fella, something of a newcomer to Calla Bryn Sturgis, turns out to be Father Callahan, whom longtime fans will remember as the priest who lost his faith while fighting vampires in »Salem's Lot.« And the author has some meta-fictional fun with this later in the book.

If the plot of »Wolves« seems familiar, it's because the book is homage to »The Magnificent Seven« and »The Seven Samurai« (the town of Calla Bryn Sturgis is a play on the name of one of the directors of those films).

But anyone familiar with westerns knows that Roland Deschain was modeled on the nameless hero of several Sergio Leone westerns (played by Clint Eastwood) and that King's gunslinger saga is a hodgepodge of genres and cultures. The language spoken by those in Roland's world is a reflection of this.

This mixing of genres may be why King has found such a small readership for this series. Many readers like to separate their genres, the way a child keeps food portions separate on his or her plate.

This is an attitude that may seem as odd to some readers as it does to King's mouthpiece, Roland, who, in the early part of »Wolves,« turns to New Yorker Eddie and asks, »Do people in your world always want only one story-flavor at a time? Only one taste in their mouthsWhen answered in the affirmative, Roland asks »Does no one eat stew?«

Which is as good a metaphor as any to describe King's often brilliant Dark Tower series. An honorable pastiche of literary works that came before it, such as »Lord of the Rings« or L. Frank Baum's »Oz« books, the series is a wild mix of genres (high fantasy, western, horror and science fiction), a melting-pot of cultures past and present (medieval and hip-hop, Irish, Japanese, Brooklynese and dozens of others), a surprising and hearty fictional smorgasbord.

The timid souls who are too nervous to sink their teeth into something new will never know the feast they're missing. As for the rest of us? Well, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll by way of Jefferson Airplane: Feed your head! Now dig in, 'cause King's latest in this seven-course banquet – the last two are finished and due out next year – is a lip-smacking, brain-filling repast.

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