You Can’t Pick Stephen King’s Nose

Wolves Of The Calla:
Part One, 4.viii-7.ix

There’s something my dad used to say when I was a little kid. “You can pick your friends,” he would tell me, “you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.” It always made me giggle, but I don’t think I ever really understood what that actually meant until this week’s reading. It’s not just a silly saying to entertain a child, it’s also a fairly wise reminder—albeit a juvenile one—that we can only control our own actions and any attempt to control the actions of others is folly.

That’s exactly what Roland tried so hard to explain to the Calla folken this week. “I’ve told you in every way I can that we are not wanderers your friends may interview,” he tells Callahan when they first meet, “then hire or not as they do their farmhands or saddle-tramps.” (p. 121). Later, he tells the Calla’s welcoming party what he and his ka-tet are going to do. “What we will do, I say, for no man bids us.” (p. 168).

Unfortunately the Calla folk completely fail to grasp the true meaning of what he’s telling them. They seem to think that they still have a decision to make, whether or not they should accept the ka-tet’s help. In reality however, they are done making choices. They chose to finally do something about the wolves, they chose to seek out the aid of gunslingers, but they actually have no influence on what the gunslingers decide to do. In other words: they picked their nose, they picked their friends, but they can’t pick their friend’s nose.

“You told them it was out of their hands,” Eddie said, “but they didn’t ken that any more than they did the business about all those gray horses. And you didn’t press it.”

Wolves of the Calla, p. 174

But it’s not just the citizens of Calla Bryn Sturgis who make the mistake of thinking they can control gunslingers. The very man trying to teach them that lesson seems to have forgotten it himself. Roland tells the New Yorkers that if any of them should go todash alone, they need to stay where they are, but “looking into their faces, Roland realized that each one of them was reserving the right to decide what to do when the time came” (p. 180). He recognizes that even as their Dinh, he cannot make his ka-tet’s decisions for them.

This isn’t something that only applies to gunslingers either. Nobody can truly control what another person will or won’t do. The gunslingers can’t force any of the folk to help them if they really don’t want to. Conversely, even if the entire Calla refuses to stand with them, the town wouldn’t be able to stop Tian and Zalia Jaffords from joining the fight. When Roland goes todash and finds himself standing on a New York City street corner, he decides to follow the instructions on the crossing signal—“DON’T WALK”—but it doesn’t seem to stop anyone else from jaywalking.

All of this leaves me wondering if Stephen King wove this theme into the beginning of this book as a warning to his Constant Readers. When he began writing this book he had two decade’s-worth of fans, who weren’t just eagerly awaiting an ending, but who were eagerly awaiting an ending that would satisfy them. No stranger to rabid fandom, I’m sure King expected that the twist he planned to introduce in this book, and the ending he had planned for the whole series, would piss a lot of his audience off (they did). Maybe these chapters were King’s way of disclaiming—just as Roland tried to disclaim to the Calla folk—that it doesn’t matter what Constant Readers want or expect from the rest of the books, the writer is going to end them how he wants to. After all, if no man can bid a gunslinger, then no fan can bid a word-slinger.

If these people still believed a tet of gunslingers would be bound by what farmers and ranchers decided in a public meeting, they really had lost the shape of the world as it once was.

Wolves of the Calla, p. 174

Whether this was King’s intention or not is impossible to say. Either way, this week’s chapters teach an important lesson that I think more fandoms could stand to learn: you can pick your stories, and you can pick your storytellers, but we can’t pick what stories your storytellers tell (and you probably shouldn’t try to pick their noses either).

Next Week’s Reading
Wolves Of The Calla:
Part One, 7.x-7.xvi
& Part Two, 1.i-2.ix

Published by Joe Rechtman

Screenwriter/watcher. Constant Reader & Dark Tower Junkie.

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