A Priest & A Manni Walk Into A Bar: Organized Religion In The Dark Tower

Wolves Of The Calla:
Part Two, 8.vi-9.xx
& Part Three, 1.i-1.iii

In this week’s reading, Roland got to spend some quality time with two of the Calla’s local religious leaders. First, Henchick of the Manni took him on an “uppsy” hike and showed him Doorway Cave, echoing with the painful voices of his past. Later, after hearing the rest of the priest’s tale, Roland gets some one-on-one time with Callahan.

Roland doesn’t worship any god, and he doesn’t exactly have a great track record with men and women of the cloth, whichever religion that cloth might be cut from. The last time we saw him encounter a Christian minister, way back in Tull, he ended up shoving a gun between her legs and forcing her to miscarry. This week, we learned that he once killed a “preacher of the Buff” (p. 500). He is knowledgeable enough and diplomatic enough that he can hold palaver with Henchick or Callahan without appearing ignorant or insulting them, but the gunslinger has no respect for religion.

Of course Roland believes in a higher power—that’s what ka is—but beyond that he is skeptical of any organized religion, and even more skeptical of those who preach it. This is not a huge departure from King’s own views. His bibliography is peppered with bad priests, from the mad scientist priest in Revival, to the lycanthrope priest in Cycle of the Werewolf. Father Callahan is pathetic and weak in Salem’s Lot; his faith is false and it eventually fails him. And the zealot characters in pieces like Carrie and The Mist show us that someone doesn’t need to be officially ordained in order to wield religion like a weapon.

This isn’t a subjective analysis of the texts; King has always been frank about his mistrust of religion. In a 1988 interview (via CNN) King went on record saying “I hate organized religion. I think it’s one of the roots of real evil that’s in the world. If you really unmask Satan, you’ll probably find that he’s wearing a turnaround collar.” In 2014, when he was interviewed by Rolling Stone, he said “organized religion is a very dangerous tool that’s been misused by a lot of people.”

So, it’s no surprise that Roland would share his creator’s disdain for all religious leaders, be they Catholic or Manni. In each of their private chats with Roland, both Callahan and Henchick casually judge someone as damned because of some failing in that person. Henchick states matter-of-factly that his daughter is damned because she decided to marry outside of the Manni. And when Roland offers to relay Henchick’s concern, the old holy man doesn’t even bother trying to save her soul.

“Why would I bother?” he asked. “She knows. She’ll have time to repent her heathen man at leisure in the depths of Na’ar.”

– Henchick, Wolves of the Calla, p. 439

Later, Callahan judges Roland similarly, though he doesn’t know it. He explains that in the eyes of the church performing an abortion is a mortal sin and anyone who commits such a sin is damned, not knowing, of course, that Roland has performed an abortion on the aforementioned minister in Tull.

In both of these instances Roland finds the religious men’s ability to casually pass judgement distasteful. He can relate to Margaret Eisenhart’s decision to leave her people and marry for love, for he too knows how powerfully the wind of ka can stir the heart. Besides being openly angered that Callahan wants to deny Susannah the right to choose, Roland points out that the baby isn’t even human, it’s a demon (just as Sylvia Pittston’s baby would have been), and surely such unique circumstances changed things. How can abortion be bad a bad thing if you’re preventing the birth of something evil?

“Roland . . . Roland.” Callahan lowered his head, and when he raised it, the anger appeared to be gone. In its place was a stony obduracy the gunslinger had seen before. Roland could no more break it than he could lift a mountain with his bare hands.

Wolves of the Calla, p. 517

But Callahan won’t budge on the issue. To him, the unique circumstances don’t matter. Just as it doesn’t matter to Henchick whether his daughter loves her husband or not, to these men a sin is a sin, and the damned are damned. This strict adherence to a blanket set of morals is fundamentally contrary to the way Roland lives and thinks. Roland does have morals, but they are not the ultimate guide of his actions; as I’ve written before, Roland is an improviser, and he tailors each new decision to the situation in which he finds himself. If the situation calls for him to do the moral thing, great, but if the situation require he do something amoral (say, letting a boy fall to his death), then he’ll do that. Instead of living by an unbendingcode like Henchick and Callahan, his is flexible. He lives by ka, whose only true rule was, “Stand aside and let me work” (p. 512).

Under all the ambiguous mysticism that enshrouds the concept of ka, maybe that’s all it really boils down to: Not relying on fate or hoping for the best, but actually accepting the unique circumstances surrounding each choice you make and letting those circumstances determine the right path forward.

Next Week’s Reading
Wolves Of The Calla:
Part Three, 1.iv-3.v

Published by Joe Rechtman

Screenwriter/watcher. Constant Reader & Dark Tower Junkie.

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