Who You Gonna Cal?

Wolves Of The Calla:
Part Three, 1.iv-3.v

In the world of the Dark Tower, there is a mystic importance placed upon phonetic & linguistic coincidences. Roland views Charlie the Choo-Choo as a bad omen because of the root “char”’ as in “charyou tree.” The ka-tet speculates about the similarities between “Calla” and ‘Callahan’, and the first time Jake tells Roland about the Manhattan Restaurant Of The Mind and the man who owns it, the gunslinger fixates on the man’s last name: Tower. Yet I don’t recall any of the characters ever considering that Calvin Tower also shares the “Cal” prefix.

That single syllable isn’t the only thing the Callahan and Calvin Tower have in common: They are both older queer men from around the same when, who both fall in love with their best friend (Lupe and Aaron respectively), and who are both the target of the Crimson King and the Sombra Corporation. Most importantly, both men serve the White, and both eventually help the ka-tet save the rose and the tower.

Despite the similarities between them however, the ka-tet treats these two characters very differently. The Pere and the gunslingers are fast friends, and they find themselves quickly sharing khef. “He’s one of us…” Roland says of Callahan, “or could be. I felt that from the first.” (p. 592).

Meanwhile, Eddie has the opposite reaction to meeting Tower this week. He almost immediately finds the stubborn book collector miserly and selfish. “No, I didn’t like him much. God, sending his books through like that! Making his lousy first editions part of his condition for helping to save the fucking universe!” (p. 590). The ka-tet views Tower, the man who fate has selected as the guardian of the rose, as an obnoxious obstacle who’s carelessness only makes their jobs harder.

What Eddie had discovered about Tower during their palaver was dismaying. He harbored some respect for the man (for any man who could hold out for more than twenty seconds against Balazar’s goons), but didn’t like him much. There was a kind of willful stupidity about him.

Wolves of the Calla, p. 582

So what is the difference between these two men? These two “Cals”? Why does the ka-tet embrace one and have contempt for the other when they have so much in common?

Just as Roland said, Callahan is one of them. He has spent years traveling on “todash turnpikes” (p. 316), as Eddie puts it, and he has “been to the wars” (p. 285). The Priest wears the scars of a previous life spent fighting and eluding evil, from the burn on his hand from fighting vampires to the unfinished swastika carved in his forehead (compliments of the Hitler Brothers, but on the behalf of the Crimson King). He is battle-tested and road-rugged just like the ka-tet, and his experience assimilating to Mid-World means he can relate to the New Yorkers in a way no one else can.

By contrast, Calvin Tower is weak, foolish, delusional, thick-headed, and self-centered. His obsession with his books and his hesitancy to accept the ka-tet’s help make him seem childish and petulant.

But is that really a fair assessment of the man? After all, he has been burdened with this guardianship his whole life and so far he’s managed to keep the vacant lot safe, so he’s doing something right. Perhaps his hesitancy is shrewdness, rather than childishness. And it’s true that he might be weak and unduly obsessed with his vice, but so was Callahan once upon a time. If the ka-tet had known the Pere when he was an alcoholic priest in Jerusalem’s Lot or an alcoholic bum in New York City, they might have thought the same thing about him. And just as the gunslingers know that Callahan grew stronger and smarter, they know that Tower will eventually do the same and help them, for they already know Tower is going to save Callahan from the Hitler Brothers in his future.

There must be a deeper reason that Calvin Tower rubs the ka-tet the wrong way, and while reading this week’s chapters it finally occurred to me: they dislike him because he reminds them of themselves. Eddie is rankled when Tower makes him haul his rare books across the doorway for safe keeping, but isn’t that exactly what Eddie made Roland do with the cocaine he was smuggling in The Drawing of the Three? Their drug of choice is different, but Tower is an addict just like Eddie was, and Tower’s desperate need to stash his goods in Mid-World makes Eddie remember who he used to be, and he recoils at the behavior.

It’s not just Eddie, either. Tower’s obliviousness to how much danger he’s in is reminiscent of Susannah. Back when she was Odetta Holmes (an identity she will soon have to reassume in order to access her inheritance), she was similarly deluded, completely clueless about her other personality. Now she’s going through the same thing with Mia. Tower’s tendency to deny reality, even when doing so puts him in danger, reminds Susannah of her own issues.

There is also a sense that the ka-tet (and even Balazar’s goons) think of Tower as a spoiled brat. Here’s this guy who’s responsible for keeping the rose, and subsequently the universe, safe and he is just throwing his family’s fortune down the drain, gambling the future of existence so he can keep his vanity bookstore open. I think this makes Jake contemplate his own privilege, growing up rich and white in Manhattan. Of course that’s not his life anymore, but his luxurious upbringing still bothers him; just this week he was too ashamed of his silver spoon to tell Benny Slightman, Jr. about his bedroom, other than to say he had a desk. As with the others, Calvin Tower reminds Jake of his old life, and that doesn’t make him feel good.

Meanwhile, Roland doesn’t really seem to have the same reaction to Tower. He even defends the book salesman to Eddie on their way out of the cave, pointing out that Tower doesn’t think of the vacant lot in the same terms that they do, and that he was merely protecting his prized possessions from certain destruction. To the gunslinger, Calvin Tower is just being true to his nature: another piece on the Castles board, another spoke in the wheel of ka. Then again, that’s the same justification that Roland uses for his own actions whenever he starts feeling bad about himself.

“He doesn’t think of it in those terms…unless he does so in his dreams. And you know they’ll burn his shop when they get there and find him gone. Almost surely. Pour gasoline under the door and light it. Break his window and toss in a grenado, either manufactured or homemade. Do you mean to tell me that never occurred to you?”

– Roland Deschain, Wolves of the Calla, p. 590

The ka-tet’s differing treatment of the two ‘“Cal”s is a good demonstration of how our perception of others depends on what we project onto them. If we see a person who reminds us of all we’ve accomplished, we might think more highly of them than someone who makes us dwell on our own failures. The next time I find myself casting judgement on someone, I’ll try to remember poor Calvin Tower, and question if maybe I should levy that judgement against myself instead.

Next Week’s Reading
Wolves Of The Calla:
Part Three, 3.vi-6.x

Published by Joe Rechtman

Screenwriter/watcher. Constant Reader & Dark Tower Junkie.

One thought on “Who You Gonna Cal?

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