Wolves Of The Calla:
Part Three, 3.vi-6.x
Every time I’ve read this series, viewing things through the narrow lens of a straight white male, I’ve always assumed that Jake is also a straight white male. This time around, back when I was still reading The Gunslinger, I considered for the first time that Jake—while definitely being white and male—might not be straight. I wanted to wait until I got to Wolves of the Calla before exploring the idea further, so I could reexamine his relationship with Benny Slightman the Younger a little more closely. Are they just friends, or is there more going on there? Since I began this installment in the series I’ve been waiting for the right week to devote to the subject of Jake’s sexuality. Now, as ka would have it, reading the chapter in which Jake literally hides in a closet just happens to coincide with Pride month, so here we go.
Going back to the very beginning, when Roland first meets Jake in The Gunslinger and hypnotizes his backstory out of him, King writes that “girls have already begun to notice [Jake], and he does not shy away with skittish little-boy arrogance. He talks to them with unknowing professionalism and puzzles them away.” (p. 100). Can we confidently say whether or not Jake is interested in girls? We are left as puzzled as they are.
In The Waste Lands, when Jake is back in New York and slowly losing his mind, his female classmate is flirting with him hard. After returning from the cloakroom in Ms. Avery’s class, “Petra Jesserling looked at him with merry, dancing eyes. ‘Take me in there with you next time,’ she whispered. ‘Then you’ll have something to look at.’” (The Waste Lands p. 151). Relative to their age, this is about as forward a proposition as a girl can offer, and Jake just “smiles in a distracted way,” barely registering the come-on. Of course he’s distracted by his mental breakdown, but I think it’s notable that there’s no hint of intrigue or excitement on his part.
Andy told Jake a young lady was pining for him. Jake blushed and said he’d just as soon not know about stuff like that, if that did Andy all right.– Wolves of the Calla, p. 526
Since then, Jake has been too busy questing after the tower to think about love or lust, and even then, to whom would he fall in love with, or lust after? Everyone Jake’s met on this side of the door has either been an ancient geriatric like the citizens of River Crossing, a disease-ridden psychopath like Gasher, or a murderous robot. We haven’t had a clue as to what stirs Jake’s heart because he’s had no opportunity to explore that question himself.
Now, Jake has finally met someone who’s his age and the two of them become “friends with boyhood’s eerie speed.” (p. 141). Maybe they really are just friends; maybe they’re just a couple of kids who like having sleepovers and camping out together. Their relationship may not be any more complicated than that.
But I think there’s ample evidence to suggest their feelings for each other, or at least Jake’s feelings for Benny, run deeper than that. Several weeks ago, when Jake told Roland he’s been invited to stay the night at Benny’s and Roland asks if he wants to, “the boy’s cheeks flushed thin red.” (p. 220). In this week’s chapters, while Jake is lying awake worrying about his predicament with Benny’s da, he thinks about how much “he liked Benny”, and why (p. 624). As King writes the passage, it certainly seems that Jake might not just like Benny, he might like like Benny.
He liked Benny—his openness, his appetite for fun, his willingness to work hard when there were chores that needed doing. He liked Benny’s yodeling laugh when something struck him funny, and the way they were evenly matched in so many things…– Wolves of the Calla p. 624
And maybe something physical did happen. With all the time spent together, they certainly had plenty of opportunity. even if nothing actually happens between Jake and Benny while the ka-tet is in town, that doesn’t mean the love and attraction aren’t there. Telling his story about Lupe, Callahan has already demonstrated that a man can love another man even without anything physical ever transpiring between them.
Jake falling in love with Benny and spending a month sneaking around with him makes narrative sense in this tale of cyclical ka and echoing characters. Jake is roughly the same age as Roland was when he did the same thing with Susan. Jake and Benny are well met on the road just outside the Calla, as Roland and Susan were well met on the road to Mejis; Benny’s only living guardian (his father) is secretly helping the Wolves, just as Susan’s (her aunt) was secretly helping the Good Man; and of course Benny won’t survive Jake’s stay in the Calla, just as Susan didn’t live to see Roland leave Mejis. The similarities between these two relationships are just the kind of twinning we see throughout the series, and it’s hard to ignore.
Which brings us to this week, when Jake is forced to literally shut himself in a closet to avoid being discovered by Benny’s da and Andy in the Dogan. Twice Jake thinks of himself as Goldilocks, which I found interesting because Goldilocks isn’t a story about a girl hiding from bears who are coming home (in the telling I’m familiar with she has already fallen asleep by the time the bears return); Goldilocks is about a girl figuring out where on a spectrum her preferences lie.
I also found it interesting that later, the Catholic priest “crossed himself when Jake told of hiding in the closet.” (p. 628). You might think there’s no possible way Stephen King intended it that way, that he wouldn’t use such an obvious metaphor, but I wonder… King has never claimed to be the most subtle writer when it comes to symbolism. In On Writing, he points out that it was intentional for The Green Mile’s John Coffey shares his initials with Jesus Christ. King is not afraid to be a bit on the nose when it comes to these things.
Jake had looked like any other boy of twelve—carefree and full of the old Dick, likely as not.– Wolves of the Calla, p. 166
So are Jake and Benny just friends, or are they more? Is Jake straight or gay, or something in between? I don’t think the text provides us with enough evidence to say definitively one way or the other. Based on the words on the page, both readings are valid.
You may be wondering, “Why does the sexuality of a thirteen-year-old character matter? It matters because a queer Jake allows an even wider audience of LGBTQ readers to relate to the character and the books on a different level. Here at the Church of the Cosmic Turtle we want everyone who reads these books to have as special an experience as I did, and if the queer reading means more readers feel included and represented, I say “happy Pride, Jake, may it do ya well!”