The Gestation of Stephen King’s Chap


6/15-6/21
Wolves Of The Calla:
Part Three,
6.xi-End of Book

After nine weeks of reading about palaver and preparation, the ka-tet’s showdown with the titular Wolves has finally come to pass. And in the end, just as Roland said it always does, it came “down to the same five minutes’ worth of blood, pain, and stupidity.” (p. 636). All those weeks were spent getting ready for a fight that is over in just a handful of pages. The event that has been feared and fretted over since the prologue only accounts for a small percentage of the actual narrative.

Despite the imbalance between time spent planning and time spent pulling the trigger, I feel that both portions of the story are equally crucial. Though it only lasts a few dozen paragraphs, the stakes of the fighting are obviously sky high; in these few minutes that the consequences are immediate and final, life and death are on the line. One missed shot or one second’s hesitation could mean the difference between winning or losing, between the town’s salvation or destruction.

Conversely, the remaining 95% of the book has much lower stakes. With a few minor exceptions (i.e. Jake’s night in the Dogan and Eddie’s ambush of Andy), the ka-tet is in no real danger at all for a whole month, hanging out in the Calla and chatting with the folken. For most of the story, if a character misjudges something or makes a mistake, there is time to fix it. Unlike in battle, if Zalia Jaffords throws her plate a few inches too low, it’s not the end of the world. Eddie assures her their Dinh knows she could hit her mark if given another try, and there are no consequences to her missing (537). Even Ben Slightman the Elder’s poor decisions could have been corrected.

“His choice could have been to stand with us,” Roland said. His voice was dull and dreadful. Almost dead.

Wolves of the Calla, p. 631

However, everything that occurs in those minutes when stakes are at their highest are influenced by the conditions set in those preceding weeks. And because it’s impossible to know exactly which preparations made the difference between victory and defeat, we are forced to assume that they all made the difference, that everything the ka-tet did in the thirty days before the fight was a key element in their success.

I’ve always related this idea to the gestation of Susannah/Mia’s chap, a story running parallel to the coming of the Wolves. I believe King intentionally structured this book to resemble a pregnancy, during which nine months are spent preparing the body for a comparably short labor.

However, because of some good news I received last week, my mind made a new association this time around. I just got word that one of my scripts is set to start filming today. I can’t share any details just yet, but right now, as I type this, a film crew is assembling in LA to shoot a movie that I wrote. Needless to say, I’m excited, and as I read these pages over the weekend, I reflected on how the ka-tet’s preparations and Susannah/Mia’s pregnancy also reflect the process of creating a piece of art and sharing it with the world..

The project being filmed is the result of years of low-stakes creative planning. From the conception of the premise, through several rewrites and notes meetings, we had plenty of room for error and mistakes could be easily rewritten. The director, producers and myself put a lot of time and effort into preparing for a shoot that will only last a few weeks, but unlike the writing process, what they capture with the camera is final. The short shoot will determine whether we get a good movie in the can, or a flop. It’s all in the execution, but the execution can’t happen without proper preparation.

I’m obviously not the first person to explore the idea of a piece of art being the “baby” of an artist, but in the case of this book I think it’s particularly interesting. We know from King’s afterword that he did the “exhaustive preparation” of rereading all four previous installments on audiobook before finishing his magnum opus. He wrote and rewrote drafts and even had a chance to go back and revise the first novel. Decades of storytelling and world building, all leading up to his own showdown with the wolves, the birth of his own chap: the release of his magnum opus’s final installment.

Eddie shouted. “Have you been listening to any of the shit those voices are saying? They’re saying it’s a cannibal! My wife could be giving birth to some kind of a cannibal monster right now…

Wolves of the Calla, p. 761

Could Eddie’s anxiety about Susannah’s baby cannibalizing her reflect King’s anxiety about how the final three books would be received, and how they would affect the legacy of the series? Was he worried that the baby he had been carrying and growing for so long would turn around and ruin it’s creator’s career? It’s easy to imagine him writing and releasing his books with the easy confidence of a literary legend, but I can’t believe he wasn’t worried about sticking the landing on this one.

What these three parallel narratives offer us reminder that our lives alternate between uneventful lulls and brief moments of intense drama. What matters is what we choose to do in those moments, high stakes or low. What we do in the days leading up to a fight has just as much of an impact as what we do on the day itself (just ask Ben Slightman, the Elder or the Younger). What a pregnant woman does to take care of her unborn chap is just as important as her labor (just ask Mia). Rough drafts are just as important as a novel’s final typesetting, as you can’t do the latter without the former (just ask King).

Next Week’s Reading
Song of Susannah:
Stanzas 1-4

Published by Joe Rechtman

Screenwriter/watcher. Constant Reader & Dark Tower Junkie.

2 thoughts on “The Gestation of Stephen King’s Chap

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