'The Wind Through the Keyhole' by Stephen King
Seven years after the publication of the ostensibly last book in his Dark Tower series, Stephen King revisits the epic, fully realized universe his fans have been following for decades. Well, sort of.
The Wind Through the Keyhole takes place chronologically between books four (Wizard and Glass) and five (Wolves of the Calla) in the series, and King himself dubs it Book 4.5. The book opens with our beloved ka-tet - Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy - moving past the horrors of Lud and toward the horrors of Calla Bryn Sturgis. But on the way, they take shelter from a fierce, sudden, freezing storm called a starkblast, and Roland passes the time with two stories.
He tells a story of his youth, taking place after the events in Mejis where he loved and lost the beautiful Susan Delgado. He and his ka-mate Jamie DeCurry are sent on a task by Roland's father, Stephen Deschain, to a town not far from Gilead, where a skin-man (or shapeshifter) is terrorizing the citizens of a small salt mining village.
While Roland is protecting a young boy who witnessed the skin-man's dreadful work, he comforts Young Billy with a fable his mother used to tell him - The Wind Through the Keyhole, which follows Young Tim as he faces a ghastly, magical quest to avenge his father and protect his mother.
With The Wind Through the Keyhole, King transports us cozily to the universe that die-hard fans have loved for years. The odd yet familiar vernacular, the quaintly archaic setting, the strong but subtle certainty that all things serve the Beam, and the Beam only ever serves the Tower - these undeniable elements of the Dark Tower quest permeate every page of the novel.
However, many (one could argue all) of King's books take place in the universe of the Dark Tower without actually being Dark Tower novels, and The Wind Through the Keyhole seems to be more of that ilk than a valid entry in the series. We only spend thirty pages at the beginning of the novel with our ka-tet, and three at the end. And these pages are ultimately inessential for the Ka-tet of 19's story. As lovely as it is to see our old friends again, the visit is so brief as to be unsatisfying. Readers like myself hungry for more Jake, more Eddie, more Susannah, more Oy, will close this book hungrier still. We do spend time with young Roland - the portion of the novel titled The Skin-Man is actually written in Roland's first person point of view, a brand new and enlightening perspective for long-time readers - but even that is interrupted by the meat of the book, the fable that does not feature any of our cherished characters.
While The Wind Through the Keyhole is not what I expected, it is still wonderful. As always, it feels as if King uncovered this universe rather than created it, and any yarn he spins of Mid-World is spun very well. The book is magical, engrossing. The fable of Young Tim is especially riveting. King's archaic language is lovely, proverbial and always unsettling.
The path, as it crossed the clearing, was paved in some smooth dark material, so bright that it reflected both the trees dancing in the rising wind and the sunset-tinged clouds flowing overhead. It ended at a rock precipice. The whole world seemed to end there, and to begin again a hundred wheels or more distant. In between was a great chasm of rushing air in which leaves danced and swirled. There were bin-rusties as well. They rose and twisted helplessly in the eddies and currents. Some were obviously dead, the wings ripped from their bodies.
I would recommend anyone who has already read and loved The Dark Tower series to read The Wind Through the Keyhole, but I would not recommend someone who is reading it for the first time to insert this novel between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla. A first-time reader would be doubtlessly irritated to find the forward motion of our central characters interrupted once again with a flashback, as a flashback makes up the largest part of Wizard and Glass. I would not call The Wind Through the Keyhole a strictly necessary publication, but it's an undeniably good read. And there is nothing wrong with a good read, sai.
To leave a comment