The Wind Through the Keyhole
Once More to the Tower, a review by Todd Natti
Finishing a series is a difficult thing. For many authors, a multivolume epic can end up as the defining piece of their literary career. Just ask Rowling or Collins or Martin or Pullman. For others, it can be the thing that holds their oeuvre together, as is the case with Stephen King. The author’s Dark Tower series, now complete for almost eight years (though King has recently stated it is just the first draft, which is simultaneously intriguing and troubling), is the backbone of his career as a writer. The tale of Roland of Gilead and his ka-tet’s journey through the multiverse on their way to the titular tower ties into the majority of King’s works, both overtly and subtlety. Even recent novels are connected to the series, which reminded a good many constant readers – that no matter how much they may have claimed it, they weren’t really ready for the story of the Gunslinger to reach its end. Perhaps this is why King chose to release The Wind Through the Keyhole, a novel that takes place between volumes four and five of the series (“Dark Tower 4.5” the author appropriately dubs it in the foreword).
Returning to a series can be a risky move, oftentimes pitting a creator against the imaginations of his fans. Yet, by placing The Wind Through the Keyhole in the middle of the Dark Tower series, King has bypassed this problem. In addition, the part of the novel containing the ka-tet of Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy (who, it could be said, is the catalyst for what occurs in the novel), is the shortest of the three sections. It is just enough to give readers their fix and introduce a new part of Mid-World, the Starkblast, a ferocious storm that will figure heavily into the innermost story at the heart of the book, the titularWind Through the Keyhole.
That’s how King implants this novel into the middle of the Dark Tower series: by making the majority of the book two separate stories that are unrelated to the quest for the Tower, both being told by Roland at different points in his life. The first, “The Skin-Man,” is the story of one of Roland’s first adventures as a gunslinger (and directly follows the events he told his companions about inWizard & Glass) and the second (which a younger Roland tells in the “Skin-Man” section) is what could be described as a fairy tale, or, to get specific, a folk tale from Mid-World concerning a young boy named Tim and his quest to save his mother from his evil stepfather.
It’s hard to say which of the stories readers will enjoy more. Tower devotees will no doubt revel in one of Roland’s early exploits, where first time readers (yes, The Wind Through the Keyhole can be read as a standalone work or an introduction to the series as a whole) may be more drawn to Tim’s adventure. Me? I was more enthralled with Tim’s story, despite being a fan of the Dark Tower series as a whole. My only qualm with tales set in Mid-World is the sometimes-clunky dialogue and phrases that King employs. It’s a tough business creating a fantasy world (especially when marrying the genre with Westerns), and something about Mid-World has always felt a little forced. There isn’t the organic feel of the best fantasy works. Mid-World has always felt like an amalgamation of everything King is interested in, and, by extension, a mix of countless stories, some the author’s and some not. While that gives me pause, part of me also thinks it may be the point. If the Dark Tower, both the series and the tower itself, is the center of King’s works, perhaps it is the center of all fictional works—which makes the character’s quest for it all the more important.
But I digress. All in all The Wind Through the Keyhole is a nice addition to theDark Tower saga and can be enjoyed by constant readers and newcomers alike. To discuss the plots at all would take away from the wonder a master storyteller like King is able to conjure. Let’s just say there are wizards and dragons, tigers and shapeshifters, woman that wear knives under their dresses and men made from the swamp they inhabit. There is more, but that’s to be expected. After all, all things serve the tower.
The Wind Through the Keyhole is available now from Scribner.Close