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I have to confess I wasn't sure whether I wanted to read this book; an add-on to Stephen King's epic 7 volume Dark Tower saga. The final volume (The Dark Tower) ended things so fittingly that I wasn't sure I wanted to return to Mid-World and re-join Roland, Susannah, Eddie and Jake. I wasn't sure there was anything left to tell.
To be honest, having read it, I'm still not sure. Yes, I enjoyed it; but not nearly as much as the other books in the series. It really did feel like a bolt-on. Sure, it was recognisably a Mid-World book, but it felt a little superfluous, like something the author had created because he wanted to re-visit the world, rather than something that was created because it was an essential part of the overall narrative.
Chronology-wise, this episode sits between Books 4 and 5 of The Dark Tower, so if you have finished the whole adventure, you might need to do a little bit of mental readjustment to remember what happened in those two books (particularly Wizard and Glass, which is referenced a number of times).
The Wind Through the Keyhole is essentially two stories in one. The first follows the adventures of Roland and his colleagues as they continue their quest for the Dark Tower. Faced with an imminent Starkblast (a kind of lethal arctic storm), they must get to shelter as quickly as possible and hole themselves up until the danger has passed. In truth, this part is pretty inconsequential. It bookends the action, but really doesn't add much to what we already know of the gunslinger and his quest.
The bulk of the book is taken up by a story within a story. Whilst waiting the passing of the Starkblast, Roland uses the time to tell his friends a story that his mother used to tell to him when he was young- the tale of the Wind Through the Keyhole.
Set in Mid-World, it features a young boy called Tim whose father is killed in an accident. Manipulated by the mysterious Covenanter (whose real identity will be familiar to regular King readers), he finds out that his father's death was not an accident and sets out for revenge.
The idea of a story within a story has been used by King before in the Dark Tower series (in Wizard and Glass) and worked well. In that instance, though it worked well because it focussed on Roland's mysterious past - something that readers were anxious to know about and so the book found a receptive audience.
Whilst the story here is interesting enough, you never really feel it adds much to the overall mythology of the Dark Tower. Yes, it has some resonance with Roland's quest and the ending makes these links explicit, but it always feels like a very distinct and separate tale. It's not really got that much to do with Roland's central quest and it feels like it a short story which, although set in Mid-World, stands apart from The Dark Tower books.
That said, King rarely produces anything that is less than readable and whilst I felt The Wind Through the Keyhole was a little insubstantial, I nevertheless enjoyed reading it. King's natural story telling ability shines through and he takes a fairly common fairy tale trope (the innocent but brave child manipulated by the wicked witch/wizard) and gives it his own spin.
In a way King has done himself a disservice by trying to shoehorn this into the existing Dark Tower chronology. I think it would have worked better as a standalone mid-length story, still set in Mid-World, but separate from the main Dark Tower storyline. In that way, it might act as a companion piece to his earlier (and enjoyable) The Eyes of the Dragon; a fun fantasy fiction title but one not weighed down by the expectations and baggage of the Dark Tower saga. Still, what do I know? He's a multi-million best-selling author and I'm just an amateur hack on a review website!
In his brief foreword, King claims that it's entirely possible to read this book as a standalone adventure without having read the other books in The Dark Tower cycle. Personally, I'm sceptical about this. Yes, you could just about get away with it (in the sense of understanding the story) but you wouldn't find it anywhere near as enjoyable. The setting of Mid-World would feel very alien and difficult to understand and you would miss out on an awful lot of really quite important references to Roland's earlier adventures.
Although quite new, The Wind Through the Keyhole is now cheap to pick up in paperback (£4 or less). People who own the full Dark Tower cycle are certainly going to want to own this and it's worth a place on your bookshelf as you are likely to read it more than once. That said, though, I can't help feeling just a touch disappointed. Returning to Mid-World wasn't a catastrophic error, but it wasn't quite the experience I hoped for.
The Wind through the Keyhole
Hodder paperbacks, 2013
Copyright SWSt 2013
I was always a little bit disappointed with how Stephen King's The Dark Tower ended. It was all just a little bit lame, as though the author had rushed things a bit: I think he wanted to finish the series before he died, but I think he should have waited for inspiration instead and what if he died before it was over? Chaucer never finished The Canterbury Tales, did he? But although I was disappointed with how The Dark Tower ended, I enjoyed the series as a whole and was actually quietly excited about the release of The Wind Through The Keyhole, a stand-alone novel in the series that was released in 2012, eight years after book seven (The Dark Tower) was released. I liked the characters, you see, and I felt it would be nice to rediscover them.
The Wind through the Keyhole is, like I said a stand-alone novel between the events of book 4 and book 5. Roland and his gang take shelter from a severe storm and he tells a story of when he was a young man and had to go on a quest to free a village from a psychotic shape-shifter. He is tasked to look after a boy who witnessed one of the crimes, and while he does he tells the boy the story of the Wind Through The Keyhole, which I guess is the main story for the book. The who novel is, in fact, a story within a story within a story...
A bit of background would be needed for who Roland and his crew are for this book to make much sense to a new reader of the series. Roland of Gilead is the last gunslinger in a world that runs parallel to our world. Here the world has moved on, but Roland has a quest to reach the Dark Tower and recruits three others from our world to help him: a cripple with a split personality, an ex drug user and a boy who died... but didn't. How he recruits these is described in early books of the series. Here in this book, they have been recruited and know exactly what to do.
The series consists of:
The Drawing of the Three
Wizard and Glass
Wolves of Calla
A Song for Susannah
The Dark Tower
I won't give too much away about the series in case you want to read it!
The Wind Through the Keyhole is about another boy, called Tim, who lives in a forest with his parents. His father is an axe-man, but one day does not return for a days work. He is killed by a dragon, his best friend witnesses this. Soon after, to stop them from being evicted from the village, Tim's mother marries his father's best friend. But he turns out to be a wife-beater and the actual killer of his father. The boy goes on a quest to find a cure to his mother who has gone blind following a beating from his step-father. Here we the reader meet some old friends (or foes).
The story told, Roland the younger tried to find the shape-shifter and the story is told and the storm is over.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel. King's prose is at its usual best and it was a good read. If anything, the story moved a little bit slow in some parts and was a bit overly descriptive. This did not hamper the story though.
Stephen King: The Wind through the keyhole - A Dark Tower novel
Why read this one....
King wrote this novel after he had finished the whole Dark Tower series. He was delighted to discover that the characters had more to say and feels that this prose sits snug between book 4 The Wizard and the glass and book 5 The Wolves of Calla. However, he believes that this one could be read without having gained insight from the previous 4 novels. This alone intrigued me and I wavered for a few days before picking it up as I didn't know whether I could believe that this wouldn't contain any spoilers for the novels to come. I re read King's statement and decided that the man wouldn't mislead his fans or newcomers to his epic saga. The cover of the book is bold and catches the eye and the blurb is appealing. I was happy to read this one as book number 4.5 in the Dark Tower series as King advises...well it is his creation so that is good enough for me.
Where to start....where to begin. I feel the best way to describe this prose is to get you to think of a Russian doll - you know the kind that hold one smaller doll inside and so on. That is what this prose reminds me of. During a starkblast (icy destructive storm) Roland, the last gunslinger, agrees to tell a tale to pass the time. This tale will take us back in time to just after the death of Roland's mother when he was a youth. He was a youth but no ordinary youth....he was a gunslinger, a new knight and protector of the innocent. He carried two large, wooden handled guns (not the biggest as they were yet to come) which announced his status. He and a companion, Jamie, are sent to Debaria on a mission to rid the town from a supernatural being - a being so strong that it can tear a human to strips with one slash of it claws - this will not be easy as this being is a shape shifter and may well be walking the streets among the town folk by day as ordinary as any other...then by night, he changes and is not capable of mercy. The outcome of this mission will rest on the shoulders of a frightened young boy who was recently orphaned after his pa was attacked by the beast. Whilst plotting the capture of the shape shifter Roland tells a tale to the boy to help take his mind off the horrific situation. The tale is very dear to Roland and brings fond memories of his dear mother, as she told it to him when he was a boy, the tale was about a young boy named Tim and it was called 'The wind in the Keyhole'. We will meet a familiar character, Walter Broadcloack, during the telling of this tale...back in the days when he collected taxes and threw people out onto the land..homeless. Seeing an opportunity to wreak havoc Walter arranges a meeting with a bereaved Tim. He provides him with a key and insight that will lead to something the boy dearly wants. Those who have met Walter before will know that nothing is what it seems with him ... but Tim wants what he can offer and follows his intuition. At eleven years old Tim will face terrors that adults would avoid with tenacity. Tim will change. Time will change. Things will change. For the better? One can only hope and pray that they are for the better in this ever changing world within worlds......
Start at the beginning and be prepared to be enthralled...
I was excited to read this prose in part because it was the latest release and because I knew I was getting insight that was not available to readers of the epic saga some years ago - I felt privileged. As I have already read the first four books I recognised the characters and soon felt right at home but I put myself in the position of a new reader to the journey who may read this book as a standalone and in my opinion I think it works well...King writes in such a way that you cannot help but be drawn in and want to know more...much more. I wouldn't be surprised if new readers go on to read the whole saga after this tale, within a tale, within a tale. The beginning of the book settles the reader with Roland and his Ka tet (group who share the same destiny) Eddie, Susannah, Jake and the billy bumbler (part racoon, part dog with gorgeous golden rings around his eyes) Oy. They are on the path of the beam which is guiding them through a variety of perils to the Dark Tower. King holds this tower in front of me like a carrot that is placed before a donkey and I am intrigued so much I cannot help but follow....what is so special about that tower? I have my theories which are all most likely wrong - that is what keeps me reading, among a myriad of other reasons. The Ka tet will soon speed up their ambling pace when Oy alerts them to a starkblast that is hurtling in their direction. What a fascinating concept a starkblast is and what a word! You don't survive a starkblast if you stand in its way....the pace quickens early in the prose as they frantically hunt for cover and the means to ensure they stay warm. Some emotive scenes grip me during this part of the prose and as per usual I am on tenterhooks as I wait to see if all the Ka tet is safe....Roland in particular. King touches all senses in these opening chapters and the scene is set for some tale telling. I was not sure what I thought about this structure before reading book 4 The Wizard and the glass....no need to wonder now as King does an impeccable job.
I was happy to return to Roland's younger days, I am captivated by his history and enjoy any insight into what made Roland into the man that he is now. I knew there were scars besides those on his physical body - there is a lot to learn about this complex and haunted man. If I were a new reader to the tale I know that I would find both Rolands (young and older) intriguing, King has created a protagonist who gets inside you and works his way into your heart - I care about him and the more I discover about this keeper of the law, this knight that descended from King Arthur's blood line, the more I want to know. I never tire of the overlapping of time and worlds - things in Mid World (Roland's world) that the 'old people' left behind are what I recognise as the now from our time and place...so we are what he considers the 'old people'. It isn't confusing as you may think it would be, I find it really thought provoking and fascinating. The mix of western type cowboys with mysticism and magic of 'The Hobbit' style is brilliant. Odd times there is an element of wisdom in this book, as well as the others I have read in this series, I find myself learning a lesson as you may do in a fable. There is use of riddles too and King is able to highlight the different ways that people process information - I don't think in the simple way that you need to do for riddles, I over think and make the obvious hidden. This prose holds much more than a mere tale or two and I think a second reading will reveal more to me that I may have missed first time around as I raced through the pages eagerly wanting to find out what happens to the young boys who are suffering within the pages.
In the tale of the skin man (shape shifter) I meet a variety of personalities and prejudices. There is a feeling of getting to know human nature and the mix of folk make this tale colourful and engaging. Of course the fact that there is a terrifying shifter on the rampage is reason enough for me to keep turning those pages - an interesting concept that I have come across before but not like this one ... this one is just plain evil even down to the depraved sexual nature that it displays...I found it most horrible and wanted it stopped. Help will come in many forms for Roland and Jamie, some I am wary of immediately and others I just can't make up my mind...I didn't trust any with the exception of a young boy name Bill. Initially, I had to wonder if he was the shifter too...was he? Everyone was suspected by me at one point and as the heat intensified I had a surprise right up till the revelation ... sheer genius writing. King sticks to the story and he keeps going and going, he will give you a little bit more as if teasing. This part of the Russian doll tale was immaculate, creative concept with a flawless plot. Highly satisfying.
Tim. Tim is a young boy, eleven, and his dad is believed to have been burned to ash by a dragon in the iron wood where he was a woodsman. Walter Broadcloak was due soon and his mamma feared the worst with no man bringing in money. Bern Kells steps in and offers marriage - I don't like him one bit! He was Big Ross's best friend till he was charred by the dragon...was he killed by a dragon?? Really? Kell's is shifty and unpredictable especially when drunk, King gets me to wince when he appears in the text and I am saddened when Tim's mamma agrees to be wed. That very night Tim lays witness to the sounds of Kells hitting his mamma in the room next to his. It begins. I felt so disappointed at this point as I didn't want the marriage to take place and not long after Walter appears on his black steed to stir trouble. I never know what to make of Walter, I know he enjoys witnessing suffering and it is clear that he likes to create it but I also see a slight glimmer of helpfulness if you are strong enough and brave enough to attain it - not many have the courage to do his bidding. Tim will be offered hope by Walter, his stepdad watches the discussion with malice, a key is handed to Tim and that will only be the beginning of something tragically beautiful. Why describe it as both? Tragic because of the chaos and suffering that the tiny key will unleash. Beautiful because the plot and journey are spectacular and enchanting in parts, and if Tim can summon up the courage that is needed for his massive quest into the unknown then the outcome has the capacity to be utterly spellbinding and hence I would describe it as beautiful. This part of the Russian doll tale was immensely satisfying and ticks all the boxes of a good story as told by a master of the craft...who better than King. A rollercoaster of emotions and all senses activated...I could not put the book down! Brilliant.
When back to present Roland time I am satisfied with the ending of the shorter tale that it encompasses and breathe out a sigh of contentment before tears sting my eyes as I read the words that Roland was left in a letter from his mother...Gabrielle Deschain...many years ago. That is the second time that King has reduced me to tears!
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If you are a new comer to this saga then I would agree with King that you can enjoy this as a standalone book. If you are familiar with the series then the book naturally sits at 4.5 between The Wizard and the glass and The wolves of Calla. Or you can read it when you have read all of the novels in this epic tale. What you get is greater insight into the workings of Roland Deschain - the last gunslinger from Mid World. This complex man has been through much and at times can appear machine like but if you get to know him better you realise that he has loved and lost - he has a heart. This book comprises of three tales, the present time story is the shortest of the three but this works well as it is all you need and with King that is how he works - he sticks to the story. The tales held within are magnificent in concept, plot, themes and observations of human nature. The western crossover with our world artefacts and magic are perfection - King has excelled in my opinion and left me totally satisfied and eager to continue with the next novel, which is Wolves of Calla. There were no spoilers that I noted. A masterful piece of work that flowed seamlessly and held me captive.
Published on Ciao
It's been nearly 10 years since I was first persuaded to pick up The Gunslinger - my first foray into the extremely imaginative world inside Stephen King's head. The first of seven books in his magnum opus, the Dark Tower series, it took a while to get going, but stick with it I did, and having finished the seventh and final book of the series a couple of years ago, I was very sad to say goodbye to a gathering of deeply documented characters who I had come to look upon more as friends than fictional creations.
And I know I'm not alone. Clearly, Stephen King wasn't satisfied with the seven books, as there have been numerous graphic novels featuring the antics of his hero Roland Deschain, a lone gunslinger out to save the world from all of its foes, and in particular the Red King, guardian of the Dark Tower itself. But STILL this is not enough - King hasn't dropped it there, choosing instead to give us this extra addition to the series. Those who have read the series will understand why this latest book would not really work as a prequel or sequel, as it is a complete tale in many ways.
Filling the niche
However, there are gaps in the timeline, and so the author has found a niche in between books 4 and 5. The style presents itself as slightly different to the majority of the other books, and our contact with Roland and his ka-tet, his group of adventurers aiding him on his quest, is relatively short compared to the 330 or so pages in the book. What we're presented with results in a story within a story within a story - a triple layer of an addition to the series. And the strange thing is that it works so well. The previous book (book 4: Wizard and Glass) harks back to when Roland was a lot younger, and could be seen as a romantic adventure tale as we see him and the love of his life, Susan Delgado. It's a beautiful tale that helps you forget the initial annoyance of being ripped from the ka-tet, and I was hoping that this too would be a welcome distraction from being reunited with these old friends.
For those of you who have read the Dark Tower series, the start of this book (sort of a book 4.5 if you will) sees our ka-tet having left the Emerald Palace and picks them up on their journey to Calla Bryn Sturgis. As they cross a wide river, a helpful journeyman explains to them of the imminent arrival of a starkblast, a weather storm carrying with it hurricane pace winds and freezing temperatures. Hunkering down in a nearby town's stone hall, our troop settle for the night as the storm closes in, and beg Roland for a tale to pass the time. Seeing no sleep is likely to happen to any of them, he obliges.
The tale he tells is one from his early days as a gunslinger, a sort of sheriff of Mid-World, King's fictional land which seems like a cross between Tolkien's Middle Earth and Eastwood's Wild West. I rather fancy King styles Roland on Eastwood anyway: picture a no nonsense, emotionless man that you somehow trust, dressed for cowboy work with a mean pair of pistols at his side. He's in complete contrast to Eddie, a former junkie that won't stop talking, a New Yorker Roland 'drew' from his world (read 'our' world) and persuaded to accompany him. These are the two men of the ka-tet, with the boy Jake the most curious member, having died somewhere along the thread of existence the worlds these tales include. Jake has in his charge a billy-bumbler named Oy, a small cross between a dog and an armadillo woudl you imagine(!) that has attached himself to Jake as a pet, and whose actions first warn of the starkblast's arrival. The final member of the ka-tet in Susannah, a former Schizophrenic who housed two personalities (Detta and Odetta) before taking the virtues of both to end with the wheelchair ridden woman that Eddie has taken as his lover for the journey.
A motley crew indeed, you cannot fail to love them all if you follow this series true, and here as they settle down to listen to Roland tell his tale, we soon forget about them, even though we're excited to greet them once more, as we experience a supernatural tale from when Roland was sent, as a young gunslinger, to deal with a 'Skin-man' who had changed his appearance into a beast by night to terrorise a remote town. As Roland and Jamie DeCurry, whom Roland's father as law ruler of the land has sent with him, investigate, Roland decides to set a trap for the skin-man by using the only surviving witness, a boy named Bill, as bait. As with the ka-tet, Roland and Bill hunker down one night in the jail cell for Bill's protection, and a wide eyed Bill asks Roland for a story - the man is only too happy to oblige.
And here I feel is the tale that Stephen King really wanted to tell. You certainly get the angst ridden comfort he had in releasing his Dark Tower characters on us once more, no doubting delighting in our feverish anxiety to get more of them as much as our initial disappointment once we realise that they play a minor part in this portion. There's also clear intention to fill our futures with more pre-Dark Tower Roland tales. But what this is all about is the tale of the title, the story Roland tells Bill in the cell, the story within and story within a story - The Wind Through The Keyhole.
It's about another boy, named Tim. We get his full but brief history, about how tragedy stuck his family more than once and how he was forced to take a path of adventure involving trust, magic and a whole heap of imagination. King tells this as if it's something he has had hidden up his sleeve for donkey's years, yet somehow it's all relevant to the wheel of ka, which I would describe as akin to fate, and Roland and his line of heritage of Arthur Eld of Gilead.
This tale with Tim reminded me very much of John Connolly's 'Book of Lost Things' which also features a child on whom a great burden of hope and survival is placed in a mythical land with supernatural surroundings and events. Good and Evil are explored in a deeper sense than in King's main Dark Tower thread, and it's perhaps that a child is the main character that is the biggest indicator of how ethically important the content is. King has been known to use his literature to rant and rave about what he thinks is right and wrong with the world, and has also been known to include himself in his own work to massage his literary ego, but here there's a lot that's stripped bare and told with stark clarity. He makes it clear that decisions have consequences, and that there is evil and temptation; but he also puts a strong claim in for belief and faith and trust. Some of the characters and events are reminiscent of Yann Martel's Life of Pi, a moving piece of written work that is currently being made into a film; and the contemplative nature of this is praiseworthy.
It IS the sort of story that makes you think, and it's certainly something I would heartily recommend. My initial disheartened nature at how short an incerpt we get of Roland et al soon disappeared as I enjoyed reading about a younger Roland in what effectively is a supernatural whodunnit; the disappointment following this being interrupted also dissipated by the emergence of a gem of a tale featuring Tim; where we get to find out the meaning of the title of the book. As Tim's tale finishes, we get the closure of Roland's whodunnit; and as this too comes to an end, we return to the ka-tet to find out what's going on with the starkblast.
It's fair to say there are elements of this book that go faster than others. There is plenty of action, and plenty of exciting dialogue; as ever with books, the atmosphere and mental image needs to built, as do the background of things, particularly where something other worldy like this is concerned. However, at times I think there are a few elements that aren't as needed as you would originally think. the inclusion of a couple of characters and some of the events with Tim's tale do seem to be in there for padding and not for essential content. While I'm used to this with King's Dark Tower series, I was still disappointed to see some of it still remaining even now.
That having been said, my excitement at another DT book being written and turning that first magical page was beaten only by my disappointment at reading the last page. I was sad when Tim's tale ended, and even more so when Roland's story of his younger adventures came to a close. But I was sadder still at the realisation that the last page of the book meant yet again a void in the ka-tet's involvement in my life. Rarely does a literary character or series have such an impact. Indeed, not since I read the Famous Five over and over in my youth has a series of books grabbed such a hold and not let go. I can only wish that Stephen King decides that he too feels the same way about his magnum opus, and that his telling of Roland needs further revisiting. Until then, my head will be where they have left their journey, and this tome will take its place on the shelf with the other books in the series.
Not as well thumbed as the paperback 7 book series I have already in pride of place, this hardback book seems to warrant more respect and admiration, at least to start with. The hardback cover has an embossed element to it, with the image on the front as busy as the remainder of the cover, which contains the hundreds (maybe even thousands) of faces of people who took part in a facebook competition to have their images appear as part of the design. The image on the front is made with the minimised faces, a very contemporary way of incorporating the art into the cover. I thought this was very well done, the only downside being that my face wasn't one of them...
Enough of my ramblings, for now the wheel of ka must turn, and I have once more come long the journey as invited by the maker of Mid-world and its curious inhabitants. Commala-come. I've read it, and I want more.
There's a storm coming, friends. A terrible ice storm crashing along the path of the beam, disrupting our journey towards the Dark Tower. We're hardy gunslingers, aye, but even our ka-tet needs to sit this one out. So let's hunker down for a bit, out of the killing wind, and I'll tell you a story to pass the time. Listen: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed..."
I first read that line some 20 years ago now, and it still sends shivers down my spine. Stephen King's epic Dark Tower series stands among one of the most important tales in both King's work and my own reading history, transitioning me from 'cool' horror to the fantasy epics I now love.
Roland Deschain is a gunslinger (sort of a cross between a Knight of the Round Table and a Wild West marshal) in a world that is beyond old and breaking down. Things have 'moved on' even over the course of own life, and all he has left is the need to reach the Dark Tower - the nexus of all worlds. If you've read any Stephen King novel, chances are you've 'witnessed' one of the thin spots between realities...
Over the course of seven volumes, Roland collects a small band from our world: former junkie Eddie, wheelchair-bound Susannah (who once had two other personalities), and the boy-who-died, Jake. Each comes from a different time period of a very different place to the one they now find themselves in, joining the quest to reach the Dark Tower. The latter novels had a slightly rushed feel, in my opinion, and the final conclusion was... well, controversial - I can say no more! I love it, though! To hear, then, that Stephen King was releasing a new volume caused mixed feelings: authors revisiting popular series so rarely works. However, I'm super-pleased to be able to report that The Wind Through the Keyhole disappointed me not one jot!
Set between volumes 4 and 5 of the series proper, WTtK picks up with our band during an otherwise glossed-over long stretch of travel - nothing too much happens, you might as well not talk about it. And indeed, here we spend only the barest of time with that overarching narrative: it is merely the outer, bookending tale in a nested set of three.
For, as the 'starkblast' storm approaches, Roland, Eddie, Susannah and Jake - our ka-tet - seek shelter in an abandoned town hall. To pass the time, Roland is encouraged to tell a story and to maybe reveal a little more of his mysterious past. And so he takes the group back to a task he was given as a young and inexperienced gunslinger, to track down a skin-changer terrorising a small town. During that past adventure Roland also had call to hunker down and tell a story, which is repeated during his more recent telling - if you're not feeling slightly confused yet, you probably followed the plot of Inception very well ;)
In structure, WTtK bears a strong resemblance to the (chronologically) previous novel, Wizard and Glass. I remember the frustration with that volume when it appeared mid-series: after a long (8 year!) wait since the third book, it was crushing to find so little forward momentum in the main narrative, instead taking a near full-book detour back to the past. However, repetition of that 'flaw' doesn't seem to matter to me at all here.
Some of that is down to WTtK not being a tagged-on sequel (and if you've read all seven of the Dark Tower series, you may see how that might or might not work!!). Rather, it seems to me like a decent deleted scene now added to the DVD extras. I would suggest it was removed purely because it was unnecessary to the main narrative, and would have broken the pacing - and it would have been far too similar to the previous, much-complained-about, book. However, so many years on it's nice to revisit and get another - if unimportant - slice of the story. Throughout the series we were given tantalising hints of Roland's world and its history, but I for one always thought there was much more to tell.
We don't get a huge amount more of that story here, more a glimpse of Roland's early life. It's not even as revealing as Wizard and Glass in terms of events shaping the young gunslinger's character. We learn even less about our main quartet; really we just briefly check in with them, perhaps fondly remembering the journey we've already taken with them. And in my case at least, how much I'd love a pet like Oy the billy-bumbler! :)
Instead, the bulk of the book is really setting up to tell the dark fairy tale at its core. Remembered from Roland's own childhood, I wasn't initially captured by the new account, with seemingly little to do with the Dark Tower or the characters we've been following, and frustratingly pedestrian. Themes familiar from King's other works, such as domestic violence, seem rather dull given the scope of what we still don't know about a world containing 20-foot tall cyborg bears driven mad by the passing of unknown millennia!! However, stick with the telling and eventually things do become that bit more intriguing. In fact, through the medium of story-telling (within the tale within the narrative!) we actually see a much more direct slice of the Dark Tower mythology - but of course, it's only a folk story...!
Then, from this darkest of faerie tales, the narrative once more pulls back a level to finish off Roland's reminiscing - which I've heard very aptly described as a "supernatural western" - and yet again to put us back on the path of the beam, once more heading towards the Dark Tower.
If that sentence seems baffling, then it suggests that my disagreement with the marketing of this book is correct: I cannot see this as a suitable stand-alone starting point for those who haven't read the Dark Tower series. For those of us who already know and love Mid-World this is a lovely revisit - and bonus outtake, if you like! - but for strangers to the land then I think the lack of background understanding is going to both lessen this tale and give away far too much about the main series. Which, of course, you should read entirely! ;)
~The Dark Tower series~
1. The Gunslinger
2. The Drawing of the Three
3. The Wastelands
4. Wizard and Glass
--> The Wind Through the Keyhole <--
5. The Wolves of the Calla
6. The Song of Susannah
7. The Dark Tower
A 'redux' version of The Gunslinger was also published: I love the original for all the reasons (over flowery writing, etc) King rewrote it 21 years on, and I love seeing the differences between the two!
Hardback: 335 pages
First published in 2012
RRP: £19.99, but currently £8.99 on Amazon
The Wind Through The Keyhole is a late addition to Stephen Kings Dark Tower series, set between books 4 and 5 and retelling a previously untold chapter in the lives of the last Gunslinger, Roland and his Ka-Tet.
Though it has been widely advertised as a stand-alone novel however (or erronously as a way for new readers to introduce themselves to Roland and his friends), it is this reviewers opinion that it is probably best enjoyed only by those who have previously read the rest of the series or are currently working their way through Kings probably most famous epic.
The book begins immediately after Wizard And Glass has finished, with Roland and his Ka-Tet leaving behind the Emerald Palace where last we encountered them. After crossing a river by means of an old ferryman, the group learn of the approach of something called a Starkblast. This is a storm of epic proportions that is known to lower the temperature in seconds when it strikes, causing trees to explode with the immediate influx of freezing cold.
Roland and his companions seek shelter in the meeting hall of an abandoned village and build up a fire to keep warm just in time. Knowing that they are going to be stuck there for a while, Roland begins another of his stories about his past; recalling the events that happened in his home of Gilead shortly after those he talked about in Wizard And Glass.
The remainder of the book is essentially a flashback, just as Wizard And Glass pretty much was, with Roland and one of his old friends being sent out to a neighbouring town to check out reports of a SkinWalker; basically a man capable of changing his form. Once there, Roland falls in with a young orphaned boy and then tells HIM a tale from his childhood thus providing the constant reader with a story within a story.
Anyone expecting a new full length tale of Roland and his Ka-Tet may be disappointed by this paltry offering that slots in nicely between nthe existing Dark Tower novels but for true fans, this book is a delight! Reading this is like catching up with old friends you thought you had lost or discovering a forgotten anecdote about someone close to you who had died that you had never heard before. It also leaves a hole in your heart and a heavy feeling deep inside once you are finished; knowing as you do that the chances are great that this could well be the last we ever see of Roland and his Ka-Tet! Of course, fans have thought that before.....
King has said that at some stage he wants to re-write some of the closing installments of The Dark Tower; possibly editing out his contribution to the books that feature himself as a character. Rather than doing that, I would instead prefer one or two more books like this offering us further insight into the man behind the Roland we have come to know in the rest of the Dark Tower series!
This really is a delightful gem of a novel but it is also a double-edged sword in that it leaves you desiring more. King throwing the fans this is the equivalent of you going to the duck pond and just throwing the ducks a few scraps whilst keeping the rest of the loaf for yourself! If this makes me sound a little ungrateful then so be it. But I have missed the way that everything else he writes fits nicely somehow into the Dark Tower mythos and this book is as much a tease or a brief taster, an amuse bouche if you will, than a full course in its own right.
If this is the last we ever see of Roland then it is a shame. But as a novel in its own right, I must admit I did enjoy this even if I did want more........
I hope you are listening Mr.King ~ give the fans what they want!