Newest Review: ... 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 ... more
Roland Deschain's journey gathers more detail
The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel - Stephen King
Member Name: pmcds
The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel - Stephen King
Advantages: Structure, characters, vision
Disadvantages: Occasional depth
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.
Summary: Excellent addition to the Dark Tower series, between vols 4 and 5