Friday, January 11, 2019

Story Time: The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel by Stephen King

As Constant Readers of this blog know, I've been on a bit of a Stephen King kick in recent months, which has included an unexpected obsession with his epic Dark Tower series.  I plan to write a post on why I love the Dark Tower books so much, but before that I realized I had one more book to read: The Wind Through the Keyhole.

Just when you thought the Dark Tower books were done with The Dark Tower: The Dark Tower VII (published in 2004), King added another book in 2012.  The Wind Through the Keyhole is a fun trip to the Dark Tower multiverse that's suitable for newcomers and Constant Readers alike, but it's not as trippy as the core books.

This one takes place between volumes 4 and 5 (King refers to it as Dark Tower 4.5); Roland and ka-tet travel along the beam and wait out a horrific storm.  Actually, that's too simple.  The frame narrative takes place then, but inside that, there's a story from Roland's early gunslinging days involving possible were-creatures marauding a small town, a story that itself takes place soon after the events narrated in volume 4: Wizard and Glass (those events surrounding Susan Delgado, Rhea of the Coös, and that pesky Charyu tree).  But wait!  Within that narrative, there's another narrative as young Roland tells a scared boy a story called "The Wind Through the Keyhole" (a story that takes up the bulk of the book, which has murder, mayhem, woodsmen, a tribe of swamp mutants, a mysterious tiger, a wizard or two, a fairy, and maybe even a dragon).

Got it?  It's actually less confusing than it sounds.  I can say I really enjoyed it as another trip into the Dark Tower multiverse with plenty of patented Dark Tower weirdness, although it lacked both the depth of character- and world- building of the early books and the mind-bending epicness of the later books.

As with most of the core books (especially four, five, and seven), The Wind Through the Keyhole spends a lot of time on stories - what we get out of them, why we love them, why we need them.  Stories are not inessential luxuries to pass the time, but rather something we need, something we in some sense are (as narrative theories of personal identity would have it).  As with the core books, the stories here are fantasy, but also Western, science fiction, horror, and more.  As with personal narratives, sometimes building a narrative from diverse sources makes for something unique and beautiful.

I feel the need for a bit of a philosophical spoiler concerning the title: while there is literally wind through a keyhole at one point, the title is more a metaphor for the glimpses of time and a larger reality beyond our quotidian preoccupations.  Perhaps it's best to let Roland explain: "... the wind that blows through time's keyhole, ye ken.  In the end, the wind takes everything, doesn't it?  And why not?  Why other?  If the sweetness of our lives did not depart, there would be no sweetness at all" (p. 300).

My own journey with the Dark Tower originally began decades ago when I read the first two books and didn't really understand them, but I picked them up again in 2017 and for whatever reason got hooked this time.  They may seem like weird Western-fantasy hybrids at first (especially if you just read the first one), but there's a depth and brilliance to these books I can't do justice to in a humble review.  There's really nothing like the Dark Tower books.

I decided to wait and read The Wind Through the Keyhole after finishing the seven core books.  Constant Readers of the Dark Tower books will enjoy learning a bit more about Roland's back story (you might learn a bit more about one other key character, too), but this would read perfectly fine as a stand alone novel for someone who has never picked up a Dark Tower book or someone who has read one or a few.

I'd keep reading more Dark Tower books like this.  Seeing as it's now 2019 and knowing how important the number 19 is in many of the books, I wouldn't be surprised if King were to give us a secret release of a new Dark Tower book sometime this year.  Let's hope the wheel of ka turns that way.

See also my Goodreads review.

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