Tracing The Trails : Wind Through The Keyhole
This was an interesting year for Stephen King. Besides publishing a sequel to his classic novel, The Shining, he also announced his return to the universe of his epic Dark Tower series.
To say that the world of King nerds exploded would be putting it mildly.
At the time, I had made the complete journey through the Dark Tower series several times so I was thrilled at the prospect of another addition. And besides me, I think there was also a contingent of Tower fans who were holding out hope that a new book would modify or expand on an ending that has proven to be fairly controversial and not so popular.
Personally, I love the ending and it was because of the nature of how the series ended that I was perplexed as to how King was going to add to the story. Gradually, word got out that the new book was going to take place in the middle of the series. Essentially, it would be book four-point-five, as King would come to refer to it. Also, the book would be a standalone story. While it would take place in the Dark Tower universe, anyone would be able to read and enjoy it, regardless of reading the previous books.
So this is a dilemma that has been faced many a time and I admit that there is no good resolution. You have a choice to make. Do you go after existing fans or new ones? I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little bit disappointed that the book wasn’t going to be more rooted in the mythology of the series. Still, I have to acknowledge that I understand why he made the decision he did. Writing the book this way allows it to be enjoyed by all fans. And the upside is that if a new reader comes to this book and becomes interested in the series, they might turn and read the rest of the books. If you were to write a book only for the hard-core fans of the series, there would be no potential for that kind of growth. You’d likely end up either satisfying or pissing off the fans. And with as aggressively hostile nerd culture has become these days, I think we know how that would’ve likely come out for him.
Despite my misgivings, I was eager to get my hands on this book when it came out. And on the whole I would have to say that I was satisfied with the final product. As promised by King, the story has very little to do with the overall narrative of the Dark Tower. But there are some appearances from the main characters as well as some typical King Easter eggs and references.
The structure of the narrative was definitely interesting and I have to give Stephen King credit for trying something like this. The essential premise of the story is that while Roland and his band of gunslingers are waylaid in the course of their travels by a severe storm, Roland proceeds to tell a story from his past. And let me say that I completely acknowledge the fact that King employs pretty much the exact same narrative device as he did in the book previous to this one, Wizard And Glass.
The story Roland tells his ka-tet is of being sent to a small village to investigate a string of deaths, the suspicion being that one of the people is a shape-shifter who is attacking the population. A young boy who saw the beast is convinced to help them and one night, while Roland is watching over the boy, he tells him a story from his childhood that his mother told him, titled The Wind Through The Keyhole.
This story is of a young boy who goes on a dangerous quest to save his mother (shades of The Talisman here, perhaps). It is in this story that we get another surprise appearance from a major character of Dark Tower lore. King even makes a few references to the CS Lewis Narnia series.
Essentially, the book becomes a story within a story within a story. And while this likely sounds cheesy and gimmicky, King still manages to make it work. The book isn’t breathtaking by any means but it’s a fun read.
The portion of the story involving Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy is the shortest and least impactful part of the book. And again, I get why they did this. He couldn’t have anything major happen to them. If there was some kind of huge event, the question would become why there is no mention of it in later books. So we have enough time to enjoy their presence and to get that rush of nostalgia before getting into the heart of the book.
As for the rest, I found the story of Roland trying to root out the shape-shifter or, the “skin man” to be fairly mundane. It was interesting enough, just not spectacular. One aspect about it that was interesting was that it added a little bit of information about Roland’s mother, relating to events from Wizard And Glass.
The story of Tim Stoutheart was really entertaining, a fictional tale for children that had a great air of fantasy and adventure. And there is a character who you can’t help but feel a thrill of excitement as you gradually realize who he is. Tim goes on a Tower quest of his own in the course of this story that feels steeped in the flavors of age old legends and mythology. King does here what I think Tolkien did with Lord Of The Rings in that he creates a new story that somehow carries with it the weight of history and culture.
Even though this falls within the timeline of the original books, I would not read it as a part of the series. As I said earlier, the book that immediately precedes it, Wizard And Glass, also is told predominantly as a flashback to Roland’s youth. To go on and immediately read Wind Through The Keyhole would feel odd, just in terms of the pacing from book to book. There are also a number of references that you understand better if you have read the entire series.
And I will admit that I think there are some slight continuity goofs here or, if not mistakes they at least are a bit perplexing. At the end of Wizard And Glass, Roland tells a story that reveals something he did, an offense that has largely shaped his character and who he has grown in to. It is a dark moment in Roland’s life, one which challenges how you feel about his moral center. Then, in Wind Through The Keyhole, we get a little more information that almost seems to absolve Roland’s guilt slightly. I almost equate it to George Lucas’s decision to edit A New Hope to make it seem like Greedo fires first. My issue with this is that once you read the story detailed in Wind Through The Keyhole, why would Roland have lived so much of his life feeling the guilt for what he had done? Also, I kind of liked the stark challenge felt in Roland’s crime and how that moment changed him. Roland did a terrible thing and I think it’s kind of important for him to stay in that space.
If you were hoping for King to somehow shoehorn a new ending to the series for you, this book is going to disappoint. However, if you are looking for an entertaining, light read, check this out. There is more still to the Dark Tower story that I think needs to be told and I hope one day it will. In the meantime, this was a good nostalgic trip back to a universe and to characters I have loved since childhood.