Saturday, May 19, 2012

Book Review: The Wind Through The Keyhole

Ok, sure, when news of this book came out, I wasn't exactly dancing the commala in excitement. In fact, I was a bit wary of the whole idea.  However, I slowly came around and decided to make this one a day-of-release purchase when it came out.  Well, I tried to do that at least, but my book store of choice was sold out of copies by the time I got there and had to wait two days for new ones to come in.  Woe is me!

Believe it or not, I survived that terrible ordeal and took it upon myself to devour this tasty morsel in as few sittings as possible.  Of course school and life conspired to make that dream shatter and I was instead relegated to scraping together all the tiny quiet moments in my life and turning them into Dark Tower reading moments.  In the end, the consumption arrangement didn't matter, because damn it, I was once again back in Mid-World with my old pals Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah and Oy, and I was willing to say a big thankee to Sai King for that.

The Wind Through The Keyhole is best described, as it has been elsewhere a hundred times over, as Dark Tower 4.5, meaning that it fits nice and snug between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla.  If you are new to the series, or just working your way through, and you get to read this one in sequence, I am pretty fucking jealous, because I think this book works best in sequence rather than as an add-on after one has read the whole series.  The reason I say that is because, with the whole series behind me, there was a bit less tension in this one than there could have been.  Still, this was a fun and entertaining addition to the Dark Tower series.

My favorite thing about this book is that it is a story-within-a-story-within-a-story.  I don't know why, but I love that kind of shit.  The novel begins with Roland and his ka-tet holing up in an abandoned town to wait out a brutal storm called a Starkblast.  While the weather rages on outside, Roland entertains the crew with a story from his gunslinging youth, titled Skin Man.

This story features Roland and his former ka-tet mate, Jamie DeCurry, as they travel to a distant barony to investigate a series of grisly killings that may be the work of a shape-shifter.  When they arrive in Debaria, Roland and Jamie encounter a town still reeling from the night's previous attack which left a score or more farmers, field hands, women and children dead.  Miraculously, there's one survivor, a young lad by the name of Bill Streeter.  Since young Bill is Roland's only and best  lead in finding the killer, he quickly puts together a plan to nab the skin-man.  The catch is, young Bill plays a critical role in said nabbing and in order to calm Bill's nerves before the big event, Roland tells him the story of The Wind Through The Keyhole, an origin story/coming of age tale of sorts for Tim Stoutheart, a legendary Gunslinger.

Though I enjoyed each of the three stories this book provides, my hands-down favorite was the title story itself, The Wind Through The Keyhole.  This is one of the finest works of storytelling I've had the pleasure to enjoy.  It felt like I was reading a classic fable or folktale as told by Stephen King...a very awesome experience.  This one had some great classic fantasy elements in it, complete with haunted forests, dragons, dark magic, and even strange little people that I pictured as a cross between oompa-loompas and brown barbaloots. (Probably not how King intended them to be imagined, but fuck it, I'm my own man.)  All this with some decidedly King-esque twists and mutations to old standards and you have one fantastic story.

Aside from The Wind Through The Keyhole portion of the novel, the rest of the book was borderline mediocre in terms of entertainment value...which is kinda strange given that The Wind Through The Keyhole story is the furthest removed from having a connection to the actual Dark Tower series.  The reason I didn't enjoy the other two portions as much boils down to the fact that I already knew what happens before and after those events; so there wasn't much tension to either story line.  That doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy this book, or that I didn't savor each new, fresh moment with Roland and his ka-tet, but this one lacked the power that a book possesses when the reader does not know how things will turn out. Don't get me wrong, the whole book is a good one, but for me, it suffered from being an after-the-fact addition to the main storyline.

All told, it was pretty sweet to back in Mid-World and I'm grateful for the opportunity for new Dark Tower material, especially stuff that didn't alter or change what had already come before.  The kicker is, this didn't really add anything to the story either and in no way feels essential to the series.  Sure it's a good book, but it could be taken completely out of the series and it wouldn't effect a damn thing.  You can't say that about any of the other books in the series, and I think that's where King faltered most. Sure, he slipped this one in nicely between books 4 and 5, but it doesn't really matter because he doesn't really do anything other than give some side story and fill in unnecessary details that we don't really need to know.

So...yes, I'm happy this book exists; purely because I'm a big fan of the Dark Tower books.  Yes, the book is a fun and entertaining read, and even has some extended moments of sheer brilliance, but for me, the book was lacking because it fails to be an essential addition to the Dark Tower series.  Solid, but not solid gold.

Grade: B


Ryan said...

Another good write up! Being another huge DT fan I was scared to death about this one, but as you pointed out it really doesn't have any bearing at all on the overall DT storyline. Which make me think why did he do it? Was it because he missed Roland and gang as much as we did and just wanted one more fling? I think not otherwise he would have written more of the story involving them, let’s face it the majority of the book was removed from the quest for the Dark Tower. No I think King did this, as much as it pains me to say, for the sales... now I know it's not about money but exposure. Last year he very nearly had the DT made into an epic movie/TV series and I think that this might just be a way to raise awareness to the series again and maybe rekindle some interest. Any thoughts??

The Other Ryan

Ryan said...

Hey Ryan,

I hadn't really thought of that, but you could be right. I'd like to think King just had a DT story in his head, and figured out a way to slip in into the series without making too many waves.

I'm not sure how I'd feel about a DT tv show or movie series. I guess I'd be upset at first, but still watch it.

Sverige said...

This story within a story is well told and fills out more backstory of the world before it had moved on - a tale of a young boy on a quest to save his mother, and along the way taking the first tentative steps toward manhood. We see dragons, fairies, tygers, and a reappearance of North Central Positronics along the way.

The novel finishes on a great note with more development of the Roland character and a nice bridge to book 5. There is a hook left in the text that could easily be another story told about Roland's world after the events of The Wind Through the Keyhole (the version imparted by Roland to Young Bill), and I'm sure many DT fans will be clamoring for it. I would be amongst them. This return to the world of the Dark Tower was a fresh breath of air, and I'd welcome the chance to visit it again.

Ryan said...


Thanks for your comment. It'll be interesting to see if King delves into the DT world again after this.

Bryce L. said...

I just finished this myself and quite enjoyed it, but like you said, other than the main story it was like, meh. Especially the final part with the skin man. I was like, really, that's it?

I'm also just in the middle of my DT experience. I have yet to read the final three and I'm having a hard time believing the rest of the story will be about our Ka-tet instead of just flashbacks from here on out. :D

Ryan said...

Yeah, books 4 and 4.5 are quite flashback heavy. Don't fret, you're gonna get one hell of a battle in Wolves of the Calla...not to mention an awesomely heavy dose of Mid-World vernacular with a Calla Bryn Sturgis twist.

I'm jealous you got to read The Wind Through the Keyhole in sequence.

Bryce L. said...

I feel like it would have been even better to have read the series a while ago and then get a nice surprise like this. The grass is always greener ain't it jus'.

Still really good stuff. Have you read The Eyes of the Dragon? I was just wondering how close that fairy tale is writing-wise to Wind Through the Keyhole.

Ryan said...

Haven't read it yet. I'm criminally under-read when it comes to King's other works. Aside from his DT stuff, I've only read Carrie, 'Salems Lot, The Shining, and his non fiction one, On Writing.

One of these days I'll get around to more....