Oct 22, 2013

[Books] The Wind Through the Keyhole

The Wind Through the Keyhole is the Dark Tower novel that none of us asked for and probably the one that we also don't need all that much. The seven main books of the Dark Tower series are pretty solid on their own and this book - an odd insertion between books 4 and 5 - is quaint but not all that compelling. And I'll get into the reasons why I say this over the course of this review.

And don't get me wrong - I absolutely love the Dark Tower books. They remain to be my favorite Stephen King novels versus all others and they've certainly inspired a lot of ideas that have been incorporated into my own writing as well. It's such a rich setting and such a surreal and different world that still shares a lot of common concepts with our own. How the two compare and contrast is part of what makes the books so great - that and the amazing characters that populate the universe.

This book is really just a supplement in nature - it's a nice new story in that same universe but it's not one that you have to read in order to progress from book 4 to book 5. And that sort of cheapens the experience, I feel, even though I can understand it was done to minimize risk and not to overly alienate older readers of the series.

Synopsis: The Wind Through the Keyhole is a fantasy novel set in the world of the Dark Tower novels as written by Stephen King. It is the eighth book with respect to its printing order but as mentioned earlier it squeezes between books 4 and 5.

We are again following Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger, and his ka-tet of Eddie, Susannah and Jake along with the billy-bumbler Oy. After surviving the events of Wizard and Glass, they're eager to move forward and continue on their quest to seek out the Dark Tower. But Oy starts behaving increasingly strange and in time Roland finally realizes that Oy is reacting to the coming of a magical storm known as a starkblast. They're horribly dangerous and the party must seek out shelter from the extreme cold in order to survive.

When they do find shelter, they gather around the fire and prompt Roland to tell a story to help pass the time. Thus Roland discusses a story of his youth some time after he had killed his mother. He and his friend Jamie Curry are sent by Roland's father to the town of Debaria to investigate reports of a shape-changing Skin-Man. They manage to reach Debaria despite their train getting derailed along the way and there they set about trying to discover the truth of who has been killing the townfolk. And while trying to calm a potential witness to the murders, young Roland then tells another story - a fairy tale of sorts that seems to have a degree of truth to it as well.

Thus we have a "Inception" novel of sorts given we have a story with a story in it that also has another story in it. And these are not short tales, mind you. We barely spend time with Roland and his ka-tet but instead dive deep into the realm of Mid-World of many years ago. Whether following the case of the Skin-Man or the fairy tale naturally called "The Wind Through the Keyhole".

Some critics see the value in this book as a sort of foreshadowing to strange elements of fiction making their way into the "real" world of Mid-World in the later books. And while I can appreciate how that might be a way to justify this odd book in the middle of the ka-tet's life and death struggles, it still feels like a bit of a cop-out. What first starts out as the beginning of another adventure with the Roland and the gang and instead we end up going over stories and stories and stories.

And while these fairy tale style narratives are interesting enough on their own, we probably could have positioned this book in a completely different way. If we really just wanted to focus on Roland's past, we might as well have positioned this title a a prequel, much like a lot of the Marvel Comics titles set in the world of the Dark Tower. Then we'd approach things in a very different way instead of feeling frustrated that we're left wanting more stories involving Oy or something. Yes, the book makes you miss Oy.

Thus it's hard to judge the book on its own since we are reminded of the fact that this takes place between books 4 and 5. It takes a bit of effort to explain to yourself why this was needed and the answers don't necessarily feel all that fulfilling or reassuring.

So yes, I miss reading about Roland but this book was not what I had hoped. I do have a few questions about who the dark figure in the fairy tale was and how he connects to the rest of the universe (I'm deliberately being vague so as not to spoil things for you). More Dark Tower stories can be a good thing in general, but at this point I think you may be much better off exploring the comics instead of this book in order to get your Dark Tower fix.

The Wind Through the Keyhole tries to be clever somehow but it fails in this regard. It's still a decent story on its own but one that suffers when put into context, depending on your perspective on things. Thus I can only rate the book as 3 Mid-World phrases like "Thankee-sai" out of a possible 5.

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