When I finally finished reading Stephen King's The Dark Tower last summer, I knew I'd have to read The Wind Through the Keyhole in the near future. But having read the last three installments of the series over the course of a few weeks, I knew I also needed to take a break.
Since my favorite volume was Wizard and Glass, I relished the opportunity to revisit a younger Roland and hear him tell the legend of Tim Stoutheart to a frightened boy. And even though The Wind Through the Keyhole is little more than an interlude which adds nothing to the greater scheme of things, it was great to be reunited with Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy.
Here's the blurb:
Stephen King returns to the rich landscape of Mid-World, the spectacular territory of the Dark Tower fantasy saga that stands as his most beguiling achievement. Roland Deschain and his ka-tet—Jake, Susannah, Eddie, and Oy, the billy-bumbler—encounter a ferocious storm just after crossing the River Whye on their way to the Outer Baronies. As they shelter from the howling gale, Roland tells his friends not just one strange story but two . . . and in so doing, casts new light on his own troubled past. In his early days as a gunslinger, in the guilt-ridden year following his mother’s death, Roland is sent by his father to investigate evidence of a murderous shape-shifter, a “skin-man” preying upon the population around Debaria. Roland takes charge of Bill Streeter, the brave but terrified boy who is the sole surviving witness to the beast’s most recent slaughter. Only a teenager himself, Roland calms the boy and prepares him for the following day’s trials by reciting a story from the Magic Tales of the Eld that his mother often read to him at bedtime. “A person’s never too old for stories,” Roland says to Bill. “Man and boy, girl and woman, never too old. We live for them.” And indeed, the tale that Roland unfolds, the legend of Tim Stoutheart, is a timeless treasure for all ages, a story that lives for us. King began the Dark Tower series in 1974; it gained momentum in the 1980s; and he brought it to a thrilling conclusion when the last three novels were published in 2003 and 2004. The Wind Through the Keyhole is sure to fascinate avid fans of the Dark Tower epic. But this novel also stands on its own for all readers, an enchanting and haunting journey to Roland’s world and testimony to the power of Stephen King’s storytelling magic.
As far as the timeline is concerned, The Wind Through the Keyhole is set between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla. The tale begins a few days following their departure from the Green Palace, as the ka-tet follows the Path of the Beam toward the land of Thunderclap. Roland realizes that a starkblast is coming and they must soon find shelter, or they'll freeze to death. The phenomenon is a storm of enormous proportions that sweeps over a landscape like a hurricane. A starkblast is always preceded by unseasonably warm weather, and its coming can be predicted by billy-bumblers who sense the approaching storm and keep turning around in circles. Hunkering down inside a stone building to survive the cold night, Roland kills time by recounting the tale of the Skin-Man and a boy named Bill Streeter. As much as I relished a return to Mid-World, it was an even better treat to have the opportunity to go back in the past, in the days of Gilead.
From the very beginning of the saga, as a no-nonsense Gunslinger Roland of Gilead immediately became a fan favorite. Wizard and Glass introduced us to a younger man and told the tale that explained how he ultimately became such a hardass Gunslinger. The tragic love story with Susan and the death of his mother affected Roland in a profound way. Still devastated by the fact that he was tricked into murdering Gabrielle Deschain, Roland and his friend Jamie De Curry are sent by his father to the town Debaria to investigate and capture a shape-shifter that terrorizes the area. Shortly following their arrival, a group of men, women, and children are brutally killed at a farm. The sole survivor is a boy named Bill, now an orphan for his father was murdered during the savage attack. Under hypnosis, Bill reveals to Roland that he saw the Skin-Man in his human form just after the attack. But he was hiding and only glimpsed his feet. He explains that the Skin-Man had a tattoo of a blue ring around his ankle. Such a tattoo indicates that the murderer spent time in a nearby prison. While Jamie is sent to round up possible suspects, Roland brings Bill to a cell in Sheriff's station. His plan is to walk each of them past Bill in the hopes that the boy can identify the Skin-Man, or that the murderer will somehow reveal himself by trying to escape. While they wait for Jamie's return, Roland tells Bill a tale from his own childhood, one that his mother used to tell him, "The Wind Through the Keyhole."
This is essentially another story within a story, the third one comprising this work, and makes up the better part of the book. It is the tale of a boy named Tim Ross. He lives alone with his mother Nell in a small village. Tim recently lost his father, who was apparently killed by a dragon while in the woods chopping trees. Faced with an uncertain future, Nell fears the annual collection of taxes by the Covenant Man. A starkblast is part of young Tim's misadventures, which is why it was brought to Roland's mind as they sought shelter from the storm. The boy is sent on a quest to find a cure for his mother's blindness, a quest that will take him far and at the end of which he'll meet the fabled magician Maerlyn. He would grow up to become Tim Stoutheart, one of the very few gunslingers not from the proven line of Arthur Eld.
Weighing in at only 309 pages, The Wind Through the Keyhole is a short work. The pace never drags and all too quickly one reaches the end. The three different storylines blend together seamlessly. What takes place in the "present" at the beginning and the ending are basically just an excuse for Roland to tell his tale to the rest of the ka-tet. As magical and interesting as Tim Ross' story turned out to be, it is the conclusion of the Debaria segment that offers the most poignant moment. On their way back to Gilead, they briefly stop at Serenity, a community of women where Gabrielle Deschain lived for a while after suffering a mental breakdown following her affair with Marten Broadcloak. Roland is shocked to discover that his mother left a missive for him, that somehow she knew he would one day visit Serenity. The content of that note makes for an emotional ending and was the perfect way to close the show.
The Wind Through the Keyhole brings nothing new or important to The Dark Tower series. It offers no insight into the plotlines or the characters. It does offer some sort of closure regarding Roland's guilt-ridden anguish following the killing of his mother. Other than that, it doesn't aspire to be anything but a fascinating and otherworldly return to Mid-World. Here's to hoping that inspiration will strike again and that Stephen King will treat his fans to other such enchanting tales in the future!