Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Book Review: The Wind Through The Keyhole

One of the things that I always loved about Stephen King's Dark Tower series is the writer's take on the subjectivity of fiction - the truths within lies and the underlying reality of what most would consider figments of the imagination. Here, in his newest book The Wind Through The Keyhole, King has gone one step further, neatly splicing a Mid-World fairy tale within the existing story of Roland and his ka-tet, a sort of "Tower Sandwich", if you will.
    The Wind Through The Keyhole does have its place within the Darker Tower series, despite the author having already spoken to its finality. Fitting nicely between book 4, Wizard and Glass, and book 5,  Wolves of The Calla (King himself mentions in the book's forward that it serves as a Darker Tower 4.5), it can be read as a stand alone novel or easily integrated into the flow of the original seven books. I opted for the latter, and I think that the series is richer for its addition.
The Wind Through The Keyhole picks up directly after the conclusion of Wizard And Glass, and we find Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake, and of course, Oy, the Billybumbler, road weary and in great need of rest.  Their journey eventually leads them to  the great River Whye, where Oy's  increasingly odd behavior  catches the attention of the ever-watchful gunslinger, sending his thoughts far across the reaches of his memory to remind him of a great and impending danger. Soon, time is short for Roland and his ka-tet, and  he and his companions must batten down the hatches for what appears to be a storm unlike any of them have every seen.
     Falling deeper into memory, and with the elements raging outside of their makeshift shelter, Roland gathers his friends close to their desperate fire to share another tale of his youth, hoping all the while that they may weather the storm that threatens to level the surrounding town and claim their very lives. 
Spanning a backwards track of time, Roland's tale speaks of his days as a newly made Gunslinger, wherein he and his partner Jaime have been sent to the dust-bowl barony of Debaria to investigate a slough of blood-soaked murders. Several locals have been slaughtered at the hands of a shape-changing skin-man - a depraved being with the ability to take the form of terrible beasts - and it is an orphaned survivor, Bill Streeter, that moves us into the second part of the narrative.
    When the tension rises within the local law enforcement, and with the townspeople growing anxious, Roland does his best to calm the young boy. Deciding to lock himself inside the jail's drunk tank with the lad, Roland begins aloud the story of young Tim Ross - a boy who, similarly, lost his father in the face of great tragedy and peril.
 The Wind Through The Keyhole (wherefrom the novel takes its name) examines the life of Tim Ross within his home village of Tree. Tim lives alone with his Mother, and  he lives for both stories and study. All the while, he wishes desperately that his father had not met his end in the volcanic breath of a dragon during a typical logging trip.
    Eventually, Tim's mother re-marries, and the gruff man that has become his adopted father  leads Tim to believe that his life has taken a turn for the worse. What's more, upon a revealing encounter with the town's grim tax collector, Tim begins to suspect that there is more to his father's demise than what he and his mother were led to believe.
    Spurred on by the cold words of the tax-hunting Covenant Man, Tim musters all of the courage that his eleven year old heart can hold and  ventures out into the surrounding unknowns of the Great Forest. Questing to uncover the truth about his father's death and protect what's left of his family from the man who would keep them apart, Tim begins a journey that will change both Mid-World and his  own destiny forever.
The Wind Through The Keyhole was yet another fantastic journey into Stephen King's Mid-World, and I spent many an hour past my bed time turning page after page. It held many of the same components that made Eyes of The Dragon such a wonderful fantasy experience, but with the addition of the familiar technological presence of North Central Positronics, as well as the Covenant Man's seeming penchant for traveling  through space and time to cause mayhem and ruin.
    Also, if you can't figure out who he is yet, you may want to re-read the series, beginning with The Gunslinger, or possibly even The Stand. If you're a newcomer to the series, you're forgiven - you must, however, prepare yourself for the delicious evil that is the Covenant Man. Young Tim's widowed tutor provides him with this apt warning in regards to our fellow: "...And stay away from that dark man, should he appear to Thee. He's made of lies from boot to crown, and his gospels bring nothing but tears."
    The writing of The Wind Through The Keyhole holds all of its Mid-World luster, much to the point that I found myself speaking that way again (much to the annoyance of others, no doubt), and it really felt like the writer had never truly left that place. It's no small wonder that it was so easy to get back into the swing of The Dark Tower's nuance of speech and custom, and it made the further revelations of Roland's character all the more convincing. Being as that Roland has always been somewhat of an enigma to his fellows, the light cast upon his troubled soul was surprising, refreshing, but not without a touch of melancholy. 
    I'm sorry to say that our time spent with Roland and posse is relatively brief in comparison to the bulk of the novels content, but it was no less time fondly spent.  The story of Tim Ross comprises two thirds of the 336 page book, and about four fifths of that story was a delight; the remaining fifth, I'm afraid to say, I felt was somewhat contrived. I've often heard it said that Stephen King has a bolshy habit of screwing the ending of his stories, but I've never really felt similarly until the reading of this book - and hell, what's one faulty ending out of the dozens of brilliant conclusions King has hammered out?  The yarn was spun quite magically, with the fervor of a real literary aesthetic, but the final strands of Tim's bit seemed to be thrown together hastily, as if the story realized that it needed to have found its end ten pages ago and had to self-terminate in the most dignified manner that it could muster.
    That's not to say, however, that  the dignity with which it collapsed upon itself was at all undistinguished! Moreover, that was only the end of Tim's story - when we move back into the present (past), the youngsters Roland and Jaime have still yet to square off against the genuinely disturbing Skin-man of the Debaria barony...
Whether you buy into the things said about Mr. King's endings or not ( I for one feel like those claims are unsubstantiated rubbish), it should not stop you from reading this book. When it comes to story-telling, Stephen King is truly the master, and The Wind Through The Keyhole is another pristine example of what a captivating story should be.
As the boy Roland spoke to young Bill Streeter to calm him within the jailhouse of Debaria, "A person's never too old for stories...Man and boy, girl and woman, we live for them.'
I know that I certainly do, and The Wind Though The Keyhole was an exceptional reminder.

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