Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Tower 4.5: The Wind Through The Keyhole Review

The Wind Through The Keyhole:
The Dark Tower book #4.5
The Wind Through the Keyhole is a surprise entry into the Dark Tower series. Why? Because that series was thought to be complete and finished with seven hefty volumes. I greeted this book with mixed feelings. I love the Dark Tower world and characters so I was happy to be able to spend some more time with them and perhaps go on a new adventure or two. But I was also wary... with the series already done, what could this new book have to say that would be of value? There's also the risk of continuity flubs or adding new story elements that lessen events in the other books in some way.

On the dedication page Stephen King dedicates this book to "The Folks at Marvel Comics." It appears that Marvel's adaptations of his Dark Tower works into a chronological storyline told with graphic novels have spurred Mr. King's imagination with these characters ago.

This book, story-wise, takes place between books 4 and 5 of the Dark Tower. The structure of the novel is actually quite interesting. It's a bit like Russian Nestings Dolls... there are actually three stories in this book but one sits inside another and all of the stories have similar elements added to them. I'm pleased to report that on all fronts Stephen King avoided the outcomes that I feared and instead delivered one of his best written works in years.

The first story is, of course, about Roland has his Ka-Tet. They are on the road, traveling toward the Dark Tower and following the path of the Beam when a superstorm called a Starkblast, comes upon them and forces them to find hasty shelter. None of this is terribly interesting (as we know, having read book 5, that Jake, for example, doesn't die frozen to death in the storm, it lessens the suspense) and really it only serves the purpose of getting the characters together and still so Roland can tell a very long story - the second story.

So while the first story pauses, Roland tells his Ka-Tet (including us, the reader) the story of his youth when he investigated a cannibalistic Skin Man (a shapeshifter) in Debaria (which is where his mother once went on a healing retreat of sorts). Along the way, Roland makes the acquaintance of a young man who just lost his father. To comfort the boy, Roland tells the boy a long story about a boy named Tim.

So starts the third story-inside-the-story while both the first and second stories have been put on hold. The story of Tim is actually called The Wind Through the Keyhole, giving the entire book its name. Tim has a chance encounter with Martin Broadcloak / Roland Flagg that send him on an foolish errand to heal  his injured mother. I don't want to spoil it for anyone but Tim turns out to be quite a bit more than a foolish young boy. Along the way Tim finds himself in a truly magical place. In many regards, his story mirrors Roland's own including an encounter with the Starkblast storm. Tim's story is written as a fairy tale (as it is, in fact, a story that mothers tell their children) even though in the Dark Tower world the story is actually an historical account. Stephen King tells the best fairy tales (don't believe me? Read The Eye of the Dragon!). The story of Tim comes to a very satisfying ending. I would have been happy had the entire book ended there. But, no.

Once Tim's story is completed the reader is brought back to the story of the Skin Man. Roland solves that particular mystery and we get to see him grow as a character along the way. This Roland is young and makes careless mistakes. Once again, this story mirrors Tim's story. At one point the Skin Man changes into a large snake very similar to the one in Tim's story. Once again, the tale is brought to a very satisfying conclusion. But the satisfaction has almost nothing to do with the mystery of the Skin Man or the action at the end of it. Really all of that is just an excuse to get Roland to Debaria so he can receive his mother's last gift (Roland killed his own mother and this gift comes to him posthumously). I won't ruin it but let's just say that it's a very tender moment.

But then that tale wraps up and we're brought back to the "present" (between books 4 and book 5 of the Dark Tower series). The Ka-Tet react to Roland's story and there is perhaps the most emotionally-charged moment of the entire Dark Tower series. It brought tears to my eyes. Very powerful stuff and the entire ride is worth it for that one moment.

So along the way the reader is treated to three nestled stories, one inside the other, with parallels and echoes throughout all three. It's a very complex book with not one but three wonderful payoffs. I'd consider it in the top three or perhaps two Dark Tower books. Well done, Mr. King. Well done.

1LR REVIEW - 17 out of 20! It's a Solid Hit!

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