Fifty Books, 365 Days. Book Ten – The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

The Wind Through the Keyhole is an oddity, existing to fill a gap that never needed to be filled. What will follow is less of a review and more of a discussion of aspects of the book that, I’m sad to say, will delve into spoiler territory for the Wind Through the Keyhole, and perhaps the other books of the Dark Tower series as well. Everything before the cover art will be spoiler free but, fair warning, anything after can contain spoilers. One more thing, there’s an easter egg hidden throughout (not in, throughout) this review for fans of the series. Tweet me or drop a comment if you think you’ve found it.

Given the Dark Tower had concluded, there was no way this book could add anything major to the mythology. As a result, it’s almost wholly unnecessary. Did I enjoy it? Yes, but my opinion on this one isn’t really objective because I was so happy to spend more time with Roland and his ka-tet. Would I recommend it? Not to a reader new to the series. In fact, I’d recommend reading the original seven books in publishing order, then returning to Wind as a curiosity after the last one, as it does spoil some elements from books that come after it chronologically. For anyone who has already journeyed to the Tower with Roland, there’s probably something in this book for you. If nothing else, it’s one last chance to palaver with the characters we know and love. King hasn’t lost a step when it comes to writing them, and I settled back into the language and world of Gilead and Mid-World very easily. It’s a solid, if unspectacular, novel in King’s oeuvre, and still not the worst of the Dark Tower series (here’s looking at you, Song of Susannah).

Date Started: February 28th

Date finished: March 7th

Hile gunslinger, if you have scrolled this far, you have either read the book or are unafraid of spoilers. So, grab yourself a popkin, take a seat, say thankee to Gan and the Man Jesus, and let’s palaver.

The story of Keyhole is split into three distinct sections, nested within each other, a bit like Cloud Atlas. The first, a framing device for the overall narrative, finds Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah, and Oy on the road after defeating the Tick Tock Man and leaving Oz. The weather is unnaturally warm and Oy is acting strangely. It turns out that Billy Bumblers, or Throcken as they are referred to in Keyhole, can sense when the Starkblast is coming, a cold storm that freezes anything in its path. They take shelter and, unable to sleep, ask Roland to tell them another story.

The second section is a small story of young Roland shortly after his mother’s death by his own hand. He and Jamie De Curry are tasked by Steven Deschain, Roland’s father, to go to a nearby frontier town and investigate reports of a shapechanger, a man who can turn into any beast he chooses, and does so to murder groups of people. While investigating one of these murder sites, Roland happens upon a small scared boy called Bill Streeter, and over the course of a night, tells him the story of the Wind Through the Keyhole.

The third section is by far the largest, and it is the only one that doesn’t directly involve Roland. It is the Wind Through the Keyhole, a folk tale from Mid-World about a young boy named Tim Ross, his mother Nell, and his abusive alcoholic stepfather Kells. Tim is tasked by the Covenant Man, a strange tax collecting magician, to go into the woods and find Maerlyn the wizard, to repair Tim’s mother’s sight after Kells blinds her.

I found this part the most interesting, because although he wasn’t involved directly, it gave insight into Roland’s character. I find that stories will often change depending on the various biases of the person doing the telling, and I have very little doubt that Roland’s telling of the Wind Through the Keyhole contains details that differ dramatically from the original tale.

The largest change Roland makes to the story as he tells it is the identity of the Covenant Man. There’s no real cover up as to his true identity. He signs a letter RF/MB, and Maerlyn refers to him as Broadcloak. He’s even described as being the treacherous adviser to the lead Gunslinger of Gilead. There are many theories as to why Roland could have heard this story as a child and not made the connection between the Covenant Man from the story, and Marten Broadcloak in his real life. My theory is that in the original telling, the Covenant Man was not Broadcloak.

At the time of telling the story to Bill, Roland has only very recently lost his mother, Gabrielle Deschain. The Man in Black has fled, but the Gunslinger does not yet follow. But the ordeal is still fresh in his mind. So, when he tells the story to young Bill, he embellishes some details, and suddenly the strange magician in the story with the odd motives becomes Marten Broadcloak. Roland is trying to help Bill deal with the death of his family, while simultaneously still dealing with the death of his own.

The most important part of Keyhole was not the story itself, but the way Roland chose to tell it. The fine details, such as Maerlyn mentioning the Crimson King being trapped, helpless within the Dark Tower. Tim’s sudden decision to go after the Tower so clearly mirroring Roland’s own after his encounter with the Wizard’s glass. It’s all there, and although I may be completely misinterpreting King’s motives here, this crackpot theory was the key to unlocking the whole story for me. By themselves, none of the parts are particularly interesting, but they come together to form a greater whole. A puzzle that ends with a picture of one more piece of the still enigmatic Roland’s psyche. And it was that, more than anything else, that made Keyhole worth the read for me.

I’ll end with this; there is no series of books that means more to me than the Dark Tower. I read it from the first word of the Gunslinger through to the last word of The Dark Tower with nothing else in between. I was shocked, awed, angry, sad, and happy when I came to the end of the journey. Finding out that King started the first book at nineteen was the kick in the arse I needed to start taking my own writing seriously. It’s a series that meant so much to me on my first read, I don’t know that I’ll ever read it a second time for fear that feeling will be lost forever. Still, ka being the wheel it is, I was given one more chance to spend some all too fleeting time with the characters I fell in love with over that summer. The end result wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be, but that feeling returning was worth it.

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