The Wind Through the Keyhole

Time is a keyhole, he thought as he looked up at the stars. Yes, I think so. We sometimes bend and peer through it. And the wind we feel on our cheeks when we do – the wind that blows through the keyhole – is the breath of all the living universe.

Stephen King

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE DARK TOWER SERIES.

So a couple of weeks ago I posted a list of books I couldn’t believe I’d never read. The Wind Through the Keyhole was right at the top. I couldn’t tell you, then, why I hadn’t read it as soon as it came out, given the fact that Stephen King’s Dark Tower series is, like, the most astronomically awesome fantasy series since The Lord of the Rings.

Well, now I know.

First, though, some context. The Wind Through the Keyhole is what I like to think of as a companion novel to the Dark Tower series. Written a good eight years after the series was officially completed, and increasing the series to eight books instead of the more mythologically satisfying seven, it’s a novel which, chronologically speaking, fills in some of the gap between the end of Wizard and Glass and the beginning of Wolves of the Calla. King himself calls it “Dark Tower 4.5″, but I personally think this is an extremely ugly and inelegant epithet, so I’m going to ignore that.

It’s similar to Wizard and Glass in that most of it consists of a story of Roland’s past, told to the ka-tet as they shelter from an icy and dangerous storm. After his grim experience in Mejis, Roland is sent on a mission to the salt-mining town of Debaria, where a mysterious monster is murdering innocents.

But the real heart of this novel is the story-within-a-story which Roland tells to a scared child whose father was killed: “The Wind Through the Keyhole”, a story of Maerlyn and magic, of North Central Positronics, of mutant forest-men and swamp dragons; a story about families, and growing up, and lies. Like all good fairytales, it’s simple but effective, and recalls everything we know about Mid-World from the ka-tet‘s various adventures through it, and then some. The framing story, by contrast, reminds me very much of Roland’s story in Wizard and Glass: a fairly good story on its own, but rather pedestrian when compared with the stories of mystery and magic going on around it.

Which brings me back to the reason I didn’t read The Wind Through the Keyhole before, which is this: it’s the last story left. By which I mean, it’s the last story left in Mid-World; the last story we’ll ever read of Susannah, and Eddie, and Oy, and Jake, and Roland. This is where it ends. Even if I read the sequence again, their story will still be fixed, finished, and nothing can ever change it.

And, by God, that’s sad. And what’s sadder is listening to the ka-tet‘s plans for their future when I know their future; I know where their path ends. Truly, they’ll never meet Bix again, or experience a starkblast, or hear The Future Adventures of Tim Stoutheart.

There were a couple of odd little things that bugged me. I didn’t much like Roland’s first-person narration; I much prefer Roland as a man of few, enigmatic words whose thoughts are hidden behind a mask of gunslinger-ness. And I don’t find it very likely that Bix could remember Lud, a city well over eight hundred miles away and dead for at least a hundred years. But those are small things compared to the wonder and the sadness of seeing Roland and the gang for the last – the very, very last – time.

*Happy note*: Here beginneth the Tolkien Reading Marathon. It’s Middle-earth from here on out, folks!

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