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Onyx reviews: The
Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King
Nearly eight years after publishing the final volume in the Dark Tower
series, Stephen King returns to Mid-World. He calls this new book Dark Tower 4.5
because it fits chronologically between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of
the Calla. As such, it does not extend the series. Instead, it fills in a
gap in the timeline after Roland Deschain and his ka-tet leave the Green Palace
and before they reach Calla Bryn Sturgis. The book could be read without having
read the rest of the series—King summarizes the important details in the
introduction—but it's really meant for people familiar with Roland, Eddie,
Jake, Susannah and Oy.
In structure, the book resembles Wizard and
Glass, though it is much shorter and not fraught with young love. After
observing strange behavior in Oy, the ka-tet meets a man who
operates a ferry across the River Whye. He chides Roland for not recognizing the
signs of an impending starkblast, a kind of freezing hurricane. The ka-tet holes
up in a stone meeting hall in a ghost town to ride out the storm. Unable to
sleep, Roland's friends ask him to tell a story.
He returns to a time shortly
after the death of his mother, who the people of Gilead believe died by her own
hand. Roland knows otherwise, and is punishing himself by attending to the needs
of his teacher, Cort, who has never recovered from Roland's test of manhood.
Roland's father sees that the boy needs something to take his mind off his
troubles, so he sends him to Debaria to investigate reports of a skin-man who
has killed several people. This is one of the responsibilities of a gunslinger:
assisting local law enforcement when they can't handle a problem. It
demonstrates to the people that the gunslingers still care about them, which
isn't a given in these days when many are turning to the insurrectionist, John
Jamie DeCurry accompanies Roland on this journey. He is another
gunslinger-in-training, from the same class as Roland, Alain Johns and Cuthbert
Allgood. Alain and Cuthbert went to Mejis with Roland, so now it's Jamie's turn.
He is a quiet young man, but a deep thinker who is good at solving problems and
mysteries, which Roland admits is one of his shortcomings. He hates mysteries.
Readers don't really get to learn much about Jamie because his part in the story
is relatively brief and his taciturn nature means that he tends to fade into the
background, unlike Cuthbert.
The skin-man is a shape-shifter or a werewolf.
Among its victims is one of the sisters from Serenity, the convent where
Roland's mother was sequestered while he was in Mejis. The prioress, Everlynne,
recognizes Roland from his resemblance to Gabrielle Deschain. She asks him to
visit again after their work is done in Debaria.
The locals aren't terribly
impressed by the two young boys sent to handle the creature, but the town's
sheriff has a history with Steven Deschain, so he is willing to work with them.
Shortly after they arrive, the skin-man strikes again, killing almost everyone
at one of the biggest ranches in the area. One of the few survivors is the
cook's son, Young Bill Streeter. Roland feels Bill could identify the man if he
saw him again, and Jamie puts enough clues together to limit the pool of
possible suspects to a subset of workers at the nearby salt mines. Jamie
assembles a posse to bring the men back. In the meantime, Roland waits with
Bill, who is terrified and all alone.
Roland keeps him safe in the town jail.
To pass the time, he tells Bill a story that his mother used to tell him when he
was a boy. "The Wind Through the Keyhole" forms the central part of
the novel. It is a wonderful adventure story involving a young boy on a quest to
help his mother. It takes place in a long-ago time, perhaps when King Roland
ruled in Delain. In a sense, the story is a fairy tale, in that it involves a
fairy (but not of the Tinkerbell variety), an evil step-parent, a dragon or two, and
a magician who is said to live backwards in time.
Tim Ross sets out through the
dangerous Endless Forest and the Fagonard Swamp that lies within, armed only
with a handgun, a lamp, a few provisions prepared by his former school teacher,
and a stout heart. He encounters many mysteries and adversaries on his journey,
which takes him far north of his little home village of Tree. He is also faced
with a starkblast. Not every creature
he meets in the forest wants to eat him, but many do, and it isn't clear if he
is the brunt of a lethal practical joke played by the sinister (and vaguely
familiar) Covenant Man or if he is a tool in a joke on someone far more
important than him.
Though Tim's story takes place well before Roland starts
out on his quest, many of the hallmarks of Mid-World are present, including one
of the Beams that support the Tower and a device created by North Central
Positronics that is governed by Directive Nineteen. It is a heroic quest, and
not one aimed at children, either. Tim is forced to face some very adult
situations and make difficult choices. The first time he wields his gun, though,
readers will recognize the steely calm that overtakes him: the boy has the
mettle of a gunslinger.
Young Bill Streeter isn't quite as strong, but with
Roland at his side, he faces the procession of potential candidates for the
skin-walker. At the end of his mission, Everlynne gives Roland a letter from his
mother that provides some insight into her actions. His mission to Debaria may
have been meant to get keep him from dwelling on his mother's death, but it
actually gives him some closure.
At the end of the storm, the ka-tet resumes
its journey. There are more stories Roland could tell of the years between the
final days of Gilead and when he found the trail of the Man in the Black.
Here's hoping the Song of the Turtle lures King back into Mid-World many more
times in the future.
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