Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Castle Rock Companion - The Dark Tower IV.V: The Wind Through the Keyhole

Do decimals work the same in Roman numerals?  There's something I didn't consider when I started to title these.  While The Wind Through the Keyhole is the most recently published of the Dark Tower novels, in the foreword King states that it should be considered 4.5, coming after Wizard and Glass.  It's a fairly brief novel, and when you consider that it is a story within a story within a story, it's almost more like three short stories bound together.

If you are a familiar with the series and hoped this new novel would bring you more tales of Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy, you would probably be disappointed.  They are there, but you're not going to gain a whole lot insight into their characters or any new knowledge from this adventure.  The book picks up very soon after Wizard and Glass ends, where upon their journey towards the tower, they run into a powerful windstorm that has them seeking shelter.  While there, Roland tells a tale from his younger days, one that happens chronologically not long after the flashback he tells in Wizard and Glass.  For these reasons, this book really does belong where King suggests in the reading order.

In this new flashback story, Roland is set on another gunslinger's task, to investigate a small town and a fabled "skin man" that is torturing them.  Skin men have the ability to turn themselves into various large animals, which can differ in species but always seem to be large predatory beasts.  Unlike werewolves, they seem to be in control of when they can change.  In the midst of investigating this mystery, Roland meets a young scared boy, and he tells him a kind of fairy tale, from which the novel gets its name.

The actual story of The Wind Through the Keyhole reminded me greatly of Eyes of the Dragon, and not just because it features a dragon and even at one point a very special napkin.  It just has that same fairy tale quality to it, of a young boy set upon a quest to become a man.  He overcomes a lot of challenges and meets some interesting creatures along his journey.  Of the three stories set within the book, it's definitely the strongest, and I found myself very fond of the young boy Tim, wanting him to survive his ordeal.

Perhaps the only issue I had with it is that Roland says that this is a story his mother read to him as a young boy, and King even says that Roland begins to hear her voice in his head as he repeats the words to the young boy beside him, but this isn't truly written like a story you would tell to young children.  Parents die and get replaced by stepparents all the time in fairy tales, but those tales don't include explanations of how the surviving parent weighs all their options and whether it's right to marry just for money instead of love, nor do they include moments where the child can hear the parent being raped by the stepparent in the other room.  They may be hinted at, but never stated so bluntly.  But perhaps we're meant to believe that Gilead is a harsher world where people are more frank with their children?  Or maybe King just knew he wasn't writing for kids here so he didn't tone things down.

Adult as it may be, it's a good tale, and the flashback story isn't bad either.  I doubt Jamie DeCurry will be anyone's favorite character of the Dark Tower series; he plays so little a role in the story as Roland's companion.  But after the constant wisecracking Cuthbert and solemn Alain from the last adventure, his silent demeanor was a bit of a welcome respite.  The story of the skin man holds a lot of ties to King's novel Desperation, and may be better appreciated by people who have read that one.  As a story in and of itself, it's alright, but also very brief.

For the main wraparound tale, there isn't much to be said.  While there's a bit of an intro, once the skin man flashback is over, we only get a brief moment of our main ka-tet before the book ends.  I don't know that I would call this book something that was needed for the Dark Tower series, but it's still a good book in and of itself.

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