Edit – Update! I’ve just linked up to The Stephen King Project blog, where we’re being encouraged to read King (or listen!) and share our reviews. Thanks Natalie for the reminder. I didn’t join on purpose with a plan or anything, but I’m happy to be here now. …and back to the book review.
My word, this is lovely. I have never been disappointed in Stephen King, but this is definitely my favorite of those I’ve read. The Wind Through the Keyhole is part of the Dark Tower series, to which I am new, and therefore I appreciates the introductory remarks, in which King notes that it is not necessary to have read others in the series, but it would help to know a few facts about MidWorld, which he then relates. It’s true: I didn’t have any trouble following the action or keeping track of the rules of this alternate world.
King employs the story-within-a-story format here, and puts it inside another story for good measure. I got so immersed in the innermost story, about young Tim and his frightening journey into the forest in the starkblast, that when it ended I expected the book to end! I suppose it might have been jarring to then return to the story of young Bill and the skinman (which is in turn being told to the characters of the outermost story), but it wasn’t. I was just relieved that there was more to hear.
Stephen King reads this audiobook himself, and does it beautifully. I have listened to a handful of author-narrated audiobooks, and they have all been great. The actors, or professional narrators, are often wonderful as well, but some of these authors do amazing jobs too. Barbara Kingsolver’s reading of The Lacuna was extremely impressive, because of all the different accents necessary. It makes me marvel that a person can be such a talented artist in two different media! But I’m getting off track. Stephen King does a great narration, everything felt very real, and I was comforted knowing that the names of his imaginary lands and people were pronounced just as the author imagined them in his head.
So what is this book about? It opens with Roland Deschain and his traveling companions, chatting on the road to who-knows-where (presumably this is part of a larger storyline that I would know if I were reading the series). A particularly strange and threatening storm called a starkblast is coming, and they seek shelter, and find themselves up all night in the howling wind; so Roland agrees to tell them a story. This is where we leave the outermost story and enter the middle-layer story.
Roland is a young man and a novice gunslinger. I quote Stephen King’s foreward: a gunslinger is “one of a small band that tries to keep order in an increasingly lawless world. If you think of the gunslingers of Gilead as a strange combination of knights errant and territorial marshals in the Old West, you’ll be close to the mark.” He has just lost his mother – killed her, in fact, in an obviously traumatic incident that is only alluded to in this book – when he takes a trip with fellow youngster gunslinger, Jamie, to solve a mysterious series of bloody murders in a small mining town. It is theorized that the murders are being committed by a skinman, a shapeshifter. Roland befriends a young boy, Bill, who has witnessed his father’s murder, takes pity on him, and sits down to tell him a story Roland’s mother used to tell him when he was a little boy. This is the innermost story, and it is called – what do you know – The Wind in the Keyhole.
Once upon a time, in an ironwood-logging town called Tree, Big Ross is killed by a dragon in the woods. His partner, Big Kells, marries Ross’s widow Nell, and becomes stepfather to the boy Tim. Tim’s story is an adventure and sort of a dark and frightening fairy tale. He finds out a sinister secret about his stepfather and takes a journey deep into the treacherous forest where his father was killed; he encounters strange creatures, dragons, fairies, tigers, good magic and bad magic. This innermost story is the one we spend the most time with, and is set in a marvelous otherworldly world, fully developed, filled with creatures and characters and conventions and rules, fascinating and glorious and strange and scary, but also rather sweet.
Roland concludes the telling of The Wind Through the Keyhole to Bill, and then concludes the telling of Bill’s story to his companions, so that we close the stories we’ve opened and finish back with the elder Roland and his companions weathering the starkblast. There is a sense of circularity, and completeness.
The outermost story, of Roland and his fellow travelers, is engaging and also set in another world (MidWorld) I found interesting and would like to hear more about. The middle-layer story, of the young Roland seeking the skinman, involves some good old-fashioned detective skills and has a satisfying conclusion. But the story of young Tim and his quest through the forest was clearly the star. I was entranced, and sorry it was over. I shall be searching out more King, without a doubt! And I appreciated his narration, as I said earlier; I hope he’ll continue to narrate his audiobooks.
Stay tuned: tomorrow I’ll tell you about the teaser chapter for an upcoming book that was included at the end of this one.