Thursday, September 6, 2012

100 Books #85 - Stephen King's THE WIND THROUGH THE KEYHOLE

My experience of reading The Wind Through the Keyhole is one only a Dark Tower newbie could have, and so I decided to have it.

This novel -- practically a novella next to its gargantuan cousins -- was published just this year, but is meant to be "shelved" between the fourth Dark Tower book, Wizard and Glass, and the fifth, Wolves of the Calla. Which is to say it takes place, insofar as its outer loop of storytelling can be said to take place, between Roland's ka-tet's visit to the off-kilter Emerald City that turned the last ten percent or so of WaG into one giant in-your-ribs Wizard of Oz reference, and their arrival outside the Calla crescent whereat they get called on to be gunslingers in the good old fashioned sense. Like WaG, The Wind Through the Keyhole tells us a story of Roland's past, but nested within that story is another story, called "The Wind Through the Keyhole" which is a sort of Roland-world fairy tale presented in full as told by Roland to a child in the middle of the story from his past as told by Roland to Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy.

Got that? Good.

So this novel really doesn't advance the Dark Tower plot one bit, but it's not meant to. It's meant to deepen and extend the mythology of Roland and his world a bit, while leaving the door (or keyhole) wide open for more of the same if there is demand. Or maybe even if there isn't. I can sort of imagine King spending his twilight years adding more and more volumes like these to his baby until new readers of the Dark Tower find themselves in a sort of Zeno's Paradox, chasing the last volume and its revelation and proper ending, but never quite getting to it because every step forward leads to a half-step forward and then a quarter-step forward and so on. Nor need all of them take place between WaG and WotC, Bog help us. And future wags will no doubt refer to these Dark Tower 4.5s and 4.7s and 5.12s and whatever as King's Silmarillion. Which will likely lead to much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the part of people like my friends who originally read this series one book at a time, waiting years between them, for just the original seven, and who then want everybody else to read them, except now there are like 17 of them plus the ones that King's children cobble together out of his random jottings on various flash drives and whatnot left posthumously behind...

On the other hand, maybe King pere et fils will show some restraint. I suspect a lot depends on how well this book has been received. Judging from Goodreads, the answer to that question is farily well, though some fans are annoyed that its nature partakes more of WaG fan fiction than of the series as a staggering whole. Absolutely none of the perceived lacuna between the plots of WaG and WotC (which I am reading now and does seem to feature a staggering advancement in Roland's apprentices' skills and in the Schroedinger's Fetus that is just hand-waved as "some stuff happened between the novels") is filled; it's all just tangential texture.

But so back to how my experience in reading The Wind Through the Keyhole is something only newbies can have. I'm going to take a stab in the dark and say that, based on what I've gleaned via King's bad habits of sending his characters message-dreams and whatnot that I've complained about elsewhere and of ham-handed foreshadowing generally, that most, if not all, of Roland's apprentices are not going to make it to the finish line. I might be wrong; I'm trying hard to avoid spoilers (and driving my friends crazy because I'm not reading these novels fast enough to suit them and they want to talk about them with me at great length, the darlings. Sorry, sweetnesses; I'm just not enough of a fan to want to devour these straight through without some breaks with other books) and so hope not to found out whether I'm right or wrong until the end. But, reading between the lines as I decided whether to read this or Wolves of the Calla next, I got the distinct impression that original readers of the series found it jarring or bittersweet or just plain weird to see characters with known fate/dooms walking around and learning and talking like they still had futures. For the, you know, 20 or so pages in which they appear in this book, anyway. As I said, I'll never know that experience. For me it's just the WaG mixture as before, except in that, glory be, no stupid teen romance in this one. For which I am grateful.

The stories themselves, especially the central fairy tale, have a lot of charm to them, a quality that seems to me rare in most of King's other work. There are still elements of peril and horror and heartbreak, to be sure, but somehow even depictions of, e.g. shredded bodies in the Roland-story of the terrible shape-shifter besetting a mining town, have kind of a light, fond touch. This is King putting an extra layer of delicious buttercream frosting on an already too-rich cake. He's having such fun, and buttercream is yummy; why stop him? Just, you know, don't let him totally encrust the thing with candy flowers and crap, okay?

But now I'm definitely hitting a wall of Dark Tower fatigue. Oy.


  1. The Matryoshka in the center (ie: the titular story) is very VERY reminiscent of Eyes of the Dragon, which is one of my very favourite King works of all time. You've already come across references to it at the end of TDotT, even if you don't know it yet. ;)

    No, but seriously, I hope you didn't read too many reviews of this (er, especially the comments on JOEL'S review), because there are some huge fucking spoilers out there.

    Best to just keep your head down and plow on.

    1. Ha! I started reading Joel's review, but knowing dear Joel as I know him now, realized that I really oughtn't and tore myself away. Didn't get to the comments. Good to know I was right. I don't mind spoilers on the whole because any story that can truly be ruined by them is just not a good story, or at least not one that is any longer enjoyable in the 21st Century (I knew what Rosebud was before I knew what Citizen Kane was, but that didn't ruin the film, for example). In the Dark Tower's case, though, I'm very much depending on the suspense to keep me going after the shaggy bumbler story that was WaG. Ugh.


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