Dark Tower 4.5

The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel by Stephen King (2012): AKA Dark Tower 4.5, this novel takes place between Wizard & Glass and The Wolves of the Calla. Very little action takes place in the frame tale, as Roland the Gunslinger and his ka-tet of three people and a raccoon-like billybumbler have to shack up for a couple of days because of a “starkblast” (note the Game of Thrones allusion), a freezing cold wind system that can occasionally scour parts of dying Mid-World.

While holed up, Roland tells his people (and us) two stories, one nested within another. The first story involves the then-young gunslinger’s assignment to find a murderous, shape-changing “Skinman” in one of the outlying, salt-mining towns of dying Gilead. Within that story, the young Roland tells a boy survivor of one of the attacks the Gilead fairytale of “The Wind Through the Keyhole.”

The fairy story (which dovetails pretty neatly with what we already know of Roland’s dying Earth/Mid-World, and ultimately seems more history than legend) involves the quest of a just-pre-adolescent boy to avenge his father’s murder. This being Mid-World, where magic and technology co-exist (or are perhaps the same thing), the quest takes some wild turns before the end.

It’s quite pleasant to once again be in the world of the Gunslinger, especially with such a low-key situation in the frame story. King gets in some allusions and references to a wide variety of influences here, including most notably Yann Martel’s novel The Life of Pi. But we also get an incongruous gear shift, the aforementioned supercold (Ned?) starkblast, the almost de rigeur Wizard of Oz reference, veiled references to perennial King douchebag Randall Flagg, a dragon, a Tinkerbell-like fairy, the world’s most useful GPS, some odd but endearing mutants, a horrific shapechanger, and at least some closure to the young Roland’s lingering guilt over his role in the death of his doomed, malignly magicked mother Gabrielle.

While this may seem like a novel meant only for those who’ve already read the Dark Tower series, I’d hazard a guess that it would also work well as a brief (well, 300 pages — for Stephen King, that’s basically a short story) gateway book for the series, seeing as it’s concerned almost entirely with the past of Roland’s world and Roland’s own story. Recommended.

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