Saturday, June 2, 2012

Book Review: The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

Stephen King's seven-part Dark Tower has a very special place in my heart. In those seven volumes, King tells a perfect, complete, balanced story that would be unbalanced and diminished by additional material--or so I thought. So when I first heard that King was writing an eighth Dark Tower book, I was dead set against it. But The Wind Through the Keyhole isn't at all what I expected, and I because of that, I love it.

The Wind Through the Keyhole is to The Dark Tower what The Tales of Beedle the Bard is to the Harry Potter series. It doesn't continue the story of Roland the Gunslinger where the series left off. Instead, it gives the reader a taste of Roland's world by telling a bedtime story from his childhood. As any book lover will tell you, stories are powerful. The stories we hear as children can shape us, and this story was an important part of Roland's life.

The Wind Through the Keyhole is an utterly original, frightening, and fantastic piece of fictional folklore. It tells the story of a young woodcutter's son who is tricked by a malevolent warlock into going on a journey to save his widowed mother. On the way, he finds a nasty green fairy, a dragon, a tribe of people devolving into trees, "ancient" 20th century technology, and Merlin. Yeah, that Merlin.

But the book actually tells three stories, which nest seamlessly within each other.
It begins with Roland and his friends hunkering down in a sad ghost town to wait out a powerful storm--frame story number one! To pass the time, Roland tells his friends a story: When Roland was still a teenager, he and another novice Gunslinger were sent to take down a bloodthirsty skinchanger that was terrorizing a small town--frame story number two! While on this mission, Roland comforts a grieving boy by telling him the story of The Wind Through the Keyhole. The folktale takes up the bulk of the book.

Some readers may not like the made-up words and dialect, but my favorite thing about the series is the distinct manner of speech King creates for his fictional world. He blends courtly manners with cowboy slang, and it rings true and feels right. All at once, the language conveys the speaker's social class and relationship with the person being spoken to, as well as the values of the society itself. The bulk of the series takes place in a Wild West world with Camelot manners; the Gunslingers are cowboy kings that govern and protect the realm. And they're the descendants of Arthur. Yeah, that Arthur. Except the world is moving on, and the people no longer want to pay fealty.

If you haven't read the Dark Tower series yet, start here! Even though I loved the series, I wasn't crazy about the first volume, The Gunslinger. King wrote it when he was just a novice writer, and it shows. Worse, it doesn't even hint at the best, most lovable and memorable things about the Dark Tower world. For readers who are new to the series, I think The Wind Through the Keyhole is a much better way to begin. It introduces the reader to Roland and his ka-tet, shows the culture of Roland's youth, and gives the reader a taste of what it's all about without revealing too much. If you like this, you'll love the rest of the series, so I think this is the perfect way to enter the Dark Tower.

Have you read it? What did you think?


5 comments:

  1. I am one of those strange souls who has not read a single King novel. But this does sound intriguing and most definitely something my husband would love. I like the idea of a folktale from a character's youth being its own story.

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    1. You know, I had only read one of his books before I began the Dark Tower series! I had the typical English major snobbery against bestselling novelists, and an ex boyfriend essentially out-snobbed my snobbery and INSISTED I read it. What can I say--he was right?

      King has created such a rich, complete world here that he'd even devised ancient folklore for it. I love that. When a book contains a completely immersive world I can tumble into headfirst, I fall in love with it almost every time.

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  2. I'm going to get into this series. I used to read King all the time but have long since moved on. Until I started reading The Dome.

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    1. Seanski! :D

      Do you like The Dome? A friend was describing the premise to me the other day, and I was getting hung up on minutiae and asking too many questions: "Can oxygen get into the dome, or will it run out soon and they all know it?" and "Is it a retrospective commentary on the East Germany/West Germany situation?" I probably should just read it.

      Do read the Dark Tower books, please do! I want to talk about them with more people. It had been years since I'd visited these characters, and now I'm excited about them and their world all over again. If you've "moved on" (heh), then you're primed and ready for these!

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  3. I suggest you read it and I shall read the Dark Tower series. As for the oxygen situation; the dome basically creates a smaller version of an ecosystem. So oxygen getting into the dome is irrelevant, since the plants and trees, etc.. inside create oxygen for everyone to sustain life. I'm still reading. It's a massive book, really. lol

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P.S. All trolls will be fed to the bookworms.