The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King. Hodder & Stoughton £19.99
Reviewed by Mike Chinn
The Wind Through the Keyhole – the latest addition to King’s Dark Tower books – fits between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla and is essentially a story within a story within a story. The gunslinger Roland of Gilead and his band have to wait out a starkblast (think an almost instantaneous ice age that lasts a couple of days). To keep their minds off what’s happening beyond their shelter’s stone walls, Roland tells them a tale of his youth: when he and fellow gunslinger Jamie were dispatched to the mining town of Debaria to kill a shapeshifter that’s been slaughtering the locals. Just as they arrive, news comes that an entire ranch has been attacked; all but obliterated. The lone survivor, a boy named Bill Streeter, might be the key to identifying the killer. That night there’s a wind-storm, and to bolster young Bill’s spirits, Roland tells him the story which supplies the book’s title – effectively a fairytale told to Roland as a boy by his mother (and yes, there is a fairy in it; and a dragon – but I’m prepared to overlook that, just this once).
In his Foreword, King says that readers won’t need any previous knowledge of the Dark Tower sequence and Mid-World (no – not Middle Earth … not at all), but newcomers may find the eclectic mix of Western, Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction and – yes – meta-fiction a tad baffling (if not downright irritating) at times. There are references to a lion by the name of Aslan and an eagle called Garuda; an Arthur and a Maerlyn; whilst the fairy Tim Ross encounters in the title story is pretty clearly Disney’s Tinkerbell gone bad. And although the tale young Roland tells Bill is supposed to be a traditional fable of Mid-World (with widowed mother, evil stepfather, a sinister forest, quest, kindly wizard and a sort of fairy godmother), aspects of the Dark Tower still creep in (such as a villainous tax-collector who signs himself RF/MB; which won’t mean much to anyone not familiar with the author’s universe – but should bring a nod of recognition from regulars).
But don’t let that put you off. I’ve always been in favour of blurring the genre borders – and the Dark Tower series does that in spades. Although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to someone unfamiliar with Roland Deschain’s grim quest, it’s still a great read: the 330+ pages fly past with barely a longeur to be found. If anyone can get away with writing a novel that throws in just about every literary genre and sub-genre, it’s King.