Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Wind Through the Keyhole: review

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.

1 comment:

Eesti said...

"The Wind in the Keyhole"... is a very odd story. It has three stories layered inside each other -- we have a person telling a story, in which he tells a story to someone else.

And while this new addition to the Dark Tower saga doesn't add a lot to the overall saga, it's a richly textured return to the "world that has moved on." Stephen King spends much of the book (when he's not merrily flipping through narratives) adding more dimensions to his raw, wild world, where a few brave individuals fight against the dark.