Stephen King – The Wind through the keyhole.
When Mr. King announced he was going to return to Mid-world many so called fans took the opportunity to once again lament how Stephen King destroyed the series after book 4 and how he is not the same writer he was. Many others (and I fit firmly in this category) couldn’t contain their excitement at once again being part of Roland, Eddie, Susan, Jake and Oy’s journey toward the dark tower.
For the record, I do not prescribe to the belief that the books declined in quality after book 4. Book 5 for example is my favourite in the series and inspired me to write my book. Book 6 I agree is perhaps the weakest and book 7 has it’s problems but I still thought they were great. (I still maintain that moving the first third of book 7 to the end of book 6 would have improved both novels).
This story within a story within a story finds Roland Deschain, Mid-World's last gunslinger, in his early days during the guilt-ridden year following his mother's death. Sent by his father to investigate evidence of a murderous shape-shifter, a 'skin-man,' Roland takes charge of Bill Streeter, a brave but terrified boy who is the sole surviving witness to the beast's most recent slaughter. Roland, himself only a teenager, calms the boy by reciting a story from the Book of Eld that his mother used to read to him at bedtime. 'A person's never too old for stories,' he says to Bill. 'Man and boy, girl and woman, we live for them."
As much as I loved returning to Mid-World, the time spent with Roland and his Ka-tet is brisk to say the least.
We meet our heroes as they are just about to embark on the journey to Calla Bryn Sturgis from the Emerald City. Before they set out however, they are warned by the strange behaviour of Oy that there is an imminent threat of a Starkblast (a horrendous storm that is fatal for those that do not find shelter). This provides the perfect opportunity for Roland to regale the group with another one of his stories. Although the time spent with the series regulars is brief, there are still some nice touches. For example, once again we are reminded of how harsh Roland can be in his treatment of Jake.
So what we essentially have here is a similar set up to “Wizard and Glass” where the majority of the book consists of Roland telling a story of his childhood. I’m fine with that as I loved Roland’s stories.
This however, is slightly different as it is a story within a story encapsulated within a third story.
Story 2 then is of Roland’s childhood and recalls a time when he is sent by his father to investigate reports that a skin changer know as the Skin-man is killing innocents. Here we are treated to a Roland who is not quite sure of himself as a Gunslinger. We see glimpses of the man that he is to become, but there are times when he doubts himself and shows his naivety. It is refreshing to see how he approaches the investigation and his thought process as he unravels clues. King still uses the excellent technique of hinting that Roland is working towards a goal that the reader is not allowed to see until it is revealed. This is great as you pit your wits against Roland to figure out what he is doing. Lee Child does this sometimes with Jack Reacher and I wonder if King (a fan of Child) did this with Reacher in mind?
Half way through story 2 we are introduced to the third story where Roland recalls his favourite fairy story his mother used to read to him. The story is called the “wind through the keyhole” and takes up the largest portion of the book.
Undoubtedly this is the strongest tale in the book. Still set in Mid-world the story feels very much like King’s other excellent venture into the fantasy genre, “the eye of the dragon.”
The story involves the young boy setting off on a journey to find out what happened to his father and make things better for his mother. King handles the tale with style. His writing seems so effortless that I can’t help but wonder why he does not delve into this genre more often.
A host of great characters are introduced and we once again we meet the character that defines Stephen King.
When the story is finished and we return to Roland and the skin-man, the story is well wrapped up. The end is satisfying and we find out more about Roland’s relationship with his mother which is rather touching.
For those looking for another Dark Tower story involving the usual line-up you will be disappointed. For those looking for King writing at his best, you will not be. Stephen, if by some mad chance you ever read this blog, I know Dark Tower is your take on the fantasy genre, but please consider writing another fantasy series. You are so dam good at it. At the very least, please do a collection of short fairy tale stories that will pee all other the Grimm brothers!!
Overall rating: 9.3