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Bookends: A trio of tales unfolds more about Roland the Gunslinger and his world October 15, 2014

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Bookends: A trio of tales unfolds more about Roland the Gunslinger and his world

By Dan DavidsonWind Through the Keyhole

January 15, 2014

– 928 words –

 

The Wind Through the Keyhole

(A Dark Tower Novel)

by Stephen King

Pocket Books

386 pages

$12.99

 

You might think that King’s Dark Tower series, starring Roland the Gunslinger, had ended. After all the seventh and final volume came out in 2004, concluding a story line he’d been working on every few years since 1982 (the very earliest chapters going back to his university days). The last three volumes came out in a rush, the author spurred to finish the saga by almost losing his life when he was run off the road by a drunk driver during one of his evening walks.

Adding it all up, a story that runs for 3914 pages might be thought to be finished, but King warned us some time ago that these books were just the story in broad strokes and there might be details yet to be told.

The Wind Through the Keyhole contains some of the details. It’s an odd book for King in that it’s only 386 pages long. It’s odder still in that it’s a Russian doll of a novel, three narratives nested and, paradoxically, the biggest part of the book is the one on the inside. (Good grief – it’s a TARDIS.)

The outer story, or the first frame, if you like, takes up 46 pages, and would fit into the saga between book four (Wizard and Glass) and book five (Wolves of the Calla). Roland and his little band (or ka-tet) are travelling between major adventures when they are trapped in an abandoned stone building during a major storm called a starkblast. This freakish storm is another symptom of the way that Mid-World is winding down. With his mates unable to sleep, Roland tells them a tale from his younger days.

This story would have fit in right after the events related in book six (The Song of Susannah). Roland tells it in the first person, and the tone is different than the opening frame. It’s still a good tale, because gunslingers have to be able to do more than shoot and be tough to fulfill their role in the world. “The Skin Man” is divided into two sections and runs over 136 pages in total. Roland and a fellow junior gunslinger have been sent to a town called Debaria, not far from Serenity, where his mother retreated after the first stage of her affair with Marten Broadcloak, the affair that would eventually cause her death at Roland’s hands and hasten the collapse of Gilead.

There has been a series of brutal murders, each somewhat different than the last, each seemingly by a different sort of unnatural beast, a beast that seems to have some human characteristics in addition to its animal ways. Roland and Jamie, his partner, divine that they are dealing with a Skin-man, a deduction based partly on the tracks they find and partly on the evidence of young Bill, the only survivor of one of the attacks.

They devise a plan to use Bill to smoke out the Skin-man. That night, while Jamie is away checking on some final clues, Roland guards the terrified Bill and to calm him, tells him the story of another young boy, Tim Ross, who was forced to rise above his capabilities and undertake a quest to save the sight of his mother after she was attacked and blinded by her second husband.

This is a legend of Mid-World, the coming of age story of a young man who would later become a heroic gunslinger, told in an omniscient storyteller’s voice. Stylistically, it would fit in right next to King’s earlier young adult fantasy, The Eyes of the Dragon and was, for me the best part of this book. At 200 pages, it was also the longest part, told with no interruptions.

It’s not at all certain why the Covenant Man, who is known locally as the rent collecting agent of the local lord, decides to interfere in Tim’s life, providing him with the clues that help him unmask his father’s killer, but at the same time causing the chaos that sets him on his quest for his mother’s salvation. Does he do these things simply because he can? As Marten and as Randall Flagg, he appears in many of the Dark Tower books, as well as in The Stand, Hearts in Atlantis and Eyes of the Dragon.

Tim’s quest sends him through treacherous lands seldom travelled by anyone, and sees him menaced by malevolent fairies, savage beasts and a starkblast like the one in the outer frame story. He overcomes all of these obstacles through wit and determination. It’s a fine fantasy in the classic style and could well be the tale that leads to more legends of Mid-World.

After this we come back to the conclusion of the horror/murder mystery of the Skin-Man and then out again to the conclusion of the struggle with the environment.

As you can see, this book has dealt with almost all the types of conflict that can occur in a story and has added some satisfactory details and flourishes to a bit of world creation that most of us thought was concluded. It is often said of Mid-World that it has “moved on” a phrase meant to describe its unraveling and decay. King was thought to have moved on from Mid-World, but it wouldn’t surprise me now to see more of it turn up in later books.

 

-30-

 

 

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