When I finished reading Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower,” seventh book in the series of the same name, several years ago, I thought I had closed a pretty significant chapter in my reading life.
It was one of a handful of sprawling, epic fantasies I was involved in that left the reader hanging, unsure if, or when, we’d see the end, and I’m always glad to get the payoff for my years of reading. So far, it’s the only one of those to finish. One, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, I should get some closure on in January. Others, like Melanie Rawn’s Exiles series, we’ll probably never see completed.
Now, though, Sai King has reopened The Dark Tower series with his latest offering “The Wind Through the Keyhole” ($27, Scribner).
It’s not really a new chapter in the series, but rather a little icing on the cake. Taking place between “Wizard and Glass” and “Wolves of the Calla,” it finds Roland’s ka-tet caught in the path of a starkblast – a vicious storm that brings destructive winds and rapidly dropping temperatures. The only way to survive it is to hunker down in a solid structure and try to keep warm. To pass the time, Roland tells his friends two tales – one from his own past, and one a story his mother used to tell him.
Like most tales from Gilead, both are dark and violent.
The first story concerns one of Roland’s first assignments as a gunslinger. A skinman – one who can change animal forms – has been terrorizing the countryside, brutally murdering people. Roland and another young gunslinger Jamie De Curry are sent to find the killer and bring him to justice. In the process, Roland befriends a boy who may be able to identify the skinman. Their bond leads to the story within a story, a tale from Roland’s childhood that shares its name with the title of this book.
That second story focuses on another young boy named Tim Stoutheart who has a fairly happy life until tragedy strikes his family. A strange and wicked tax collector puts Tim on the trail of clues that lead him to the truth of his father’s death, and when things go even more wrong following that discovery, he eventually puts Tim on an actual trail, deep into the wilderness, in search of the magician Maerlyn Eld. The tax collector doesn’t expect the boy to survive his journey, but Tim proves stronger and more resourceful than he thought.
The best part of this book to me was this tale within a tale. I was compelled by the story of Tim Stoutheart and his trials and adventures. Though very dark, there’s a certain sense of wonder to it that harkens back to classic fairy and adventure tales – maybe something of the original Grimms.
That’s not to say that the story Roland shares is weak. It, too, has its moments as he has to face some demons from his past, as well as the demon that’s killing people. Still, it’s used largely as a framing device for the real heart of the book.
The tale of the Dark Tower is finished, and I think needs to stay that way. But as a fan, I wouldn’t mind a few more side trips like this to flesh out the world and the story. “The Wind Through the Keyhole” offers fans of the series a chance to catch up with some old friends and learn a little more about Roland Deschain and his world. It’s a welcomed addition to the series and, for that, Sai King, we again say thankya.