Stephen King is a legend. He's one of the last of the household name authors -- writers whose books were once as anticipated as a summer blockbuster film. His name has branded classic films along with legions of dark horror stories. But his longest-lasting character is that of Roland Deschain, the hero of King's "Dark Tower" novels. The "Dark Tower" stories allow King to let his imagination completely take over as he created Mid World and the legendary gunslingers. He now returns to this world to give readers a new and surprisingly satisfying story within a story within a story (probably something only a writer as experienced as King could pull off successfully).
"The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel" takes place between books four and five of the "Tower" series. However, one doesn't need to be familiar with the previous installments to enjoy and understand this tale within a tale. "Keyhole" is a fusion of stories. First, we begin with Roland and his friends taking refuge in an old building after being held up in their travels by a storm. There, Roland begins to tell them of one of his first adventures as a young gunslinger catching a "skin man" (a shape shifter who takes the form of animals). However, within this story, Roland meets a young boy to whom he tells a story that goes by the same name as the novel's title. Once this story is over, we head back for the conclusion of our "skin man" saga.
Confusing stuff, no doubt. But perhaps the aspect that King should be praised for this late in his writing career is actually making this complicated structure work to the benefit of each individual tale. He pulls it off by connecting these stories and allowing them to build off one another, but never in obvious ways. Both stories build quite well and have a bit of a Hitchcockian suspense to them that grows irritating if only for moments when we yearn for the finales we have been promised. That only speaks to King's talent.
The author should also be praised for his insightful and thorough imagination. The world he draws here with his mind becomes surprisingly clear and original as the novel progresses. He never bogs the reader down in endless detail or steps back too far leaving us out to dry, as we wonder how the hell a skin man looks when he morphs, and what a mage looks like. He also creates some very memorable characters who become clear as day through their humor and actions, like a memorable tax man (who readers will love) and the young, brave Tim who is the hero of the "Keyhole" story. Gunslingers, boys on missions, manipulating tax men, magical forests ... it's a testament to King's writing that none of this is very laughable to the reader, even one not familiar with Mid World or its sometimes confusing rules, legends and language.
Those new to the "Dark Tower" series might get lost in King's dense mythology, and King's portrayal of guns in the story is also disappointing. Guns are rarely referred to beyond "six shooters" or such. Yet King attempts great poetry in the relationship between the weapons and those who wield them. This poetry only can go so far, since King never truly gives the weapons a life of their own, but this may be due to the politics of the author. And it's only a slight criticism, since the gunslingers like young Roland and young Jamie are given great dimension.
It's easy to disagree with King's politics wholeheartedly, and some find it easy to dismiss the veteran author, but I find it difficult to dismiss Kings storytelling abilities. He was born to do what he's doing, much like Spielberg was born to make movies. King may not be as original as he once was, but his newest novel is a surprise feat in complicated storytelling that succeeds both on a technical level and a storytelling level. "The Wind Through the Keyhole" is a great read for anyone who loves fantasy or just terrific stories.
Sucker Punches: None really. There's an evil tax man that will be a favorite of our readers, and a brief moment where someone talks about the "old world" and their material obsessions. However, one main character ponders taxes and whether they keep us from being "truly free."
All in all, this novel's agenda is little more than entertaining, and it does that plenty enough.