Ah, vacation. Nothing like a vacation when you have been busting your hump during tax season, and dealing with every single question that seems to come out of the woodwork between January 5th and April 15th…well, maybe this is just me!
Well, everyone deserves a vacation. Especially our favorite ka-tet. Roland, Eddie, Jake, Susannah and Oy did also bust their humps, after all. Maybe taking on an insane talking monorail, fighting off killer lobsters and birthing people from the real world to Mid-World isn’t quite as stressful as tax season, but all that is still taxing (see what I did there) and these guys need a break just as much as the rest of us do!
And the tet did indeed receive a break. The weather may not have been so great, but they were treated to story time by none other than their friendly neighborhood gunslinger! And the reader also got a bit of a break from that pesky Tower thingy that Stephen King has been torturing us with for so long, and was treated to a little more insight into Roland’s mysterious world, although the questions still remain.
So let’s all take a break, and venture into my review of The Wind Through the Keyhole.
The Wind Through the Keyhole picks up shortly after the events at the end of Wizard and Glass. Roland and his friends are continuing with their journey, but run into some trouble in the form of what Roland refers to as a “starkblast” (severe windstorm). The tet is able to find shelter, however, and settles into their shelter for a few days. The storm causes Roland to recall an incident from his early manhood, along with a story that his mother used to tell him at bedtime, titled “The Wind Through the Keyhole.” Roland is convinced by his friends to tell both stories, and happily obliges.
The incident from Roland’s boyhood takes places about two years after the events in Meijis, and the death of Roland’s mother is still fresh on his mind. Roland’s father calls upon Roland and his friend Jamie DeCurry one day to assist him with a matter in one of the surrounding towns. It appears that a creature known as the Skin-Man is terrorizing the town. The creature is human, but is a shapeshifter, and may or may not realize what it has done. Roland and Jamie take a train to the town, but it is derailed and they finish the journey on horseback. On the way to the town, Roland and Jamie encounter the convent of women who had sheltered his mother, Gabrielle, after her affair with Marten Broadcloak. He learns that one of the women was attacked by the Skin-Man and survived, but is horribly disfigured.
Once Roland and Jamie arrive in the town, they team with local law enforcement to investigate the mysterious deaths. The Skin-Man has attacked a farm and killed nearly every inhabitant of that farm. However, there is one survivor, a boy of about 11 years old named Bill Streeter. Roland hypnotizes Bill Streeter, and learns that Bill has seen the Skin-Man in his human form, but only his feet. Bill tells Roland that the Skin-Man has an unusual tattoo. Roland and Jamie determine that the Skin-Man is likely one of the local salt miners and is also able to ride a horse. Roland puts Bill in one of the cells in the local jail (for Bill’s protection), and begins the process of rounding up all the salt miners in town who may have the identifying tattoo. Roland and Jamie plan to bring the suspects to the local jail, in the hopes that Bill may be able to identify the Skin-Man.
In order to bring some comfort to Bill Streeter, who is still in shock from the attack and the loss of his father, Roland bunks with him in the jail cell, and tells him the bedtime story told to him by his mother, titled “The Wind Through the Keyhole.”
“The Wind Through the Keyhole” tells the story of young Tim Ross. Tim Ross lives in a forest, in a land that is probably part of Mid-World. Tim’s life is ordinary until he is 11 years old, when he loses his father. He is told by his father’s friend Big Kells that Tim’s father, known as Big Ross, was killed by a dragon. The death of Big Ross leaves Tim’s mother Nell in dire straights and she is unable to pay her taxes on the land she lives on with her son.
In a moment of desperation, Nell marries Big Kells. This proves to be almost an immediate mistake, as Big Kells begins to abuse Tim’s mother. In the meantime, the Covenant Man, who is the tax collector in Tim’s part of the world, makes a visit to Tim and his family, in an attempt to collect the taxes that are due. However, the Covenant Man also does more than to attempt to collect taxes. He shows Tim the true nature of the death of father, and it is revealed that Tim’s father was murdered by Big Kells. It is also revealed that Big Kells has beaten Tim’s mother so badly that she has lost her vision and also suffered a severe concussion.
Tim rushes back to his mother, as he fears for her life. He is also extremely angry at Big Kells, and the village searches for him, so that he can answer for the murder of Tim’s father. Tim also wants to restore his mother’s vision, and sets off on a quest to attempt that feat. His school teacher, the Widow Smack, has armed him with a gun, along with a warning about the true nature of the Covenant Man.
Tim wanders deep into the forest. He is nearly killed by a dragon, but pleads for his life and is granted mercy. Tim also encounters humanoid creatures that reside in the swamp, and these creature mistake him for a gunslinger and are more than willing to aid him on his quest. They give him food, and a GPS like device with a strangely human voice that calls itself Daria. Daria aids Tim on his quest, providing him with directions to his destination.
Tim discovers that there is a cage, and locked in that case is an extremely large tyger. Tim choose not to kill the tyger, and instead seeks shelter with the creature. There is a magical blanket in the cage with the creature, and this blanket keeps both Tim and his mysterious new friend warm and sheltered from the starkblast.
The next morning, the tyger urges Tim to place drops of a magic potion in its eyes. Tim is afraid, but complies with the request. The tyger then transforms into a human man who is obviously a magician. In fact, the tyger is actually none other than perhaps the most famous magician of all time: Maerlyn.
Maerlyn tells Tim that a creature called the Red King had imprisoned him in a moment of vulnerability. Maerlyn gives Tim the rest of the magic potion, and tells him to use it to restore his mother’s site. He also tells Tim to wear his father’s coin around his neck, in remembrance of his father, but to give his mother his father’s ax. Tim is then transported home via the magical blanket.
Tim rushes into his house. The Widow Smack is asleep and his mother is also resting in her bed. There is no sign of Big Kells. Tim restores his mother’s site. He takes another look at the Widow Smack, and is horrified to discover she is actually dead.
Big Kells then attacks Tim from behind, nearly killing him. However, Tim had followed Maerlyn’s instructions to the letter, and gave his mother his father’s ax. Tim’s mother attacks Big Kells with ax and kills him, saving the life of her son. Tim and his mother live out the rest of their days in relative peace, although Tim becomes a gunslinger and has a few adventures.
Roland then finishes telling his story to Bill Streeter. Bill is comforted a little, so Roland takes him to a local bar to identify the Skin-Man who killed his father. Bill identifies the man by his tattoo and the scar that runs through the tattoo. The man then changes to a snake and kills the mine foreman, but Roland puts a bullet through the creature’s skull.
Roland and Jamie are heralded as heroes, and the town celebrates. Roland and Jamie head back to Gilead, and drop Bill off at the women’s convent. Roland is given a letter from his mother. He learns that his mother knew that she would die at the hands of her son, but that she still went back to their home to see him one last time. His mother also lets Roland know in the letter that she forgives him for his crime. Roland then forgives his mother for her adultery, and forgives himself for killing her.
Roland finishes the tale, and the storm passes. Roland, Eddie, Jake, Susannah and Oy then continue along the Path of the Beam in their quest to seek the Dark Tower.
The Wind Through the Keyhole is quite different in tone that the rest of the Dark Tower series, and even from most of King’s other work. However, these differences are what makes it unique, and they are why I love it.
As a child, I was a huge fan of fairy tales. I remember that my parents had several large books of fairy tales which they read to me (probably repeatedly, but I am sure I wasn’t counting). When I grew old enough to read on my own, I re-read those stories again, and checked out countless books on fairy tales, fables and myths from the library. These type of stories hold a treasured place in my heart, and you can bet if I reproduce
my spawn my own children will be huge fairy tale geeks as well.
So imagine my surprise (although King really should not surprise at this point, since he has proven himself the master of surprise) that my favorite writer, who is billed as a “horror writer” to boot, took the time to indulge me and write me a fairy tale. But that is exactly what Wind Through the Keyhole is: a fairy tale. There is a magician. In fact, two magicians: The Covenant Man and good old Maerlyn. There is adventure. The adventure is even in a forest. And King even included an evil stepparent, since what fairy tale would be complete without an evil stepparent? Just like all of his other work, it is tied into that awesome universe he has spent nearly 40 years creating. Even evil stepparents have their place among master gunslingers in the Stephen King universe.
Wind Through the Keyhole is also fascinating in that it provides us with a glimpse into the world of Roland, and teases us a little more about just what kind of a world Roland comes from, and how close it is to our own world. The Coventry Man even references our world, and makes mention of a vehicle called a Dodge Dart. The device Tim uses as guide on his journey seems to be somewhat similar to the app known as Siri, that many people rely upon when they feel the need to ask a question to their smartphones. Even Maerlyn is a familiar figure, as almost everyone knows the legend of King Arthur and his magician Merlin.
Another thing I remember about fairy tales is that most of them contained some kind of life lesson at some point in the story (be nice to your sisters or you will get your eyes pecked out per Cinderella, beauty is in the eye of the beholder per Beauty and the Beast, etc). And Wind Through the Keyhole also delivered on this premise. And the lesson wasn’t gory, no one got their eyes pecked out, nor was it preachy. The lesson was forgiveness. And forgiveness is a beautiful thing when it is sincere. But forgiveness is also a difficult thing, especially when we need to forgive ourselves. At the beginning of the story, Roland is still grieving the death of his mother, and blames himself. He is unable to let go of the guilt. It takes a letter from essentially beyond the grave in order for Roland to finally move past his guilt. Once Roland realizes that his mother knew what was in store for her, but lets her love for her son win out in the end, he is finally able to move on. And Gabrielle’s act of forgiveness for her what she knows her son will do to her is simply beautiful. Somehow, in a what is almost a children’s story, King was able to sneak in a lesson that all children (and most adults, for that matter) would benefit from: forgiveness is a beautiful and needed act.
So here you have it: my recap of my, er the vacation of our favorite ka-tet! But like all good things, vacations must come to an end. I am back to work, and so are they. Join me next week as my next review throws them to the wolves…The Wolves of the Calla, that is!
Tune in next week…same bat time, same bat channel!
Time for connections fun! Here are some of the connections to King’s other work that I found in The Wind Through the Keyhole:
-The connection that stands out the most is the character the Covenant Man. This character can be none other than Randall Flagg in some form. Flagg is perhaps King’s most ubiquitous villain, and the fact that he shows up in a “fairy tale” is just further proof of that. Flagg is featured in Eyes of the Dragon, The Stand and a few other King works. Obviously, Flagg is a timeless source of pestilence in the King universe.
-A being called the Red King is also mentioned. This being is probably the Crimson King, who is another ubiquitous villain in the King universe. The Crimson makes an appearance in the novel Insomnia, and it is implied that he is responsible for many of the evil deeds that are committed in the King universe.
-The Widow Smack’s first name is Ardelia. Ardelia is also the name of the creature who torments the protagonists in the short story The Library Policeman, which is part of the collection of Four Past Midnight. This creature is similar to Widow Smack, in that it attempts to “teach” children by telling them awful versions of their favorite fairy tales. The Widow Smack is also a teacher, but a kind one. Also, like Ardelia Lortz, she seems to possess some magic powers, but again, she uses her powers for good and not harm.
-The mine foreman states there appeared to be a part in the salt mine that was infested by some of otherwordly, supernatural presence, and it was responsible for turning one of his men into a shape-shifter. This brings to mind Tak, the villain in the books Desperation and The Regulators. Tak was an entity originally discovered in the mines of the Southwest, and was able to possess people’s bodies and force them to commit acts that they normally would not commit. Tak had many powers, and one of them may have been the ability to shape shift.
-The phrase “There’s no place like home” is uttered. Of course, this is from the movie The Wizard of Oz, which was heavily referenced in the book Wizard and Glass.
-The character Maerlyn is a major character in The Wind Through the Keyhole. Maerlyn has been alluded to in previous books in the Dark Tower series, but not much was known about him. It was even implied that Randall Flagg and Maerlyn were one in the same, although King has now shown us otherwise. Maerlyn is the creator of the Wizard’s Rainbow mentioned in Wizard and Glass, and may not necessarily be on the side of the good. However, in Wind Through the Keyhole, Maerlyn was shown to have a vulnerable side (the Red King imprisons him while he is drunk). Maerlyn also helped Tim and saved his life via the advice he gave. In other words, he did not seem to be an evil being and actually appeared to be a benevolent one. It is difficult to tell where Maerlyn belongs in the grand scheme of the Stephen King universe and just exactly what he is fighting for.