Summary from Goodreads:
Roland Deschain and his ka-tet—Jake, Susannah, Eddie, and Oy, the billy-bumbler—encounter a ferocious storm just after crossing the River Whye on their way to the Outer Baronies. As they shelter from the howling gale, Roland tells his friends not just one strange story but two…and in so doing, casts new light on his own troubled past.
Published in 2012, The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King is part of his popular and acclaimed Dark Tower series. Written after the series’ completion, this novel takes place between The Dark Tower IV: Wizard & Glass and The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla. The novel, apparently meant to fill in a noticeable gape between the two entries, explores some more of Roland’s personal history before embarking upon his quest, as well as expanding upon the lore of Mid-World.
While labeled “Dark Tower 4.5” by King himself, the novel isn’t quite as involved with Roland and company as that would suggest. They are still heavily featured, but the novel has a couple layers of narrative framing happening during the bulk of it. While sheltered together Roland tells a story from his youth, during which he recounts the story “The Wind Through the Keyhole”, a tale his mother used to read to him when he was young. This story is the primary focus of the novel, about a young boy named Tim Ross who long ago lived with his parents in a small forest village.
The novel takes its time getting to this story, which was the biggest shortcoming for me when navigating these narrative frames. The characters and circumstances were all enjoyable, so there wasn’t any displeasure reading through, but it quickly became clear that Tim’s story was the focal point of the novel — as the title would suggest already. Since this story begins smack-dab in the middle of a nearly pivotal moment in “The Skin-Man,” however, I was briefly disappointed by the sudden change in focus.
“The Wind Through the Keyhole” itself reads and is structured like a fable, with hints of King’s referential style. Even within this story he does a great job of mystifying what to us is familiar or mundane. Tim encounters some artefacts from the “Old Ones,” whose civilization was comparable to our own in terms of technology. However, he does not understand how these things work or what exactly they are, but the reader does. Serial numbers, manufacturer names, and interface instructions are encountered, but he can only speculate as to what they mean.
In keeping with the series, this novel and the fable within strike a good balance of fantastical whimsy with horrific imagery and violence. Be it Eddie’s colourful, occasionally cringy quips or the playfully adorable billy-bumblers the novel has a lot of rather light aspects that contrast heavily with graphic violence and dark elements — specifically in the case of “The Wind Through the Keyhole,” which delves into domestic abuse. For a world that is so dreary, where awful things are commonplace, the characters have a lot of heart and that’s something unique about the series I’ve always appreciated.
While I’m sure many fans of the series read this novel after the fact, I’m still just going through the series. Not wanting to skip over a section I decided to read this before moving onto Wolves of the Calla. I was informed that this book fills in some gaps in that novel, but I’ve yet to know just how much. From the looks of it, I can’t imagine it’s very much. The story provides some closure for aspects of Roland’s past and expands upon the lore of Mid-World in an interesting way, but it feels very much like a side-story.
I enjoyed my time with The Wind Through the Keyhole very much, but this is the second book in a row now that has dwelled more on Roland’s past, so I’m a little antsy to move forward with the story. I definitely recommend it to fans of the series, but I wonder if it might better serve as a chance to revisit old friends after the series has finished, rather than yet another palaver on the road to the Tower.