Roland Deschain, son of Steven, the last gunslinger of Gilead, is back. Do ya ken it? If those lines make no sense to you, there’s very little reason to read Stephen King’s “The Wind Through the Keyhole.”
There are seven other books and thousands of pages you should focus on first. This one is for fans only.
And the first 30 or so pages are exciting for “Dark Tower” fans. All your old friends from Mid-World are here -- Roland and his six-shooters with the sandalwood grips, his friends Susannah, Eddie and Jake, even billy bumbler Oy -- and it’s a real treat to meet them again as they follow the path of the beam to the Dark Tower. King writes in the foreword that the initial action takes place between books four and five in the series.
But he isn’t really out to fill in any narrative gaps. It’s just a tease, a setup for the stories he wants to tell. Soon Roland and his “ka-tet” are pinned down by a monster storm and Roland tells them all about the time he and his fellow gunslinger apprentice investigated dozens of murders committed by a “skin-changer.”
That turning-back-the-clock twist isn’t so bad, but it doesn’t last. Just as we settle in for a story about one of teenage Roland’s first gunslinger gigs, we’re dropped deeper down the wormhole into a story-within-a-story-within-a-story.
This one is what gives the book its name. King himself has called it a “modern fairy tale,” and there is indeed a fairy, an enchanted forest and a benevolent tiger. But once the tale begins, this so-called “Dark Tower Novel” doesn’t feel like it has much to do with the Dark Tower.
King’s “constant readers” can judge whether the story stands on its own, but my guess is fans will be a little disappointed and newcomers won’t find enough to truly love. For that, pick up “The Gunslinger,” first published in 1982, and lose yourself in one of the greatest fantasy epics ever written.
“The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel,” by Stephen King, published by Scribner Rob Merrill AP