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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Listening to The Wind Through the Keyhole

Stephen King's latest novel returns us to Mid-World, Gilead and Roland Deschain's quest for the Dark Tower that lies at the hub of all reality. King's return to form that began with Under the Dome and 11/22/63 continues with The Wind Through the Keyhole, an interquel set between books four and five of his Dark Tower series.

Pausing on their way to the Dark Tower to take shelter from a supernatural storm, Roland entertains his ka-tet by sharing a fairy tale nested within a story of his younger days. While this nesting isn't as complex as that in the Arabian Nights or Cloud Atlas, it's a relatively rare storytelling approach for King and adds a little depth that a traditional narrative wouldn't have provided.

Roland begins with "The Skin Man," which tells the story of a dangerous mission early in his career as a gunslinger. Midway through this story, young Roland attempts to calm a distraught little boy by relating the central and eponymous fairy tale, "The Wind Through the Keyhole." The story is useful both as commentary upon the novel's framing stories and as a fascinating exploration of Roland's world in the days when it hasn't quite "moved on" as much as long-time readers are used to. Set in the deep past, some forgotten technology still works, artificial intelligence and satellites existing alongside dragons and wizards.

Much of the appeal of the Dark Tower books lies in the setting, a once-great world slowly coming to an end, its technology and its magic fading, leaving behind only a few wanderers and semi-functional artifacts. Both young Roland and young Tim of the "Keyhole" fairy tale use a combination of technology and magic to achieve their respective quests, and in doing so both also come to terms with the sad realities of change, both personal and global. There are moments of great beauty and wonder in the journeys of both young men, but the overall theme is one of sad acceptance that all things must pass...innocence, happiness, the world itself.

And yet The Wind Through the Keyhole is not a depressing book; rather, it's a work that encourages us to treasure our friendships and family, to do the right thing even when it means great personal sacrifice, and to take pleasure in what beautiful things remain. As young Tim ruminates, the keyhole is time, and the wind that blows through it is all the bountiful life of the universe through the eons, truly a thing to be respected and revered. All things must pass, but time is a wheel and there's always something new on the horizon. I hope King's wheel continues to turn for a good long time to come.

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