This year, Stephen King returns to the Dark Tower series with a new installment, The Wind Through the Keyhole. The book hits stores next Tuesday, but our Matthew Jackson got an advance look. Hit the jump to find out whether or not you should pick up King’s latest.
Stephen King’s epic Dark Tower fantasy cycle was supposed to be done. The final, concluding volume was released eight years ago, and yet here’s an eighth, newly arrived from King’s pen to our hands. But why?
Before you even start on this idea, it’s not money. The Dark Tower series has a large and dedicated fanbase, but it’s far from the most popular thing King’s ever written. Plus, we’re talking about Stephen King here. After all these years, all those bestsellers and movie deals, do you really think he’s just out to cash in?
King has written many times about the continuing allure the world of the series has for him. As the cycle wound down it became clear that it wasn’t just the biggest thing he’s ever created, but a kind of metafictional receptacle for nearly everything else he’s ever written. All roads lead to that Tower, and even with the story concluded, King couldn’t turn away from the universe. At least, that’s what we’ve been led to believe.
The Wind Through the Keyhole is proof not just of how compelling the Dark Tower world continues to be, but of King’s continued to ability to re-enter it and tell fresh, sweeping stories.
Keyhole is set in the gap between Wizard and Glass, the fourth volume of The Dark Tower cycle, and the fifth volume Wolves of the Calla. King refers it as “The Dark Tower 4.5,” but notes that apart from a few small details (which King divulges in an introduction) you don’t have to be well-versed in the Tower epic to enjoy the tale. King’s hero, Roland of Gilead, is traveling with his small ka-tet of friends and allies – the recovering drug addict Eddie, the wheelchair bound Susannah, the boy from Earth Jake and the billy-bumbler Oy – when a powerful and mythic storm begins to make its way toward them. They take shelter in an old stone meeting house, and as the storm blasts outside it reminds Roland of both a tale of his younger years, and an old children’s story that reminds him of his long-dead mother.
This sets Keyhole up for its story within a story within a story framework. Roland’s friends sit and listen as he tells the story of the time he and his friend and fellow gunslinger Jamie are sent to investigate reports of a “skin man” (a kind of werewolf) that’s been terrorizing a rural community. In the midst of that story, in an effort to calm a frightened boy, the young Roland tells the story of “The Wind Through the Keyhole,” a favorite children’s story from his youth about a boy investigating the death of his father and getting much more than he bargained for.
All three stories are thematically connected in some way, and each of them is a rich adventure both for first time visitors to the world of the Tower and old friends of Roland and his ka-tet. Seasoned readers will find new encounters with Roland’s friends, his often enigmatic father, and one of the series’ most enduring villains, while new arrivals will find a well-told tale that will whet their appetite for more of this ruinous and endlessly surprising world.
Readers who know the series well might enter The Wind Through the Keyhole with a degree of skepticism, but trust me, it fades fast. Within pages it feels like King never left this world. His prose takes on that mythic quality that permeated the entire Dark Tower series. It’s a testament both to his deep connection to this particular fictional universe and his often overlooked diversity as a novelist. What’s more, he never loses his sense of pace. This is a tight, well-honed book, not the doorstopper sprawls King is infamous for. Even with the three-tiered structure at work here, the whole book is seamless, organic and gripping. This is King at his very best.
The Wind Through the Keyhole is available everywhere April 24.