Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dollar Bin Book Review:The Wind Through the Keyhole(2012)

By Eric Polk-
Without any doubt,The Dark Tower series is by far the jewel of the written works of my favorite and most influential writer, Mr. Stephen King.  Throughout his seven-novel saga, he turned the fantasy genre practically around on its own definition. He combined a western novel arch type with medieval-style imagery, meta fiction, our own reality, and a LOTR quest into perhaps one of the finest works of late 20th century/early 21st century fiction.

Sadly, I was disappointed with how it all ended. Yet, when it was announced there would be a new chapter in the series, I had above-average expectations. I was excited to visit  Mid-World once again(if not for one final time). I was happy to see Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah, and, of course, OY!

Wind takes place between The Wastelands and Wizards and Glass, starting with Roland and his ka-tet arriving at a river on their journey to the Dark Tower. An elderly man who operates a ferry gets them across the river, and warns them that a severe storm (Starkblast) is coming, and that they can find shelter in a building a few miles ahead. They reach the shelter just in time, and while they wait out the storm, Roland spins a story to keep them occupied. The story he tells, called the "Skin-Man", depicts Roland as a young gunslinger. His father sends Roland and his friend Jamie DeCurry west to the town of Debaria on a mission to capture the Skin-Man, an apparent shape shifter who terrorizes the town and surrounding areas by transforming into various animals at night and embarking on murderous rampages.

 The next morning, they discover that another brutal attack has occurred overnight on a local farm. They investigate the scene, and discover a single survivor, a small boy named Bill, who has lost his father in the attack. Bill tells them that he saw the Skin-Man in his human form after the attack, but only glimpsed his feet. He stated that on one ankle the Skin-Man had a tattoo. Roland and Jamie determine that the murderer left the scene on horseback, and Roland sends Jamie to the salt mines to round up every miner who has an ankle tattoo [indicating time spent in a nearby prison] and who is also able to ride a horse. He then brings Bill back to a cell in Sheriff Peavy's jail, as he plans to walk each suspect past Bill in the hopes Bill can identify the Skin-Man, or that the Skin-Man will reveal himself by fleeing due to fear of being identified. While Roland and Bill wait for Jamie to round up the salt miner suspects, Roland tells Bill the story of The Wind Through the Keyhole.

In this story, we meet Tim Ross, a young boy who lives in a forgotten village that fears the annual collection of property taxes by a man named The Covenant Man. Tim recently lost his father, who was killed by a dragon while in the woods chopping trees. After the death of his father, Tim's mother, no longer able to pay the taxes to keep their home, marries his fathers best friend and business partner Bern Kells, who moves in with them. Kells is a mean man prone to heavy drinking who does not treat Tim or his mother well. One day The Covenant Man comes to collect the taxes, and he secretly tells Tim to meet him later in the woods. During this meeting, The Covenant Man reveals to Tim that it was actually Bern Kells who killed his father, not a dragon. During this meeting, Kells beats Tim's mother, causing her to go blind.

Later, The Covenant Man sends Tim a vision telling him that if Tim again visits The Covenant Man in the woods, he will give Tim magic that will allow his mother to see again. Tim, armed with a gun given to him by his school teacher, journeys into the woods, and is led into a dangerous swamp by the evil fairy, Armaneeta. Here, Tim almost becomes victim to a dragon and other mysterious swamp creatures, but he is saved by his gun as well as a group of friendly swamp people. The swamp people guide him to the far side of the swamp, and equip him with a small mechanical talking device from the 'Old People' that helps guide him onward in his journey. Eventually, Tim arrives at a Dogan where he finds a caged 'tyger', which wears the key to the Dogan around its neck. A Starkblast approaches, and Tim, realizing this is likely a trap set for him by The Covenant Man, befriends the tyger. Tim and the tyger ride out the storm under a magical protective blanket. The next morning, Tim discovers that the tyger is actually Maerlyn, a white magician, who had been trapped in the cage for years due to black magic. Mearlyn gives Tim a potion to cure his mother's blindness and sends him back to his mother on the flying magic blanket.

After that story is told,  Jamie arrives back in Debaria with the salt mine murder suspects. Young Bill is able to identify the Skin-Man due to his ankle tattoo and an associated scar, at which time the Skin-Man transforms into a snake, and kills two people.

As much as I enjoyed the third story, I really thought the first frame story was a bit useless at first. Felt it was pointless...Let's take a boat ride and find shelter from a storm...I was wrong in that assessment because you learn something new about Roland Deschain of Gilead at the very end.

The Skin-Man story also saves the good stuff until the end as well, though with a lot more horror than in the first frame story. The Wind Through The Keyhole portion is near-perfect. A boy goes on a quest, comes back changed, encounters new discoveries about life along the way. Talk about arch types.

Overall, Wind is a great campfire tale wrapped around a Dark Tower covering. While I feel this story could have been told on its on, it was nice to see Roland and his ka-tet again-if only for the last time.


Rabid Fox said...

God, I want to read this one so bad, but I don't know if I should hold off until after I read the the final book, The Dark Tower, as that's the only book left in the series I've yet to read.

Eric Polk said...

You can go either way with this. Reading Wind first will not affect reading The Dark Tower in any way.