Stephen King begins The Wind Through the Keyhole with a nod to Robin Furth and the gang at Marvel Comics. It's a fitting dedication since, with the exception of a narrative framing piece, this really could have (perhaps even should have) been a story arc in the comic series.
That's not to say I disliked it, just that it really adds nothing of value or context to the overall Dark Tower saga. It's nice to revisit friends, and immeasurably comforting to fall back into the language of Mid-World (say thankee-sai), but it lacks the epic feel of the rest of the series. There's no advancement of the greater plot and, rather surprisingly, hardly anything in the way of meta-references or pop-culture trivia. It also suffers, of course, from being an after-the-fact addition to an already finished storyline - no matter how fantastic the Starkblast was, there was never any real sense of danger, since we know the characters all live through to the next book.
Having said that, it's still Stephen King, it's still The Dark Tower, and it's still an enjoyable read - regardless of how it's told.
Let's start with the framing narrative of Roland, Jake, Susannah, Eddie, and Oy. It's definitely nice to revisit the ka-tet in the days when it was whole and healthy, and comforting to spend some quality time alongside them. As for the Starkblast, it may have just been a convenient plot device to gather them together long enough for Roland to tell a story, but it's a force of nature worthy of Stephen King.
The first story-within-the-story is that of Roland as a youth, sent by his father to investigate the murderous rampage of a skin-man. It's an interesting enough tale, and does illuminate a little of Roland's mental state following the death of his mother, but it's also the aspect that most feels 'lifted' from the comics. The skin-man had definite potential as a King monster, but it never really gets its moment to shine. Yes, we get to see the carnage it's left behind (the scene with the children at the farmhouse is especially chilling), but it feels as if King wasn't that interested in the final confrontation. Again, much like the Starkblast, the skin-man is ultimately a plot device designed to give young Roland a chance to tell a story of his own.
It's this second story-within-a-story where the book really shines. Even though it has nothing to do with Roland or his ka-tet, it touches on several elements on the greater saga . . . and does, as the book's only real meta-reference, tie nicely to The Eyes of the Dragon. Part fairy tale and part epic quest adventure, Tim Southeart's tale could have carried the book on its own, with no need for the skin-man framing device. Here we get King's signature take on the family (and step-families) and the horrors of which human beings are capable. We also get an extended look into the more fantastic landscapes of Mid-World, it's mutated denizens, and the very real monsters living there (including faeries and dragons done as only King can do them). Tim's story also provides a new twist/tie to the Arthurian legends, finally weaving Merlin into the larger story in a scene that brings us back to the Starkblast, this time with a very real sense of danger to accompany it.
Overall, a solid book with one particularly great story contained within it . . . and one scene at the very end, between Roland and Susannah, that does add just a little to his character.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins