If I Had a Penny For Every Keyhole’s Destiny: How The Dark Tower Continues to Haunt Me

Ah, what a pleasure it was to step back into the world of the Dark Tower. I do realize it’s been far over a month since I finished the series, and despite my desperate love it, I’m ashamed to say that between work and writerly stuff (as described in my last post, if you’re interested), I barely made headway on the novel until I caught a flight to New York. Sitting in a small chair with my luggage crammed all around me seemed like the perfect place to finish the tale.

Or tales, I should say. The Wind Through the Keyhole is actually a story within a story within a story. Story #1 focuses on the ka-tet before the events of Wolves of the Calla. Oy, the billy bumbler, is pacing in circles and raising his snout to the heavens, triggering some long lost childhood story in Roland’s mind. They meet an old ferryman named Bix who reminds Roland that the throcken can sense when a starkblast is on the way (and can we just pause for a moment and reflect on how much I love those two words? Throcken and starkblast just tickle me pink) and that they should hurry to the next town for shelter. The ka-tet bust ass to find sanctuary in the last stone building in the town of Gook just before the starkblast shows its true colors. Jake nearly dies trying to save Oy who’s fascinated with the oncoming storm, and while the group makes a fire and listens to the howling wind, Roland tells a tale from his youthful gunslinger days, which occurs sometime after the events of Wizard in Glass.

In Story #2, Roland and Jamie Red-Hand are called upon to investigate the rumors of a shapeshifter that has been terrorizing Debaria. I’m quite interested in Roland’s life after Wizard in Glass, and I enjoy how King shows Roland’s devastated guilt and shame for what he did to his mother and, to a lesser extent, how the fall of his teacher, Cort, affected him. This exchange between Roland and his father Steven perfectly sets up the problems Roland has later in life—the problem of manipulating emotion to either solve a problem or use it to obtain whatever Roland wants.

“Would you throw him [Cort] on the dungheap, Father? Is that to be his reward for all his years of service? Who next, then? Vannnay?”

“Never in this life, as you know. But done is done, Roland, thee also knows. And thee doesn’t nurse him out of love. Thee knows that too.”

“I nurse him out of respect!”

“If ‘twas only respect, I think you’d visit him, and read to him—for you read well, your mother always said so, and about that she spoke true—but you’d not clean his shit and change his bed. You are scourging yourself for the death of your mother, which was not your fault.”

 I sometimes wonder if this shows how Roland’s path to hell was paved with good intentions, an example of how he uses his emotions not to serve others, but to punish himself or to meet his own ends. I wonder which Roland this is in the great turning wheel of ka. The one that picks up the Horn of Eld or the one that lets it lie?

Roland embarks on a quest to defeat the shapeshifter, which is an interesting romp, but more importantly, gives the reader insight in to how young Roland handles the responsibility and stress of being a gunslinger. After a particularly brutal massacre, Roland and Jamie find one surviving young boy who saw a blue tattoo around the shapeshifter’s ankle. Roland brings him back to the jail to observe the suspects in hopes that the boy can identify the tattoo. While trying to calm the boy, he tells the tale of Tim the Stoutheart (sounds like Galahad the Pure and Lancelot the Brave rolled into one person—I get the Round Table reference). Story #3 begins: a fairy tale with young Tim as our new protagonist. Tim’s father was killed by his best friend out of jealousy, the murderer marries Tim’s mother and beats her blind, Tim uncovers that his steppa is the reason for his father’s death, and then Tim is tempted to find a magical cure for his mother’s lost eyesight by trusting the Covenant Man aka the man in black and takes a journey into a dark swamp to find Maerlyn.

The story is very fantastical, full of fairies and dragons and swamp people who know their doom is approaching in the form of—get this—a starkblast. I loved that the essence of the Dark Tower’s world still shines through: this post-apocalyptic land that still manages to hold on to the remnants of its technological past. Tim’s Virgil is some kind of GPS navigation system named Daria. Tim was convinced she was a fairy living inside a metal shell. I just love this interaction:

“If you need a charging stations, say yes and I will compute your course. If you do not need a charging station, say continue.”

“Continue,” Tim said. “Lady…Daria…I seek Maerlyn—“

She overrode him.

As Daria guides Tim to Maerlyn’s home, she develops a cute fondness for him, which allows her to override Directive Nineteen and help Tim as much as possible before she expires. When Tim meets Maerlyn, it’s full of incredible magic, transformations, and riddles as well as the explanation of the downfall of even the greatest man. As Maerlyn explains to Tim how he was entrapped as a tyger for so long:

 Tim risked another question. “Magic stronger than yours?”

“Nay, but…” Maerlyn signed and looked up at the morning sky. Tim was astounded to realize that the magician was embarrassed. “I was drunk.”

“Oh,” Tim said in a small voice. He could think of nothing else to say.

Which is kind of poignant, especially when Tim’s steppa committed terrible deeds while under alcohol’s influence.

Each story ends well. Tim flies on a magic carpet home to save his mother’s sight and the constant reader learns that he has earned the title of gunslinger on his journey. He will take up the guns and his adventures will become legendary. Roland and Jamie solve the mysterious identity of the shapeshifter and are able to put the creature down. The storm with our ka-tet blows out and Roland finishes his tale. As Jake falls asleep, he reminisces:

The boy gathered his blanket around him. My shaddie, he thought, and smiled. Beyond the walls, the wind still moaned—a voice without a body. Jake thought, Its on the other side of the keyhole. And over there, where the wind comes from? All of eternity. And the Dark Tower.

Roland freely admits he loves how the wind sounds, and I wonder if he likes it because the wind is his past—all his pasts, all of the many times he has trekked to the Dark Tower and been transported back to the beginning. Roland’s past is on the other side of the keyhole. It’s his eternity. The wind is Roland and the Dark Tower.

I enjoyed The Wind Through the Keyhole, but I realized in a kind of melancholy way, that it wasn’t a tale I would re-read over and over again. It kind of felt like going back and re-watching an old show that really impacted you as a kid—a show you thought was just the bee’s knees—and realizing it really wasn’t as good as you thought. Although this was better than that, it still had strange nostalgia for me, as if I had already read it once upon a time. It’s probably because I’m still in mourning for Roland. I still can’t think on Jake without tearing up.

It’s kind of depressing that this is actually the final Dark Tower tale, but I’m in luck—Christmas smiled down on me and my all-knowing boyfriend purchased me the Dark Tower companions, equipped with the graphic novels detailing the battle of Jericho Hill among many others. My Dark Tower travels may be near the end up they aren’t done yet. Now, where are my guns?

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