Of all the literary universes I’m a fan of the one created by Stephen King may be my favorite. Well, King’s and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld but honestly I enjoy both so much it’s a toss up between the two. What makes the Stephen King multi-verse so interesting is that the stories didn’t start out connected, they simply evolved that way. In 1982 King released the odd-duck fantasy/horror novel The Gunslinger. It was a patchwork of previously released short stories in to a narrative chronicling the journey of Roland the Gunslinger and his pursuit of the Man in Black across the desert. The Gunslinger was published, you could say wedged, between 1981’s Cujo and 1983’s double whammy of Christine and Pet Sematary. Sai King used to be quite prolific. Probably because he was whacked out of his mind on drugs.
For years The Gunslinger was more of a curiosity than anything for King Constant Readers. It was only after the The Drawing of the Three released that fans went back to The Gunslinger for another, or in some cases, first look. The Gunslinger is an odd patchwork narrative that serves as an enigmatic but brief introduction to what would be Stephen king’s magnum opus work, The Dark Tower. I don’t use magnum opus lightly to describe it. When the final volume of the series, titled simply enough The Dark Tower 7: The Dark Tower, came out in 2004 the series numbered seven main titles but had main story threads tied to two dozen of King’s other books and short stories including The Stand, The Eyes of the Dragon, IT, Insomnia, ‘salems Lot ,and The Talisman to name the major ones. And because all of King’s works are connected in the aforementioned multi-verse, The Dark Tower – just like the titular metaphysical structure – is the story that ties King’s entire prolific career together. As far as I know there is nothing like this in the world of literature. Not only an interconnected story universe like Discworld but a story universe that is ultimately telling one huge story.
One huge story that is so complex and interconnected that books have been written just explaining how and where each character and title ties to the overall story. Fans have their own questions and many have never really been answered, which is as it should be to be honest. Ruminating on them is more fun than knowing and if you are a fan I’m sure you have your own.
If you just look at the seven primary novels the world building that King engages in is breathtaking, stunning, and even audacious. The world of Roland Deschain has “moved on”. There are remnants of a past civilization that looks a lot like ours now but it’s been hundreds and hundreds of years since our time. When Roland’s city Gilead falls to an enemy force he goes on a quest to save The Dark Tower, the fulcrum on which all worlds spin, from forces that seek to destroy it and plunge the universe in to chaos. On his journey others join with Roland. Of those others, known as Roland’s ka-tet, are the boy Jake, former street hustler Eddie, the wheelchair bound Susannah, and Oy the billy bumbler. It is those 5 that we spend the most time with over several thousand pages. And it is those 5 that I realized I had missed as dearly as old friends when I read The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Novel.
Taking place Wizard & Glass (book 4) and Wolves of the Calla, this volume finds our gunslingers forced to hole up in an abandoned building to escape a violent and sudden winter storm called a Starkblast. To pass the time Roland tells the Ka-tet the story of his first mission after the disastrous events in Mejis and the death of Susan Delgado. Roland and another gunslinger named Jamie are dispatched to the town of Debaria to hunt a shapeshifter that has been slaughtering townspeople. While in Debaria Roland befriends a young boy who witnessed the most recent slaughter. To soothe the traumatized boy over the course of a long night Roland tells him an old tale called The Wind Through the Keyhole. This fairy tale chronicles the adventures of Tim Stoutheart as he ventures into the woods near his town of Tree to learn the truth of his father’s death. In that way the book is three stories that thematically tie together.
All of the stories are entertaining and tremendously well written. Each offers another tantalizing visit to Roland’s mid-world that will have fans eating up every word and asking for more. As enjoyable as the fairy tale and story from Roland’s past are its the time spent with the ka-tet on the road to Calla that is the true draw here. It’s wonderful just being able to spend a little more time with them.
As the book drew to its ending and we returned to the “present” I was overcome with sadness that these were probably the last words I would read about the gunslingers. I know what happens to them in the end. I know who rides to the Tower and who falls along the way. But for this one moment in time they, and we, are just listening to Roland tell his story. Its not until the very end, hell, the last paragraph at that before you realize the entire book is an epilogue. Not only a chance to spend one more day with Roland, Susannah, Jake, Eddie and Oy but to bring closure to one of the most tragic events in Roland’s past.
For that I say thankee.