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Dark Tower, Vol. 4 ½: A Welcome Addition
on April 24, 2012
As a longtime fan of King, I've not always agreed with every decision he's made, while respecting his right to do whatever he wants with his own writing. For example, there are things I like and don't like about the revised edition of The Gunslinger, in which he made several changes to the book's tone and some aspects of the characters' personalities, as well as to much of the dialogue. I appreciate any and all Mid-World fiction King wants to treat us with, but I'm not wild about changes being made to beloved material. That brings us to The Wind through the Keyhole, King's latest re-entry into the Dark Tower universe. Noting the five-star rating I've given it, you can safely assume I'm pleased with this addition to the canon. Here's why.
When I first heard about this project, I thought it made good sense. King mentioned that after some reflection, he realized there was a gap between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla, and has referred to this novel as "Dark Tower 4 ½." Let's go back in time a bit. Years before King was hit by a van and nearly killed, he always said that The Dark Tower would be a series of about seven or eight novels. After the accident, King attacked the story like a man possessed, determined, as he also mentioned several times, not to end up like Geoffrey Chaucer with a hugely ambitious literary work that didn't get finished. He steamrolled through writing three final novels, ensuring that his story's fate wouldn't end up the same as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Now, after several healthy years recovering from the accident and resuming his career, he seems less pressured and more interested in enriching the story. And like King, I also sensed a gap between DT 4 and 5, one that didn't exist between the other novels. Sure, Jake, Eddie, and Susannah have progressed noticeably from the end of The Drawing of the Three to their first appearance in The Waste Lands, but not to the point that it seemed like a great deal of time had passed, as it did between 4 and 5.
The best thing about The Wind through the Keyhole to me is that the book doesn't change anything, but it adds much. It bridges the gap and fills in that missing time, establishing a more cohesive flow between books 4 and 5, while offering Dark Tower junkies like myself another glimpse into King's fantastic creation with stories of Roland's past. I don't know if I'm alone here, but I was looking for more of Roland's back-story than I got when Wizard and Glass was published. I loved the story of his ordeal in Mejis, but I thought the flashback would have a wider scope, that it wouldn't be mostly concentrated on one summer from his youth. The stories within Wind through the Keyhole open up a bit more of that past with rich storytelling that helps flesh out Roland's early years and negates the concern of what the stakes will be for him and his current ka-tet. As others have noted, we know all of the characters are safe, so a worry going in was, what is there to provide suspense? Once you get lost in Mid-World's past, that concern will fade and the joy of experiencing that magical world only presented in tantalizing fragments in the other Dark Tower novels (except DT 4, of course) will set in. Wizard and Glass proved that flashbacks like these can be thrilling even if you know the characters will survive. They're great fun, allowing King to delve into the history of Mid-World and the forces that shaped Roland's personality. The Wind through the Keyhole is, for me, a welcome addition to Tower lore.
I actually can't wait to go back and re-read the entire series with this book added to the timeline. It's impossible that King was able to squeeze in all of the ideas that he wanted to develop when he wrote those last three books, considering that he took years in between each of the others, and that Roland promises at the end of Wizard and Glass he has a "tale for another day" that must be told before reaching the Tower. I feel like we're now getting some of those ideas that might've come naturally if King's accident hadn't given him a pressing urgency to finish the story as soon as possible. Maybe not everyone will agree with me, and maybe even some will refuse to accept this book into the Dark Tower family; to that, I'd say they will always have the freedom of skipping it and ignoring what it adds to the story. As for me, I'm grateful that King decided to give us a little bit more. You never know, he might even decide one day to give those readers unhappy with the ending of Dark Tower 7 the final version where Roland reaches the Tower with the Horn of Eld in tow. Whether he does or not, The Wind through the Keyhole opens the door for future possibilities with this series.