King's Highway pt. 43: The Wind Through the Keyhole pt. 1 of 2

Welcome back to the Dark Tower National Park and Wildlife Preserve! You're in for a special treat this time around, as we are joined by our trail guide himself, the man-behind-the-curtain at Truth-Inside-the-Lie and You-Only-Blog-Twice, Mr. Bryant Burnette. Please prepare yourself for... part one of... 

Together Again For the First Time!! And other hype!!
Overview: Although published in early 2012, this tale-within-a-tale-within-a-tale takes place between the events of Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla. 

Tale Number One, "Starkblast": The beginning and end of the book describe Roland's ka-tet seeking shelter from a "starkblast," i.e. a Perfect Storm that occurs in Roland's world every so often and that bumblers like Oy can predict. Roland passes the time by telling Eddie, Susannah, and Jake (and Oy, I guess) an adventure he had shortly after the flashback-events of Wizard of Glass; within this tale, he tells...

Tale Number Two, "Skin-Man": A few months after the flashback-events described in the pink glass at the end of Wizard and Glass, Roland is sent by his father / dinh with another young gunslinger named Jamie to investigate a possibly-supernatural murder spree in the outland mining town of Debaria. A "skin-man," i.e. a shapeshifter who may not even know he is the monster, is preying on the miners and families there. With the help of a mountainous nun named Everlynne and a Richard Farnsworth-esque Sheriff named Peavy, Roland rescues the survivor of one of these attacks, a young boy named Bill, concocts a plan, lays his bait, and gets his man in typical Gunslinger fashion, i.e. with extreme-prejudice.

Before this tale wraps up, he tells young Bill Tale Number Three, "The Wind Through the Keyhole," about a boy named Tim, whose father is betrayed and killed by his wood-cutting partner, a dickhead man named Kells, a husband in the tradition of Rose Madder's Norman Daniels, or King Claudius from Hamlet. Our old friend Mr. Flagg aka the Ageless Stranger shows up as "Marten Broadcloak" aka The Covenant Man to collect the king's taxes from everyone. 

While there, he puts the idea in young Tim's mind that Tim can save his mother from their plight (which now includes blindness from one of Kells' beatings...) and avenge his murdered father by traveling to the end of the world to see old Maerlyn:
who, we eventually learn, has been imprisoned there, on command of the Crimson King.
Tim leaves to accomplish this and along the way, encounters an impish fairy, a mud dragon, and a tribe of mud-men who hail him as a gunslinger on account of the hand-cannon he carries, given to him by his elderly ex-tutor before he left. (King will always stick a writer, tutor, or teacher into his stories, even ones that take place only in the enchanted forests of Mid-World memory) These mud-men give him Daria, a talking directional device with the patented North Central Positronics guarantee stamped on it, and it leads him to "North Forest Dogan," an enormous tower with a tiger in a cage outside it. A starkblast is brewing, and Tim is certainly to be killed when it comes...

All art unless otherwise-indicated by Jae Lee, and copies of the limited edition are, amazingly, still available.  That link is https://secure.grantbooks.com/z-sk-dt-twttk.html
(From here on out, Bryan's-thoughts will be represented by the abbreviation for this blog, i.e. DSO, while Bryant's will be represented by Bryant. I thought about giving us great aliases like Doctor Phil and The Alabama Gunslinger, or Todash Malone and the Positronic Five - or even going the easy-to-confuse / visually-repetitive Bryan/ Bryant route - but... well, I didn't. One last word of trail-caution, travelers: anything unspoiled by the above will be spoiled, and spoiled Gunslinger-style, from here on out. Away we go.)

DSO : I almost hate talking about it, as the surprise of the tyger turning into Maerlyn - in the flesh! - is just fantastic. Is this his only appearance? I can only imagine how cool it must have been to see him pop up here. How was this for you, having read them all? Is there anything in here that answered a lingering question or rewarded the long patient reader? Or is this Maerlyn's only appearance?

Bryant: So as to save you any needless anticipation, I will verify that this is indeed Maerlyn's only appearance in the series.  As far as I know.  Within the overall context of the series (if not the entire Dark Tower storytelling universe), I'm not entirely persuaded that it makes any sense.  After all, this isn't young Roland we're talking about; it's young Tim, a character who -- so far as I can tell -- is of zero significance to the overall Tower mythos.  And yet, for Flagg and Maerlyn to have taken such an active role in his life --  a development that might be coincidental, although I have a hard time reading it that way -- seems awfully significant.  

My personal feeling on the matter is that Maerlyn almost HAS to serve as the opposite to the Crimson King.  In other words, the CK is working to bring down the Tower, and is very public and vocal and vigorous about it.  Meanwhile, opposing him -- but almost without anyone ever knowing it (which would explain why he never pops up in any of the other books) -- is Maerlyn, a force for the power King refers to as the White.  I am tempted to say that he and the Turtle (in It) are one and the same, and that that is the nature of the sort of thing Maerlyn does: he puts himself in the position to help bring about small -- relatively small, at least -- events that help to steer the universe as a whole away from collapse.

That's obviously pure speculation, and it's SO unsupported by evidence that it may as well be fanfic.  But I kinda like it, personally.  And again, once you start taking a truly macro view of what King is doing with the Tower series -- by which I am referring to the overall series of connected works, however big or "small" you want to define it as being -- then I think you almost have to start posing questions like that, whether or not you decide to answer them for yourself.

This is all very complicated, and I dearly hope that King plans to tidy it all up a bit before he proceeds to that clearing at the end of the path.

: I've been intrigued by the ongoing Arthur Eld/ Excalibur/ Maerlyn's Glass concept in general. Other worlds than these, indeed.

Bryant: Doesn't that make it seem almost mandatory for there to be some sort of spinoff series of Tim Stoutheart novels that explains exactly why, and for what purpose, these cosmic beings are so interested in such a small figure?
DSO: I thought the same thing. Setting us up for another Mid-World spell? Tales from Old Mid-World? I'd eat that shit for breakfast, as Shooter McGavin might say. Especially since he becomes a gunslinger later in life. (Tim, that is.)

Hell, instead of Haven, why doesn't somebody just make a Tim Stoutheart tv series?

Bryant: Oh, don't get me started on how lousy Haven is.  It astonishes me that so many King fans are giving this crap a pass.  I mean, I've seen worse, but compared to any number of shows currently active on television, this shit just don't pass muster. 

DSO: Does Tim appear again? Or is that one of those "tales for another days," a la Flagg vs. Thomas from Eyes, or the further adventures of Wyzer and Dorrance from Insomnia, etc.? I hope we get at least a dozen more Dark Tower books... not to be morbid, but once King passes, will Joe and Owen have any interest in writing a few? They have their own distinct styles, and, of course, it doesn't have to be someone in the King family to do it...

Bryant: If Joe Hill or Owen King do it someday, I'd be okay with that (although even with them, I'm not sure I think it would work).  Otherwise, I hope and pray it never ever ever ever EVER happens, because I simply don't think anyone could channel whatever King is channeling.

DSO: Yeah, it's probably not a good idea, even if Owen or Joe (or Tabitha or Naomi for that matter) wanted to do it.

Bryant : How awesome would it be if Naomi turned out to be the one to continue to King family's march toward the Tower?  It seems unlikely, though; as far as I know, she's never published anything.

It's more likely that Robin Furth would be King's proxy in this regard, and evidence indicates that that wouldn't be a very good idea.  She published a sorta-prequel to The Little Sisters of Eluria in the backs of the comics, and it ... was not very good.  Didn't match tonally, didn't match plot-wise; it just plain didn't work.

DSO: I'd love to see at least a trilogy of Tim's adventures. I'd settle for one. Maybe Marvel will go in this direction.

Bryant : I get the sense that Marvel's days on the path of the Beam are numbered, but you never know.

I'd love to see a movie version of The Wind Through the Keyhole.  Just the central tale, with no allusions to the larger story.  I think that could make a pretty solid dark-fantasy flick.

DSO: You’re right. As soon as he leaves in search of Maerlyn, things go from zero to ninety in that direction.
It would even work as a Rankin-Bass animated feature, perhaps particularly as one.
If anyone decided to make another Rankin/Bass movie, of course.
Similarly, Directive Nineteen. Damn it, what the hell!? I so wanted to learn what that was. Daria was great, particularly the burgeoning friendship she developed with Tim. One other thing re: Daria: I get a kick out of how my parents/ that generation;s approach things like GPS devices. It's perfectly understandable - they're cool as hell , for any generation - but it must really be Star-Trek-For-Real for Baby Boomers to interact with GPS devices and Siri and such. I know my Dad gets a little-boy look on his face when he talks about his TomTom. Can't blame him. I particularly liked that aspect in "Big Driver," and I enjoyed it here, as well.

Bryant: Structurally, and in terms of its implications for the macro view of the Tower series, this is a problematic novel.  But Daria is one of the many, many, many reasons why I am willing to just overlook all of that in favor of enjoying the book.  Daria is great!  I also loved the little malevolent fairy, whose name I cannot remember.  Within my experience as a reader, there is nobody who comes even close to being as good as King at creating memorable characters.  This novel is a fairly slight work, all things considered, and yet it fairly bursts with excellent new characters, at least one of whom is nothing more than a souped-up GPS unit.  Fascinating.

As for "Directive 19," I do not believe it makes any return appearances, although I could be wrong about that.  It might in Book V, actually.  Either way, the number 19 definitely appears again.
DSO: Andy responds with "Directive Nineteen" a few times in Calla, but I'm disappointed to hear we get no further explanation. Although, for the most part, I kind of like being dropped into the mystery along with the characters and focusing on their quest/ adventures rather than a big info-dump of the world-that-was - more tantalizing that way.

Bryant: It's frustrating, but it also makes a lot of sense.  I think there is definitely room to explore the whole sci-fi side of this story via a spinoff novel of some sort, but I'm not sure how it could be dropped into an actual
Dark Tower novel or story without bringing in a character who would basically just be an info-dump device.  And hey, if that's what it takes, I'm all for it ... but something tells me that unless King can invent for himself a story to hang it all on, then it'll never happen.

And though that would kinda disappoint me, I'd be okay with it, too.  I can sorta concoct my own half-baked theories, which is the pleasure of mysterious-and-unrevealed-mythology stories like the ones King is hinting at here.  The downside is that you just
know some professional hack will eventually decide to set 'em all down on paper and sell 'em to us.  I'd like to think that King's estate will persist long enough to either block that altogether, or at least ensure that it ends up being good, but hey, you never know.  Either way, I'll buy it, because I am a sucker.

DSO: Me, too. Along those lines, I'll have to buy some kind of poster with all the Beam guardians and the rhymes after this is done, or make one myself. I just love the concept so much. It reminds me a lot of Elric/ the Eternal Champion. I have yet to see that come up in Dark Tower commentary/ King interviews, so probably just one of those Jungian "coincidences."

You mention structural problems, and I just want to spend some time on those. North Central Positronics - I'm a total nerd for this idea and get excited anytime it appears. I'm dying to learn more, though I'm not sure if I actually will.

Bryant: Ah, yes, good old NCP.  You know, it only now (at this late date) occurs to me that I have no bleedin' idea what "positronics" is.  (Are?)  

DSO: Only Dr. Soong knows for sure.

Bryant: Sometimes the word -- if we're to the point where this is considered a word (and I think we are) -- "lol" is used less than literally,  Here, I literally LOLed.

(Here is Dr. Soong, for those readers who did not have brought TNG to mind by the above.)
DSO: Similarly, though, I have no idea what the hell "Dipolar Computers" are. I keep meaning to look it up.

Bryant: I seem to recall that Book V touches on some of this a bit, and that there might be some vague hints in the final two volumes as well; but King never tackles it head-on, sadly.  I am both okay with that AND annoyed by it.

DSO: I was a bit confused by what the point of the North Forest "dogan" was/is; is this something explained more in the books to come? Or is it (like Directive Nineteen) left a mystery? Also, since NCP plays such a self-identified part in Roland's telling of The Wind Through the Keyhole story, he's obviously familiar enough with concept. He might not know what it means, but as a term he'd recognize... But I don't recall his mentioning this in The Waste Lands when this first started appearing. (I flipped through the section right after they destroy The Bear and didn't see anything) Of course, Roland was losing his mind at the time, and grappling with other stuff. But given its prominence in the Wind Thru the Keyhole tale his mom told him, just curious.

Bryant : Here is where we get into an element of TWTTK that does not work: it is entirely too vague as to whether the central tale of Tim Stoutheart represents a story that Roland is literally telling the young boy who has been menaces by the skin-man (and, consequently, to his tet-mates and to us), or if that section is merely a representation of the tale Roland is telling.  In other words, that section represents the "real" version of the story Roland is telling (which was in turn told to him by Gabrielle, his mother).  I say that not because there is any evidence of it, but because if you assume that it is instead the literal transcription of the story as told by Roland, then it makes no sense; there is too much information in it that it seems unlikely that Roland could have possessed, such as the strong hint that the Covenant Man is actually both Randall Flagg and Marten Broadcloak.  How would his mother have known this?  How would whoever told her the story have known it?

DSO: Yeah, good point! I didn't think of that, but absolutely. A few sentences (maybe even just one) would've cleared it up. I mean, in Wizard and Glass, the traveling-through-the-glass conceit holds it all together very well. I don't know why he didn't try something similar (not one of Maerlyn's Globes, per se, but something) here.

Bryant: It simply begs too many questions, so I choose to see it as an omnisicient-POV representation of the core tale as told by Gabrielle to Roland to the boy.  I'm aware that that is a convoluted mess, but it's the only way I can make it all make sense; truthfully, it doesn't work, but the tale itself is so damned good that I'm inclined to take the approach of making shit up in order to MAKE it all make sense.

The more I think about this element, the more worrisome it seems.  In looking at the text, the first "Skin-Man" section ends with Roland saying -- AS dialogue -- the first paragraph of (the "The Wind Through the Keyhole" section). So really, the text itself gives evidence that that entire section IS, in fact, meant to be taken literally as a transcription of the story Roland tells Bill.

And yet, I just don't think that can possibly be the case, due to the implications it would hold about what Roland does and doesn't know.

This might be a question worth posing on the messeage-boards at King's site.  Maybe Ms. Mod could fish an answer out of King for us.  How cool would that be?

DSO: That'd be great. I'll post it up there and see if anything develops.

Bryant: How did you like the skin-man sections of the book?

DSO: I liked this bit, but... there wasn't much to it, was there? As a book-end to the Tim Stoutheart story, it serves its purpose, but it seemed a bit like a monster-of-the-week sort of episode. I did enjoy the revelation of the demon-things under the mines and wanted to learn more about that. 

Bryant: It's definitely a vignette moreso than anything else, but it felt moderately crammed full of import to me.  For one thing, since the stuff with Cort seemingly answers the question -- which had been a persistent one in my brain for several years -- about how canonical the comics are, that felt like a big weight had been lifted.  And I think also the central conceit is cool, for all its slightness.  It's a nice glimpse at the sort of thing that a Gunslinger has to deal with on a regular basis; in that way, its very lack of importance seems ... important.

It also reinforces the notion of ka being a wheel.  After all, this is a dangerous and bloody assignment, but it's a minor one; and yet despite that, it leads Roland to some fairly vital information about his mother, which in turns leads him to some solace.  And that, arguably, restores enough of his confidence and self-worth that it will later set him on the road to the Tower.  Without this episode, or some equivalent to it, would Roland have come back to himself enough to take on a quest like that?  Maybe; maybe not.

DSO: I wanted to find out what happened to the kid in later years. He goes to live with Everylnne and the sisters of Serenity. I'd like to think he eventually made his way to Gilead - not that I want to discover he died or anything. 

Bryant: I'm with you; I'd kinda like to know what happens to Bill after this, too.

DSO: Otherwise, the only structural distraction for me was Susannah's "sugar" tic. I kept a count of how many times she called someone "sugar." Only 6 this time, with 2 "honeybee"s. Wouldn't be a bad total for the whole story, but she's only in the novel for 33 out of the 309 pages, so... kind of high.

Bryant: Here's my viewpoint on that: King's tendency to give characters verbal tics like that is one his absolute worst characteristics, and it's a shame nobody has ever -- seemingly -- talked him out of it.  All that "beep-beep, Richie" and the inane things that come out of Trashcan Man's mouth and all the "SSDD" in Dreamcatcher so forth ... it just doesn't work for me, nine times out of ten.  Susannah has some of those characteristics, and so does Eddie, although they don't bother me all that much, because ... well, to be honest, I don't know why.  And to be fair, the only time it's ever really taken me out of a story to any meaningful degree is in Lisey's Story, which has an abominable amount of it.

DSO: It doesn't really bother me, really, either, any more than Wireman's in Duma Key with his endless "muchachos;" it's just King's style, I guess. I wonder, though, how no one at Scribner has pointed this out, if only to shield him from more unflattering accusations than "his style." Whether it's Susannah or Sara Tidwell from Bag of Bones, you'd figure someone would've said "Hey, uh..." Or maybe they do, and SK is insistent. That would be funny. Maybe he's just got a thing for The Archies:

Bryant: I suspect that this is a side-effect of King "seeing" his characters so clearly as he writes them; in his brain, that's just what they talk like, so he is merely transcribing them accurately.

Pt. 2, Wherein we Discuss Quotes, the Art, Starkblasts, and More.


  1. I would like to ask you to share some links to other sources dedicated to this theme of course in case you know any.

  2. We never got any comments on this apart from the indecipherable one above?!?

    The internet disappoints me frequently, but this is especially vexing.

    1. I hear ya! I've been getting together the next Springsteen blogs and had a look at the last few we did and the tumbleweeds for comments is similarly vexing.

      Was this our first collaboration? I believe it was. We hit the ground running.