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The Wind Through the Keyhole

The Wind Through the Keyhole" – a "Dark Tower"-related novel set in the fictional Mid-World – is unlikely to be ranked among Stephen King’s top works, but it's still plenty entertaining.

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Over the years, many critics have relented and acknowledged King as a writer whose talent extends beyond selling millions of books. Shirley Hazzard and Harold Bloom may look down their noses, but the likes of Michael Chabon do not.

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Whatever his critical standing, King remains comfortable with the gross-out as well as nicely crafted sentences. Of one victim, he writes: “His severed head stared up at the rafters with a fearful grin that showed only his top teeth. The skin-man had ripped the rancher’s lower jaw right out of his mouth. Kellin Frye found it under a bunk.”

Scrambled eggs, anyone? Shadowy figures, creepy forests, night crawlers, and duplicitous characters fill Mid-World, along with a near-permanent state of foreboding.

King shines just enough light on events to keep the characters, and readers, believing and hoping. And, at times, laughing. During one boy’s terrifying chat with a devilish schemer, the latter makes reference to a mysterious place.

“What’s America?” asks the boy who will come to be known at Tim Stoutheart.

“A kingdom filled with toy-loving idiots,” comes the reply from the malicious Covenant Man. “It has no part in our palaver ...” Thus does a Dodge Dart gearshift become an object capable of magic and prophecy.

Roland recounts the story of 11-year-old Tim Stoutheart during his own adolescent odyssey. Steven Deschain has ordered Roland to an outlying town where a shape-shifting man has massacred residents. Grieving for his mother, whose death haunts Roland for reasons that must be gleaned from the book, the young gunslinger sets out to win the respect and cooperation of the sheriff, villagers, and nearby miners while searching for the hidden killer.

His search leads him to the one witness who might be able to help. Bill Streeter, a boy who saw his father die, glimpsed the so-called skin-man responsible, but is shell-shocked and fears retaliation. To ease his worry and encourage cooperation, Roland shares the story of Tim Stoutheart. Before he begins, Roland makes it clear that the tale is long and filled with scary episodes of the sort that a boy who has just been through trauma may not want to experience.

Then, just like millions of readers, Bill Streeter accepts the bargain of fear in exchange for escapism.

“Don’t care,” he tells Roland. “Stories take a person away. If they’re good ones, that is. It is a good one?”

For King’s constant readers, the answer is, once again, yes.

Erik Spanberg regularly reviews books for the Monitor.

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