Although it says right on the cover that The Wind Through the Keyhole is a Dark Tower novel, it is really only set in the Dark Tower universe, rather than an integral part of the series. Of course, Dark Tower fans will want to read it and spend a little more time with their favorite characters (very little, as it turns out). But even if you haven’t read any of the books in the series, you will have no trouble following the events in The Wind Through the Keyhole. Its flavor is more reminiscent of King’s young adult fantasy The Eyes of the Dragon than any of his horror novels.
The structure is a story within a story within a story, like a set of nesting dolls. Roland and his ka-tet from the Dark Tower books appear only at the very beginning and end, as they hunker down during a sudden storm and Roland tells them a story around the campfire. Their only purpose is to listen to the two stories and provide a context in which the stories take place.
The first story is from Roland’s life as a young gunslinger, before he set out on the quest for the Dark Tower. It occurs immediately after he is tricked into murdering his mother, and a large part of the sub-text is Roland struggling to forgive himself for that act. (This is not a spoiler, by the way; King supplies this information in the introduction for readers who may not have read the Dark Tower novel that relates Roland’s back story, Wizard and Glass.)
Roland’s father sends him and another gunslinger, Jaimie deCurry, to a remote village to deal with a shapeshifter (or “skin-changer”) who has been savagely murdering people. The story illustrates another function of the gunslingers, as law enforcers and white knights whose main mission is to aid the innocent.
In the course of investigating the murders, Roland takes the only witness into custody, a young boy. While keeping him company, Roland tells him a story: a fairy tale that his mother told him when he was sma’. This story takes up the bulk of the book. It is about a boy whose father was killed and who goes on a quest for magic to help his mother after she is savagely beaten. In the mix of fantasy and science fiction that characterizes the Dark Tower universe, he encounters fairies, dragons, mutants, long-abandoned technology and even the wizard Maerlyn. He also runs into the Man in Black, which will please Dark Tower fans.
This novel is readable and entertaining, as King’s books usually are. However, I found it to be fairly light, not nearly as enjoyable or meaty as King’s last novel, 11/22/63. Because of the story within a story within a story conceit, the book reads more as a series of short stories than a novel, and the fairy tale section was a bit juvenile, which was jarring contrasted with the more horrific shape-shifter story. I enjoyed re-entering Roland’s strange world, though, and I certainly would like to go back there again, if King has more Dark Tower stories in him. I have a feeling he does.