Once upon a time, a ka-tet of readers found themselves at tor.com on a long quest to reach Stephen King’s Dark Tower. During the journey, the author (or perhaps it was simply ka) tried to throw our hardy band of pilgrims into confusion by telling a new story. Undeterred, their path followed the Beam until the end, and only now, when we know what is at the clearing at the end of the path, do we return to Mid-World once again, to join our old friends for The Wind Through the Keyhole (Dark Tower 4.5, if it do ya).
Welcome. There be spoilers ahead.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 1
We pick up our ka-tet between Lud/the Green Palace and the Calla, making their way along the road. Jake, with Oy at his side, are running ahead of the others. Susannah’s worried about Jake, but Roland reminds her the boy has his father’s gun and knows how to use it.
The road they’re traveling is rough, and Oy keeps stopping, sitting down to face backward, his nose stuck in the air, sniffing. Roland thinks he has a memory associated with this trait, but can’t quite retrieve it.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, it’s kind of bittersweet to read about the ka-tet, whole and intact. And here’s a familiar name: they pass a deserted store with the sign, “Took’s Outland Mercantile.”
We know that later in the series, Roland quite actively dislikes Detta Walker; here, he’s glad Susannah still has her because, he thinks, Detta makes Susannah a gunslinger—not a connection I recall him making in the main series.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 2
A couple of hours later, they reach a hill above the River Whye. Below them, they see a large raft docked to a barnlike building whose end jutted out over the water. On the raft were several wicker chairs. Jake sat in one. An old man in a straw hat sat in the other.
Oy races to meet them, and then stops and sniffs the air again, facing the direction in which they’ve come. When Eddie asks why he’s doing that, Roland doesn’t know…but he almost does.
What Constant Reader Learns: Oy had been so sad and silent in the last book that it’s fun to see him racing up the hill to meet the others with a cheerful “Olan! Ed! Suze!” I don’t recall him saying their names prior to the last book, when he called “Olan” by name.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 3
When the old guy sees Roland’s and Eddie’s guns with the sandalwood grips, he drops to one knee with the “Hile, gunslinger” salute. Roland calls him “friend” because Jake and Oy seem to think so, and he’s come to trust their instincts. Although Oy is still busy sniffing and staring behind them.
What Constant Reader Learns: Thanks to Big Bro Kindle, I know that the following sentence has been highlighted by 202 readers, so I shall quote it as well, because it deserves highlighting: “Time was a face on the water, and like the great river before them, it did nothing but flow.” This was in reference to the old guy referring to Roland’s homeland as “Gilead that was.”
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 4
As Bix feeds them some fish-filled popkins, they look around and realize they’re sitting on a ferry. Bix had told Jake there were a few people living on the other side, but they rarely come to the river. When Roland asks how much he’d charge to take them across the river, Bix laughs. Money is useless to him, so he asks to hear about Lud, which was a great city beginning to “crumble and grow strange” when he last knew it.
What Constant Reader Learns: Bix says he lost count of his age after he passed a hundred and twenty, and “grown strange” is something Lud passed a long time ago.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 5
Bix readies the ferry for crossing.
What Constant Reader Learns: The crank that Bix uses to propel the ferry is embossed with the words North Central Positronics. Bix thinks he got it about ninety years ago or more—in an underground facility back toward the Green Palace that was full of things that belonged to the old people but if you spent too much time there you broke out in sores and couldn’t think straight.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 6
While they cross the river, the ka-tet takes turn telling Bix about Lud and the things that had happened to them. Oy spends the trip looking behind them and sniffing. “Yon throcken knows it’s coming,” Bix tells them. “You’ll want to take heed.” It brings back a memory to Roland, a woodcut illustration in one of his childhood storybooks, of six bumblers in the same position. It accompanied a story called “The Wind Through the Keyhole.” Roland has a Doh moment and he finally remembers—Oy is signaling that a starkblast is coming.
He asks Bix if there’s a place up ahead where they can hole up and wait for it to pass, and Bix says there’s a deserted town five or six miles up with a stone meeting place.
What Constant Reader Learns: Bix remembers Blaine the Mono and Patricia and is sad to hear what’s happened to Lud. I suspect we won’t ever see him again and can’t help but wonder what will happen to him.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 7
The ka-tet members say fond goodbyes to old Bix and he tells them to “mind the starkblast.” He estimates they have a day or two yet, since Oy hasn’t started turning in circles so far.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ha! As Roland and Co. are walking away, Bix yells at them that if they see that “cussed Andy, tell him I don’t want no songs, and I don’t want my gods-damned horrascope read.” Of course, our crew will have much to say to that cussed Andy.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 8
It takes them less than an hour to find the deserted village, but it was enough time for Roland to explain the starkblast, a fierce storm with such a sudden and extreme temperature drop (as much as “forty limbits below freezing”) that birds freeze and fall out of the sky.
What Constant Reader Learns: Jake asks a good question: how do the bumblers know the starkblast is coming. But Roland doesn’t have an answer, because “the how and why of things had never interested him much.” True, that.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 9
As they approach the town, Eddie finds a piece of signboard reading GOOK, which Roland says refers to a deep well from which anyone may drink. Which they can’t explore much, because Oy begins to turn in circles as if chasing his tail.
What Constant Reader Learns: Good explanation, Roland, because I was concerned about negative and possibly offensive slang from the Vietnam era, a period of time with which sai King is very familiar. Although Eddie’s desire for a bumper sticker that says “I Waited Out the Starkblast in Gook” is, I admit, pretty funny.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 10
They continue into the empty town and, at the far end, find the stone community meeting house. Since Oy is continuing to turn in circles, Roland says as soon as they make sure they have the building to themselves, they’ll start gathering wood.
What Constant Reader Learns: I hope Bix made it home; his estimate of two days before the storm arrives appears to have been a great exaggeration.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 11
Bin-rusties, aka swallows, are nesting on the building’s second floor but it is otherwise unoccupied. Oy barks at them until they fly away, and Eddie fears they’ll turn into birdsicles. Ro and Eddie busy themselves covering the windows, while Susannah rolls her chair into the huge fireplace and, unwisely, reaches up and opens the damper, covering herself in a cloud of soot.
This precipitates a visit from Detta Walker, who has quite a colorful diatribe going against the “chimbly” until she realizes Jake and Oy are both staring at her, wide-eyed and openmouthed. Susannah apologizes, but Jake tells her, with great respect, that she swears even better than his father.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, I did miss Detta Walker. She could cuss, gotta give her that. Eddie suggests they look for the well, so she can clean up, and when Roland says there will be water if God wills it, SuDetta says, “You being smart, Roland?” He assures her he isn’t, but he clearly is and has amused himself.
After the sad, broken Roland we traveled with on the later roads to the Tower, it’s fun to see this more lighthearted gunslinger.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 12
Eddie and Suze find the well on what Eddie thinks was probably a town common. Susannah spots a rusting bucket off in the weeds, and he uses their rope to lower it toward the water. Susannah and Eddie are mid-banter when they begin to hear a low, thudding noise from the northwest, “coming in their direction like marching feet.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I guess the availability of a bucket just when they need it is no more convenient than them finding a ghost town with a solid stone building just hours before the starkblast. Ka.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 13
They get back to find Jake and Roland running toward the meeting hall with armloads of wood. Oy is out in the street turning circles again.
Susannah tips herself out of her wheelchair and tells Eddie they can use the chair to pile on more wood. Meanwhile, she’ll go inside and get the fire started. Eddie and Jake and Roland get a final load of wood and Eddie can tell from the heat emanating from the doorway that Susannah has the fire started. He can already feel the temperature dropping, and the wind is fierce.
Jake realizes Oy is still out. Now he’s quit turning and is staring at the coming storm.
What Constant Reader Learns: I like seeing Susannah being strong and smart. We didn’t really see enough of it in the longer story because she was so victimized by the whole Mia/Mordred business.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 14
Without thinking, Jake leaps over Eddie’s wheelchair full of wood (which has gotten inconveniently stuck in the door). Eddie tries to stop him and, when he misses, tries to go after him. Roland stops him, saying, “Jake will either be all right or he won’t…He’s on his own.” They stand in the doorway and watch.
What Constant Reader Learns: I like this scene because it’s a good reminder of just how far Roland came—just how much he changed—as the series progressed. Well before the end of the story, he would never have left Jake to ka even if it had been the wisest move for the sake of the group as a whole.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 15
Jake snatches up Oy, who bares his teeth. “Bite if you have to, but I won’t put you down,” Jake tells him. He turns back toward the meeting house and has the wind at his back, which threatens to blow him past the house, or into a wall. But Roland reaches out and grabs him. Once they’re inside, it takes all of them to get the door closed against the wind and the bar dropped in place.
What Constant Reader Learns: “Thank God,” Susannah cries when Roland grabs hold of Jake. “Thank him later!” Roland shouts back.
Afterward, Eddie and Susannah try to chastise Roland for not trying to save Jake, but he pretty much tells them to shut up.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 16
They sit for a couple of hours, listening to the fierce wind snapping the trees outside. Roland lays out their dinner.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland is ready to relax. “We have a good fire…and a little time to rest. We’ve been through much…and more ahead, I have no doubt. Danger, hard work, sorrow. Death, mayhap.” Mayhap indeed.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: Starkblast, Section 17
Susannah sleeps for a couple of hours, but she keeps dreaming about eating maggot-filled food. The others are awake as well, and they gather around the fire. Jake asks Roland to tell them a story. “Mayhap I’ll tell you two,” he says. “There’s nothing like stories on a windy night when folks have found a warm place in a cold world.”
The first story, he says, is one he lived with his old ka-mate Jamie DeCurry. The other, “The Wind Through the Keyhole,” is one his mother read to him when he was young.
What Constant Reader Learns: And… we’re off. We saw very little of Jamie DeCurry in the main series, so perhaps we’ll get to know him here.
That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll begin reading “The Skin-Man (Part I).”