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.
When we last left our again-whole ka-tet, they were holed up to wait out the starkblast, and Roland had sidetracked himself from his story of Debaria by sharing a story within a story, one from his young childhood called “The Wind through the Keyhole.”
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 1
“Once upon a bye,” is how Roland begins his story. There, near the edge of the Endless Forest, lived a little boy named Tim, along with his mother Nell and his father, Big Ross. They weren’t rich—Big Ross always told Tim he’d only have four things to pass on to him—his ax, his lucky coin, his plot, and his place, “which is as good as the place of any king or gunslinger in Mid-World.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Not to split hairs, but if the forest is endless, how is it that they live along the edge of it? Then again, fairy tales aren’t meant to be literal, are they? (Slaps modern, practical self.)
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 2
When Tim was about eleven, Big Ross went into the forest with his partner, Big Kells, where they worked along with most of the village of Tree. But only Big Kells came back, looking a bit crispy around the edges. He only spoke one word: “dragon.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Smaug!
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 3
Roland points out that no one in the current day has ever seen the like of the Endless Forest because the world has moved on, of course, but it was dark and dangerous, and the men of Tree Village knew this and feared it at the same time they loved it. “They understood (though none would have said so aloud) that the forest was alive. And, like all living things, it needed to eat).”
Only the bravest men, like Big Ross and Big Kells, would go deep enough into the forest to go after the ironwood.
What Constant Reader Learns: Because there were dragons.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 4
So here’s poor Tim, age 11, and he lost his dad, the ax, the lucky coin, and—if something doesn’t give—his place in the world. The tax man cometh, or, rather, the Barony Covenanter. Tim spent half his days with the Widow Smack, who ran a school of sort and was paid in food.
One day, he comes in and finds his mother crying as she counts their meager savings at the kitchen table. She confesses that they don’t have enough to pay the taxes and is afraid they’ll be “turned out on the land.” She figures they have four weeks if the weather is good, maybe as many as eight if not.
Tim assures her something will happen to make things work out: “Da’ always said that the forest gives to them that love it.” But Nell isn’t convinced.
What Constant Reader Learns: The Widow Smack is the Mid-World version of the village leper, apparently, who wears a veil to cover her eatenway face and teaches the kids how to read and “practice the slightly questionable art known as mathmatica.” She also seems to have seizures at times, and on those days must send her pupils home.
Not only is Nell not convinced that everything’s going to be okay, but sai King assures us that “the worst thing about wishes is that sometimes they come true.”
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 5
Nell has mixed feelings about the forest, which smells of life and death, and also mixed feelings about Tim’s place in it. She’d always dreaded the day when he’d get big enough to go with his father, but now regrets that he’ll never be able to do so.
What Constant Reader Learns: That, regardless of the story, sai King can make a section or chapter out of a sentence or two.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 6
A while later, Big Kells came to call on Nell. Tim was off helping Farmer Destry cut some hay, and Nell was out in the garden picking weeds. She only had to look at him to know why he’d come. She and Jack Ross and Bern Kells had grown up together as friends, and both men had loved her. While she’d been fond of Big Kells, it was Ross she loved. Now, however, Ross is gone, Nell is desperate, and Kells knows it.
He proposes, and she stalls, asking him to come back at the same time the next day and she’ll have her answer. “Look not long at what’s offered,” he tells her. “For every precious thing has wings and may fly away.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Nell realizes he’s trying to “buy” her to replace his late wife Millicent, but she also knows he has a dark side and she can see that in his eyes, too. I think this is what is referred to as between a rock and a hard place.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 7
Nell has to give serious thought to Kells’ offer. She realizes that even when they were all young, before she’d chosen Ross, Kells had a dark side that came out when he drank. Which he tended to do often, drinking and brawling, until he met a woman named Millicent Redhouse. He married her, went straight, but then she died in childbirth. He seemed to stay sober afterward because he’d promised Milly he would, but Nell doesn’t trust it.
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, lest I be accused of expecting bad things to occur, I’ll refrain from saying I think Nell might do better to be turned out on the land than to “slip the knot” with trouble.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 8
Tim comes home after a good day working for Farmer Destry, but grows sad when he thinks of his father and hangs around the creek for a while. But he cheers up when his mom calls him for supper.
What Constant Reader Learns: I feel a bit protective of young Tim, and though his mom showed a bit of lack of character by burdening him with the whole we’re-going-to-be-homeless-because-we-have-no-money thing, so I hope she doesn’t lay this worry at his 11-year-old feet as well.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 9
After dinner, Nell sits down with her son and gives him the lowdown on Big Kells, then asks what he thinks. He doesn’t think much of it, so she feels the need to tell what a good man Big Kells is and how much he cares about them both. Tim is no idiot; he knows that Big Kells has no use for him whatsoever.
Tim tries to be the voice of reason, pointing out that since Big Ross died, no one else has been willing to partner with Kells. She again defends him, albeit half-heartedly.
What Constant Reader Learns: She did it. I knew she was going to do it. I mean she has to tell him and it seems to be her only option, but still….
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 10
Come the next day, and Big Kells returns wearing his good suit. Nell pretends she doesn’t smell graf on his breath. She asks him to promise he’ll be good to both her and Tim, and he does. So she says yes.
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, not to be accused of expecting disaster, but sai King himself says: “And so they were wed. That is where many stories end; it’s where this one—sad to say—really begins.”
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 11
Big Kells has a “goodly amount” to drink at the wedding reception, and Tim is not only uneasy about that but about the fact that very few of the other woodsmen showed up. He isn’t old enough to realize that Nell’s friends are looking at her with expressions of pity.
That night, he’s awakened by a thump and a cry, then the sound of weeping. The next morning, he sees a bruise on his mother’s arm. She claims she bumped it on the bedpost.
What Constant Reader Learns: Tim doesn’t buy that fairy tale for an instant. Bad, bad sign.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 12
The next weekend, Big Kells takes Tim with him to his former house, which he has sold to one of Tree’s big farmers, Baldy Anderson. His house is run down and in bad shape. The only things Kells wants from his house are an old footrest and a large leather trunk with a brass lock, which he strokes “as if it were a pet.” He said it was his father’s.
As he’s tying the trunk in the back of his wagon, Big Kells complains about the taxes and says it’s all Nell’s fault. When Tim questions this, Kells almost hits him but then assures him he loves Nell and that’s enough. He also loved Big Ross and he misses him, which makes Tim open up to him a little—until he announces that Tim will quit studying with the Widow Smack and start working at the lumber yard.
What Constant Reader Learns: Sounds like Kells was trading up in terms of real estate.
Ah, what’s in the trunk, preciousssss?
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 13
Three days later, Tim goes to the Tree Sawmill with one of his friends, who can’t wait to tell him that his older brother saw Big Kells coming out of Gitty’s bar, “sloshed as a shindybug and heavin up over the hitchin rail.”
That night, Tim is again awakened by a cry from his mother. He hears Big Kells warn her that if she wakes the boy, he’ll give her double.
What Constant Reader Learns: Wise little Tim thinks that if the wrong man steps into the marriage-loop with a woman, it becomes a noose instead of a ring.
That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll continue reading “The Wind Through the Keyhole.”