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 story, a tribe of mudmen, thinking Tim a gunslinger, were sending a boat to rescue him following his close encounter of the dragon kind.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 49
Tim boards the mudmen’s boat, worrying about what they’ll do when they realize he’s not a gunslinger at all, but just a normal kid. But when he says they are well-met, all the mudmen say “Hile.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting, these humanoids. The helmsman is described as having plants that are growing from him. So Tim decides they are muties who are becoming a part of the Fagonard, the swamp in which they live.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 50
Once they get Tim back to shore, or the spongy earth that passes for a shore in the swamp, the tribesmen are all curious about Tim and about his gun. They gather around, and he leaves the gun in his hand, thinking he’ll put it away if they try to touch it. They don’t, however. He notices that there are about sixteen of them, and that they’re all males; he realizes they are a dying tribe. He also realizes they’re awaiting orders, or a request, from him.
Tim first considers asking for their help in returning to the edge of the Ironwood Trail. Once there, he figures he can find his way back home. But he imagines the Covenant Man watching in his silver basin and laughing at him, and that strengthens his resolve to continue. He asks the tribesmen if they’re aware of Maerlyn, for whom he’s searching. The helmsman mimics a long beard and pointed hat, and Tim is excited—they know exactly who he’s talking about. The entire tribe also mimics a dog or wolf on all fours, barking and growling, but Tim doesn’t get it. His last question—is Maerlyn real?—gets a universal shrug for “Who knows?”
What Constant Reader Learns: The muties don’t seem to remember how to speak any words other than “hile,” but they also don’t seem to have any trouble understanding Tim’s comments to them.
Nice Stephen King touch here with an exploding boil on the chest of the helmsmen that erupts in flying pus and a spider the size of a robin’s egg, leaving behind its on nest of eggs, which the man scoops out and tosses aside. Sweet.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 51
A couple of tribesmen left earlier, and now they return with provisions for Tim—a basket of popkins and fruit, and a skin full of clear, clean water. There’s also a small bag holding a metal disk with writing on it that Tim can’t read. The tribesmen nod when Tim asks if it’s something left by the Old People. After some demonstrations, Tim understands it’s some type of high-tech compass and that he needs to head north.
What Constant Reader Learns: After so long feeling like this is a primitive world, the compass is a great reminder that we’re in a world that’s moved on. A nice little reminder that we’re still in a story being told in another time and place by Roland, who’s telling it in yet another time and place. Story within story within story.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 52
Tim and the crew board the boat again. Before they leave, the tall man Tim has identified as the tribal leader again mimics the doglike animal, gesturing for Tim to be on the lookout for it. He barks and then lifts his nose to the air. Tim doesn’t understand but knows he’ll recognize it if he sees it.
Tim asks the leader if they are able to read his thoughts, and when the man nods yes, Tim knows they’ve realized from the beginning, then, that he is not a gunslinger at all. He tries to apologize, but they don’t seem to care. He understands that they are dying, and it makes him cry.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah…they aren’t warning him about guard dogs but about bumblers who are sniffing at a coming starkblast. I imagine the Fagonard would turn into a swampy wonderland in a starkbast, but no telling where Tim will be when it hits.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 53
The boat departs, and after a short while, Tim falls asleep. He dreams his mother is laughing and trying to wake him.
What Constant Reader Learns: If Tim does see the bumblers, will he know what their sniffing at the air while facing due north means?
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 54
It isn’t Tim’s mother trying to wake him; it’s the helmsman. Tim realizes that the day has passed and it’s almost sunset, plus they’ve reached the end of the swamp where the densest part of the Endless Forest begins. The tribesmen help unload Tim and his provisions, including the disk-compass.
What Constant Reader Learns: The dying tribe, and their kindness, is kind of heartbreaking. They knew Tim wasn’t a gunslinger, but I think they might have been more prone to helping him as maybe their last shot at being human and do the very humanlike thing of helping a traveler on a quest, especially such a young one.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 55
Dark falls, and Tim keeps running into trees. A woman’s voice from the darkness asks, “Would you like a light, Traveler?” In shock, he drops the disk and then can’t find it. He hesitantly asks the “lady” in the disk if she can speak again, and the voice continues to ask her question until he finally locates it. Then he answers “yes,” the disk whirs, and a brilliant white light is emitted from it.
He asks the disk how long the light will last, and after some calculations, is told seventy years, plus or minus two years. He figures that should be long enough.
What Constant Reader Learns: This gives me hope that Tim will, indeed, survive his coming ordeal: “Tim would later tell himself he shouted in surprise, but the truth was a little balder: he screamed in terror, dropped the disc, bolted to his feet, and was on the verge of taking to his heels.” Which I figure would pretty much be my reaction as well.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 56
Tim walks until what he figures is about midnight, and since his journey north has been mostly uphill, he decides to sleep a while. The oppressive heat isn’t helping his fatigue levels any. As he sleeps, six “throcken,” or bumblers, gather around him in a semicircle, snouts in the air, facing north.
And far in the north of Mid-World, a great funnel-shaped storm turns, builds, finds the Path of the Beam and begins to move south.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, here is the image from the front of the book Roland’s mother would read him the story from.
Before he falls asleep, Tim realizes there are likely animals around him in the woods, perhaps dangerous ones, so he hesitantly asks the “lady” if she’ll wake him if something dangerous approaches. She answers “Directive Nineteen,” which I seem to recall means she needs a password to do this, but the disc performs anyway. We’re told, “the device marked North Central Positronics Portable Guidance Module DARIA, NCP-1436345-AN, the ghost in the machine, marked the approach of [small] creatures but remained silent, sensing no danger.”
The starkblast is coming!
That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll continue reading “The Wind Through the Keyhole.”