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 group of billy bumblers watched as our young hero Tim slept in the forest on his quest to find Maerlyn.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 57
Tim wakes to find animal scat around him and wonders what creatures came to check him out as he slept. Before he hits the path again, he pushes the button he’d earlier spotted on the compass even though he isn’t sure it’s the wisest move. “Hello, traveler,” says the woman’s voice. “I am DARIA, a guidance service of North Central Positronics. You are on the Beam of the Cat, sometimes known as the Beam of the Lion or of the Tyger. You are also on the Way of the Bird, known variously as the Way of the Agle, the Way of the Hawk, and the Way of the Vulturine.”
She tells him the next Dogan is on the North Forest Kinnock but that there is magic detected at that location, so she suggests Tim take a detour. Tim figure it’s magic that he’s seeking, so he declines. So she tells him it’s fifty miles, or 45.5 wheels, to the Dogan. After an attempt to default to Directive Nineteen, she says there is very deep magic ahead. When Tim asks if it is white magic or dark, she pauses and answers, “both.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Daria seems awfully chatty and telling more than she should. Since she’s making a lot of clicks, I wonder if she’s overriding Directive Nineteen and becoming what sai King referred to her as in a previous section, the “ghost in the machine.”
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 58
Tim walks and walks, always uphill, always north. Daria has gone quiet again and doesn’t respond when he occasionally tries to engage her. Long after dark (with Daria supplying the light), he decides to stop for the night. Before he can put down his pack, she pipes up and says there’s a “scenic opportunity ahead” and if he’d like to see it, he should “move quietly.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Hm….I wonder what constitutes a “scenic opportunity.” It must not be anything dangerous since she was so cautious about the magic.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 59
Ahead, in a clearing, he finds six bumblers standing on a fallen ironwood tree, all with their snouts raised to the moon. Tim realizes these must be the creatures that visited him the previous night. He cautiously reaches out to pet one of them, and it seems to bring them out of their moon trance, as they begin to frolic and play around him. After a few minutes, they run away.
Later, as he’s going to sleep, Tim recalls the Widow Smack’s warning that the “throcken” would herald a starkblast.
What Constant Reader Learns: Daria also pops up to provide Tim with information on what the starkblast is. She’s awfully convenient. Sort of like Siri on steroids. Good thing Tim doesn’t have a Southern accent or, like Siri and myself, Daria would not understand a thing Tim asked her.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 60
Tim enjoys Daria’s company, although he doesn’t understand much of what she says—when she says she’s lost her satellite connection and needs to reconnect, for example. They continue to travel northward.
Eventually, Tim reaches a narrow, deep chasm crossed by only a very narrow rock bridge. He thinks the next morning will be plenty soon to tackle that obstacle, but Daria urges him to go now. “Detour is no longer possible,” she tells him. And for the first time, she calls him “Tim.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I can’t help but think about Roland and Jake crossing the bridge in the infamous “there are other worlds than these” scene, except I don’t think his friend Daria the GPS will let him fall over the edge.
There are some great descriptions of things Tim sees along the way, including a herd of tiny blue deer and four-foot-tall yellow mushrooms that Daria tells him are deadly, even to the touch.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 61
Tim reaches the treacherous middle of the bridge, walking cautiously with one foot placed carefully in front of the other. From the corner of his eye, just as he reaches the narrowest, least-stable part, he sees long tentacles emerge from the billows of white flowers to his left. “I advise speed, Tim,” says Daria. As the tentacles reach closer, he’s forced to abandon caution and run for it. A tentacle touches his foot just as he plunges through the waterfall at the end of the bridge and comes out into a cave on the other side.
There’s a skeleton in the cave, of course, but Tim goes past it, up a staircase, and finds the path continuing through an opening in the back. Ahead, he can see a large tower of metal girders, and Daria says the Dogan is only one wheel ahead—and he needs to hurry.
What Constant Reader Learns: I was hoping that “See Rock City” would be scribbled on the wall of the cave, but it was “JOHN 3:16. FEER HELL HOPE FOR HEAVEN. MAN JESUS.”
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 62
By the time Tim reaches the Dogan, the wind has begun to rise. Tim can’t pay much attention to it, though; his focus is riveted on a large metal cage off to the side, in which paces an enormous Tyger with emerald-green eyes. In front of the Tyger’s cage is an overturned tin bucket—like the one (or maybe THE one) Tim used for scrying outside the barn when the Covenant Man showed him where to find Maerlyn. Around the big cat’s neck is a collar with two things hanging from it: something that looks like a playing card, and an irregular key.
What Constant Reader Learns: So, if Tim is on the Path of the Lion or the Cat or the Tyger, could this be the guardian? Surely not.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 63
Tim’s fascination with the Tyger is interrupted by a series of thudding explosions. Daria tells him the starkblast is tearing down the trees, and he has less than an hour to reach safety. He asks some questions about the Tyger, and she assures him (and Constant Reader) that the Tyger isn’t Aslan the guardian. The Tyger is the magic she was warning him about.
Tim goes to the Dogan, where he finds a sign he has trouble reading, but finally figures out it says “Use Keycard” and “All Here Are Dead.” The Dogan is locked. A dead, frozen rustie hits Tim in the head as it falls, along with a lot of its frozen friends.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, Daria has gone too far. She tells him one last time to seek shelter, then says she has violated Directive Nineteen, that it’s just been so long since she had anyone to talk to, and then, with a clunk, she’s gone. At least we were spared a long, drawn-out countdown to self-destruction.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 64
Tim realizes the keys he needs are on the Tyger’s collar, and he suspects a trick of the Covenant Man is at hand. His options are limited, however, so he looks under the tin bucket and finds an ornate key to the Tyger’s cage, along with a note. It begins: “Greetings, Brave and Resourceful Boy. Welcome to the North Forest Kinnock…Here I have left you a troublesome Tyger. He is VERY hungry.” With regards to Tim’s mother (“whose New Husband will visit her SOON),” it is signed “RF/MB.”
Tim unlocks the cage and tells the Tyger he can either let him use the key on his collar and they can both live, or he can rip Tim to shreds and they’ll both die. The Tyger walks out of the cage, and the two “regard each other like gunslingers.” Then the Tyger raises his head so Tim can get to his collar.
What Constant Reader Learns: Randall/Marten. Tim doesn’t react to the Covenant Man’s signature, but I guess he’s preoccupied. Plus, he knows who left the note, no matter what he calls himself.
This is an awfully calm, thoughtful tiger. Wonder what his story is? I probably should have figured it out but I haven’t.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 65
Tim doesn’t hesitate, but takes off the Tyger’s collar. The key card, however, doesn’t work, and Tim recalls Daria saying something he didn’t understand at the time but does now: the Dogan is offline. So he thinks they will die after all, and imagines the “man in black” is somewhere laughing.
What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting that he thinks of RF/MB as “the man in black.” I think this is the only time he does so, and he hasn’t heard anyone else say it.
How long has the Tyger been locked up, I wonder? When Tim removes the collar, there is a strip of pink bare skin underneath where the fur has worn away. Or perhaps was never there…IS this a tiger at all?
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 66
The Tyger uses its nose to push against a metal box that’s sitting outside the Dogan. So Tim uses the irregular key and opens it. Inside are a large white feather, a small brown bottle, and a plain cotton napkin—things for which he can see no use. The rising wind blows the feather from the box, and the Tyger catches it in his mouth and holds it out for Tim, who sticks it under his belt. Thinking they’re done for, he begins to crawl away since walking in the wind is too hard, but the Tyger nudges him again and then takes the cotton napkin in his mouth and shakes it.
As Tim watches, the napkin grows to the size of a towel. He takes and unfolds it again and again until it is the size of a sheet. He notices that it is impervious to the wind blowing around it, and also feels warm. He spreads it out, crawls underneath it, and, after a moment of thought, raises the edge and invites the Tyger to join him. They settle side by side and sleep in warmth while the starkblast rages outside and round them.
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, isn’t that convenient? Okay, okay, it’s a fairy tale.
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The starkblast hits. The Dogan windows are covered with an inch of ice, and the trees are all uprooted or broken. But under the Magic Napkin, Tim and the Tyger sleep on, warm and safe. Tim awakens and looks out once, only to see the Dogan tower disintegrate and be blown away.
What Constant Reader Learns: Tim expects the Dogan to follow the tower, but we’re told, “The Dogan stayed, as it had for a thousand years.”
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 68
Tim is content in his magical surroundings and gets a bit philosophical for an eleven-year-old. “Time is a keyhole,” he thinks. “We sometimes bend and peer through it. And the wind we feel on our cheeks when we do—the wind that blows through the keyhole—is the breath of all the living universe.”
His last thought before drifting back to sleep is of the vast world beyond the village of Tree, stretching all the way to a tall dark ebony Tower. “I will go there. Someday I will,” he thinks.
What Constant Reader Learns: Because, however tenuous, we must tie our fairy tale back to the larger story. Although Roland, who loved this story as a child, certainly told himself the very same thing, I have no doubt.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 69
In the morning, the wind has diminished enough for Tim to venture out and do his necessary business, but it is still too cold to stay, so he has to climb back under the Magic Napkin with the Tyger. There, he takes out his last two popkins given to him by the mudmen and gives one to the Tyger.
When he next awakens, it’s warmer still. Tim asks the tiger how long he’s been caged. The Tyger nudges the box (which Tim doesn’t remember bringing under the Magic Napkin with them), and Tim takes out the brown bottle. He unscrews the top and realizes it’s a stopper. The Tyger opens his mouth and Tim understands he wants what’s in the bottle. He doesn’t want to hurt the Tyger, so he tells him he’ll put in the liquid a drop at a time and to close his mouth when he’s had enough.
No need to have worried about that. After the fourth drop, the Tyger’s skin begins to ripple, and he goes through a painful shape-shift. Eventually, in the Tyger’s place stands Maerlyn of the Eld himself. Tim kneels and “hiles” him, at which Maerlyn bids him rise. He praises Tim’s bravery and tells him to stopper what’s left in the brown bottle “for thy mother’s eyes.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Nice of our man in black to leave the antidote in the box, perhaps to taunt the Tyger, who couldn’t get to it without help. And who would be willing to help a caged Tyger? Why, an eleven-year-old boy.
I really should have seen that coming. I blame lack of sleep. How in the world did our man in black get the jump on Maerlyn?
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Tim’s amazed by the appearance of the old mage, and Maerlyn admits that his Tyger shape was given to him as a joke by the man who caged him. “The Covenant Man,” whispers Tim, and Maerlyn laughs. He says the man has “little magic and a long life,” and that he doesn’t work for himself but for one who is far more powerful.
Maerlyn also tells Tim the four-barreled gun he carries is only the first gun he’ll wear and the lightest. “Ka will take you far from Tree Village,” he says, something Tim is not happy to hear.
Maerlyn stresses the importance of doing two things as soon as he gets home: give his mother the drops, and give her his father’s ax. Once Tim promises, he says he has one more question to ask: How did the Red King catch Maerlyn? He says it wasn’t the Red King who caught him; the king is caught at the top of the Dark Tower, but a so-called peddler came to his cave and fooled him because he was drunk.
Tim’s answer is classic: “Oh.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Maerlyn says the business with him and with Tim is not of the Red King’s doing, but was something our man in black did on his own. And he will “pay for his foolery,” Maerlyn says. “He’s too valuable to kill, but to hurt? To punish? Aye, I think so…His tax-collecting days are over.” Too bad we don’t get to see that.
So Roland has known since hearing this story as a child that the Red King was trapped on the balcony of the Tower? I guess I didn’t realize that.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 71
Finally, Maerlyn takes the Magic Napkin, which is now a Magic Sheet, and folds it downward until it’s a Magic Tablecloth. He tells Tim to sit on it, hold the eagle’s feather he still has tucked beneath his belt, and think of home. “For, as someone or other famous once said, there’s no place like home.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Thank you, Dorothy.
We’re told that Tim saw Maerlyn once more in his life, but it was when he was an old man himself. “And that is a story for another day.” Or another book, mayhap.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 72
On the way home, Tim and his Magic Tablecloth fly over the Fagonard, which has been decimated by the starkblast, and he cries for the mudmen, who are surely dead, and for the dragon, whose body he spots below.
The dibben, as the Magic Napkin is called, descends as it nears the Ironwood Trail, and finally stops at the Cosington-Marchly stub. Once Tim is on land once more, it turns back into a dirty cotton napkin.
What Constant Reader Learns: The loss of the mudmen and the dragon is so sad. Another part of the world moved on, I guess.
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 73
As Tim skirts around the village, not wanting to stop and talk—or interrupt those trying to do some post-blast cleanup—he’s relieved to see that while there is a lot of damage, the village has been spared the worst of the storm. He’s a little annoyed that they’re all tending to their own business rather than helping his blind mother, but when he gets to his house, he sees the Widow Smack’s little burro in the barn.
When he goes inside, he tiptoes in so as not to awaken the Widow, who’s asleep before the fire, and goes into his mother’s room, where they have a tearful reunion.
What Constant Reader Learns: The Widow doesn’t strike me as the type to sleep so lightly but okay…
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 74
After much coaxing, mindful of Maerlyn’s warnings, Tim convinces Nell to lie back and let him put the drops in her eyes. At first she only sees a sliver of light, but then her vision is restored. Once the drama is done, Tim realizes he’s hungry, so he goes out to fix something to eat and decides to wake the Widow Smack. First, however, he gives his mother the ax.
He’s horrified to find that not only is the widow dead, but her throat has been “cut from ear to ear” and the front of her dress is covered in dried blood. Before he can scream, a pair of big hands close around his throat and lift him off the ground.
What Constant Reader Learns: The Widow has been dead long enough for the blood to have dried. Does Nell not realize any of this? She didn’t hear anything?
Welcome home, Big Kells!
The Wind Through the Keyhole, Section 75
Kells has been back a while, hiding in the back, in the cold, blaming Nell for the hold she’s had on his mind since they were young. It’s all her fault, and Tim’s. He finds Tim’s gun but throws it aside—bullets are too good for such a meddler, he tells the boy. Instead, he’s going to burn him by throwing him into the fire.
He stops mid-sentence, and Tim sees the ax blade buried in his skull. Kells turns around to face Nell, who has done the deed. “I cut the rope so, chary man,” she screams. And he falls down and dies.
Tim and his mother sit on the porch, and he cries for the Widow Smack. Nell says the woman was very ill and wouldn’t have lived much longer, but that she will be buried and have a fine funeral that everyone will come to. First, though, they need to see the constable to tell him what has happened.
What Constant Reader Learns: Before they leave, Tim goes back inside and retrieves the gun. I do believe our boy might become a gunslinger. Perhaps not a Roland-like gunslinger from the line of Eld, but a minor one nonetheless.
That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll continue reading “The Wind Through the Keyhole.”