The Wind Through the Keyhole takes place between the events of Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla, the worst and best novels of the Dark Tower series. But The Wind in the Keyhole isn’t a Dark Tower novel, no matter what the book cover says, it’s three nested stories, one taking place in the Dark Tower “present” of our gang traveling on to their next destination, one that Roland tells while waiting out an ice storm, the Starkblast, and a children’s story that his younger self tells in the story to a child.
None of those stories are very good on their own. The present frame is very brief and nothing much happens in it. Roland’s past story is the best of the bunch, but it gets tossed aside for the children’s story and once that’s done, it ends quickly and abruptly. The children’s story isn’t that good. Stephen King starts out trying to channel fairy tales but tells it in such detail and with his usual tics, abused women, evil con men, random references to 20th Century America in a fairy tale setting, that it never passes muster as a children’s story. Tim’s story is strong in places, but once the tiger and Maerlyn come on the scene, it turns into a parody of a fairy tale.
But with all that, The Wind Through the Keyhole works. It’s better than the last two Dark Tower novels, not because of its plot, but its charm. The stories aren’t very good, but they have enough world building and enough fantasy to make up for it. When he wants to be, King is still a good writer and the Dark Tower was a fantasy series that had real potential once upon a time. But King couldn’t figure out what he wanted to do with it and The Wind Through the Keyhole suffers from that same problem.
Stephen King might have turned The Wind Through the Keyhole into a full-fledged Dark Tower novel and jettisoned the Tim tale that takes up nearly half the book. It would have made for a better version of Wizard and Glass. But King already finished the Dark Tower series and trashed it while doing it. And I get the feeling that it’s really the Tim story that he cared about and that all the Roland nested stories were just a way of publishing it and selling it to a large audience.
The Wind Through the Keyhole is not the worst example of a writer selling his shopping list. It’s a pleasant book in its own way and fans of the series will want it. But what The Wind Through the Keyhole really does is remind you of what the Dark Tower series could have been and might still be.