Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Stories to tell
The mistake I made in preparing to write this blog was clicking on the Wikipeda page that tracks all of the connections to The Dark Tower series in the Kingiverse. That ate up a couple of good hours and all just so that I could tell you that there was an eight year gap in the publication of The Dark Tower and The Wind through the Keyhole. Which is, incidentally, a delightful book.
When I was a kid my dad used to read "The Pension Grillparzer" to my sister and I. It's a short story in the middle of The World According to Garp and was my first introduction to John Irving. As I've grown up and moved through life and giant piles of books I've mentally created a category of Grillparzers - stories within stories that might work as bedtime stories to introduce my potential children to authors I like. I love this sort of thing. Everyone knows about the play within a play from Hamlet but no one seems to talk enough about the self-contained worlds you can discover in other books. Neil Gaiman seems to be particularly good at this (in addition to hiding stories in his introductions and end notes), within-a-storytelling is very present in Lord of the Rings, you'll find lots of within-a-storytelling in any universe that needs to have a background mythology set up fairly quickly so you see a fair amount of it in SciFi. There are sections of The Wind through the Keyhole that are going to be read to my children at some point in the future. And they won't even be traumatized by the Stephen Kingishness of the story because this isn't a horror story, it's a fairy tale.
The structure of the book is a bit clunky, which I guess is probably clear from the paragraph above. There's a frame story, a main narrative, and then the story within a story that's really more of a standalone novella. The frame story is really only there to remind you of the world we're watching from in case anybody forgot what was going in the eight year break from Mid World; the main narrative is an action story with monsters and gunslingers who are still young enough to not anticipate big mistakes; the story within a story is really the meat of the thing, though. It tells a story of magic and dragons and nuclear mutants and terrifying storms that all pale in comparison to the sheer stupid horror of human pettiness. It's a wonderful little moralistic story that is spooky and sad and about how absolutely much it sucks to grow up and lose the magic in the world.
I've written enough about King that everyone reading should know I'm a huge nerdy fan but this is one of those nice reminders. King's books are all over the map - he's written a western/magical epic, a story about a dog with rabies, alien horror stories, werewolf stories, vampire stories, a terrifying story about rats in a cellar, a novella about a man wrongly imprisoned, a novella about a decapitated corpse performing Lamaze breathing, at least four post-apocalyptic thrillers, and one very good book about a good but stupid king who once killed a dragon. Now there's another story that's essentially unlike any of the others but fits into the King canon brilliantly. It's excellently done and I'm very happy to have read it.
King, Stephen. The Wind through the Keyhole. Scribner. New York: New York. 2012.