***Possible spoilers for the Dark Tower series ahead (though none for The Wind Through the Keyhole)***
I held off on reading The Wind Through the Keyhole for quite a while, despite my deep and all-abiding love for the Dark Tower series, and I think I know why now.
It's because this is absolutely, categorically the last time I'll see Roland and Eddie and Susannah and Jake and Oy. These are the last adventures they'll have. Their stories are done now, for good or ill, and even if I read them again those stories won't change.
And that kind of breaks my heart a little.
The Wind Through the Keyhole is, essentially, a companion novel to the Dark Tower septet. Chronologically, it takes place after the end of Wizard and Glass but before the beginning of Wolves of the Calla; King himself calls it "Dark Tower 4.5", but I personally find this a horrible description. The ka-tet find themselves in the path of a starkblast, a terrible icy storm destroying everything in its way; they hole up in an old stone town hall to wait it out, and Roland begins telling them a story of his past. (Sound familiar?) After his grim experience in Mejis, he's sent to Debaria, a salt-mining town not far from Gilead, to root out a mysterious menace which is killing innocents.
But the real gem here is the story-within-a-story, "The Wind Through the Keyhole", which Roland tells to a scared little boy whose father was killed by the Debaria monster. "The Wind Through the Keyhole" is a story about Maerlyn, about the Beams, about mutie forest-men and swamp-dragons; it's also a story about families and fatherhood and growing up. It's a properly satisfying little fairytale with some nice links to the wider world of the Dark Tower series, and the heart of the book. By contrast, the Debaria story is of the same calibre as Roland's story of Susan in Wizard and Glass: good enough on its own, but positively pedestrian when compared to the wider mystery and magic of Mid-World. It's also narrated in the first person, by Roland; I'm not sure about this, really - I much prefer Roland as a character who speaks little and wanders about with that impenetrably enigmatic air that makes him so damn charismatic.
There are a few other odd little things - King doesn't quite get the ka-tet's voices right (which is understandable, since The Dark Tower was finished ten years ago), and I'm not convinced by Bix's apparent recollection of a city eight hundred miles away which fell a hundred years ago - but these are small things. It was nice to see my old friends again, to visit the world once more (how tragic, though, to hear them talking of their future when I know already where their path ends!), and to hear a story of Mid-World for the last time.