Literature Study GuidesThe Dark Tower SeriesThe Wind Through The Keyhole Summary

The Dark Tower (Series) | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Dark Tower (Series) | The Wind Through the Keyhole | Summary

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About the Title

The Wind Through the Keyhole derives its name from the name of a folk story Roland tells a boy named Bill to calm him after his parents are killed. Each volume in the series also includes a page within the front matter that shows a single word that serves as a subtitle. Because The Wind Through the Keyhole is an addendum to the primary seven volumes of the series, it does not bear such a page in the front matter.

Summary

The Starkblast

After the ka-tet leaves Topeka and the glass palace on Interstate 70, they encounter an old man named Bix, whom Oy seems to recognize. Bix warns them of an oncoming starkblast, a wintry hurricane, and ferries the group across a river. The ka-tet comes to an abandoned town called Gook and takes shelter in the stone meeting hall there just before the storm sets in. Oy is almost blown away before Jake can get him inside.

Once inside the meeting hall the ka-tet builds a fire, and Roland tells them a story from his youth to pass the time.

The Skin Man

After Roland accidentally kills his mother, Gabrielle, his father sends him with his friend Jamie De Curry on a mission to the town of Debaria, south of Gilead. As it happens Gabrielle spent time at a settlement near Debaria, called Serenity, to cope with the discovery of her affair with Marten Broadcloak (Walter in yet another form) and to atone for conspiring with him to kill her husband. However, Steven sends Roland and Jamie to Debaria because the town is being terrorized by a skin man, a human who can morph into different animal forms.

The townspeople of Debaria are skeptical about how helpful two boys can be, but Sheriff Hugh Peavy helps as much as he can. Peavy thinks the skin man is probably a salt miner from a nearby village. The night after the gunslingers arrive, the skin man attacks a farm and kills everyone except a boy named Bill Streeter.

Investigating the farm, Roland, Jamie, and Sheriff Peavy determine the skin man left the farm on horseback in his human form. Bill remembers seeing a blue ring tattooed around the man's ankle, which means he served time in a nearby prison, now under John Farson's control. Jamie goes to the salt mine to round up every miner who can ride a horse. Roland takes Bill back to the jail and puts him in a cell where Bill can feel safe while they wait. While they wait, Roland tells Bill the story of "The Wind Through the Keyhole."

When Jamie returns with the suspects, they check the men's ankles for tattoos. Eleven of the suspects have a tattoo, but Bill remembers the tattoo he saw had a break in it. The skin man turns into a snake and kills two men before Roland can shoot him dead. Bill is terrified. Roland and Jamie take the orphaned Bill to Serenity where the sisters agree to raise him and give Roland a letter from Gabrielle.

In the letter Gabrielle says Marten has predicted Roland will kill her if she returns to Gilead, but she plans to return anyway because ka demands it. She expresses regret for the affair and forgives Roland for whatever may come next. She asks Roland to forgive her, and Roland does.

The Folk Tale

In the story of "The Wind Through the Keyhole," Big Ross is allegedly killed by a dragon. He leaves behind a wife named Nell and a son named Tim. Nell marries Jack's friend Big Kells so she can pay the annual taxes collected by the Covenant Man. Kells drinks heavily, beats Nell, and makes Tim leave school.

When the Covenant Man comes, he takes Tim outside the garden gate for a chat. He gives Tim a key that will open any lock, but its magic only lasts for one use. He invites Tim to come find him in the forest if he dares. Tim uses the key to open Kells's trunk, where he finds Big Ross's axe and lucky coin. He is unable to relock the trunk and knows trouble will come of this.

Tim goes to the forest and finds the Covenant Man, who confirms Big Kells killed Big Ross so he could marry Nell. He shows Tim a vision of Big Kells beating Nell until she goes blind because he thinks she got into his trunk. Tim plans to kill Big Kells.

At home Big Kells is gone, and Tim's teacher Widow Smack is taking care of Nell. She cautions him against returning to the Covenant Man. Tim returns to the forest anyway. He doesn't find the Covenant Man, but he does see a vision of Maerlyn, greeting Tim and giving him medicine to help Nell.

Tim goes to find Maerlyn. Widow Smack gives him a gun to take with him. In the forest a fairy lures Tim into a swamp where he shoots an alligator. The swamp people see this and think Tim is a gunslinger. They give him an electronic device that leads him to a building where he sees a cage containing a tyger with a key hung around its neck.

Tim befriends the tyger, and it gives Tim the key, which opens a box containing a cloth, a feather, and a bottle of liquid. The cloth grows into a blanket, and he and the tyger use it as shelter from the starkblast. The tyger asks Tim to feed it some drops from the bottle. The drops transform the tyger into Maerlyn, who gives Tim the rest of the liquid for Nell. Tim uses the feather to make the magic cloth fly him home.

At home Tim restores Nell's sight. He gives her Big Ross's ax, as Maerlyn instructed, and goes downstairs to share the good news with Widow Smack. He finds her with her throat cut, and Big Kells steps forward to attack Tim. Nell comes downstairs and kills Big Kells with the ax before he strangles Tim. Tim grows up to become one of the few gunslingers not proven descended from Arthur Eld.

Back to the Beam

After Roland has told his story, and the story within the story, Jake thinks about Roland as a boy. He dreams about Gabrielle and dancing billy-bumblers. The next morning the ka-tet finds the starkblast has destroyed all of Gook except the meeting hall. They remain there for one more day and night before resuming their quest.

Analysis

Contrast with Wizard and Glass

In Wizard and Glass Roland tells a story from his past that culminates in two regrets from his past. One of these regrets is leaving Susan to her fate instead of rescuing her, marrying her, and raising their family. He can never be free of what happened to Susan because he can never make up for his decision to leave her. She is dead, so he can never offer an apology or receive forgiveness from her. The second regret he has is accidentally shooting his mother. Although she was engaged in an affair with the man they called Marten Broadcloak, and although she was plotting with Marten to kill her husband, Steven, Gabrielle was still Roland's mother. Roland knows he shot her in a case of mistaken identity, but he also knows by killing her he took away her chance to atone for her actions. Roland's time in Debaria, when he meets the sisters at Serenity and receives his mother's letter, changes that part of his story in a significant way. Because Marten has predicted Roland will kill her, Gabrielle has an opportunity to say things in a letter to her son that she knows she may not get to say in person. She can offer her forgiveness for Roland's future action. She can ask for his forgiveness in return. Although her life is cut short of any action she might have taken to make amends, she is at least allowed this small measure of atonement, and Roland can accept it.

Overall Roland's adventure in Debaria is more successful than his time in Mejis. He and Jamie do the job they are sent there to do as gunslingers. It is a simple mission: help the people because they can and show the people they have protection from evil in the world. Roland and Jamie find the bad guy, comfort a frightened child, and save the town from terror. Good wins over evil. While the letter from Roland's mother is a bittersweet conclusion to this journey, there are no soul-crushing losses like the loss of Susan. There are no complicated conspiracies to unravel, and no bad guys get away. Their experience with the skin man represents the essence of what gunslingers are called to do.

Storytelling

The story-within-a-story structure of The Wind Through the Keyhole demonstrates the power of storytelling to bring communities together. Roland tells the story of his youthful adventure to his ka-tet to entertain them and pass the time during a stressful situation. He gets their minds off the storm raging outside. They come together around the fire like the family they have become and are brought closer by sharing the experience of their patriarch. The act of storytelling also reveals how far Roland has progressed as a man since The Gunslinger. Back then he told Jake bits and pieces of his past, holding back some details, reluctant to share. Now he shares his stories more freely, seeing the value of participating in the tiny community he has formed with his ka-tet, recognizing how the sharing of stories makes their bond stronger.

Within his story of Debaria, Roland tells Bill Streeter the story of "The Wind Through the Keyhole" for a similar reason. He is a young boy who has been through a terrifying experience, watching his family slaughtered by a literal monster who changes shapes as he stalks and kills his prey. The child escapes only because his hiding place isn't exposed. He knows the killer is still out there, and he knows he is going to have to face him soon. Roland tells Bill a story to comfort him and to form a bond with him, to show Bill he is on his side, that he can be trusted. The story itself is comforting as well, as Bill learns about another young boy who has lost a parent, who performs heroic acts to right the wrong done to his family, and who goes on to a glorious future. All of these elements must sound encouraging to a child about to face his family's killer. He only needs to be strong and identify a tattoo, not face wizards and alligators in a dark forest.

Intentions versus Results

Walter appears in different guises in The Wind Through the Keyhole. He attempts to sow chaos and commit evil acts, which he accomplishes in the short run, but in the long run his attempts to create evil beget good.

As the Covenant Man, Walter takes young Tim Ross aside and acts sympathetic to his plight. He knows Big Kells is abusive, and he gives Tim the key ostensibly to help Tim uncover the truth about Big Ross. The Covenant Man knows Tim won't be able to lock whatever door he opens, that his investigation can't remain a secret, and that trouble will follow. Tim only realizes the trouble he has unleashed with the key after the locked trunk is open. When Tim goes to see the Covenant Man again, the Covenant Man doubles down on the chaos. He shows Tim the vision of Nell's beating hoping to spur Tim to become a killer, but again he presents himself as helpful. When Tim needs real help for his mother to cure her blindness, the Covenant Man is nowhere to be found. Chaos has been sown. People are hurt. His work here is done.

The Covenant Man leaves behind the wand that allows Tim a vision that sends him to look for Maerlyn, but he does so with a vague hope that Tim might kill the tyger's body in which the Covenant Man has imprisoned Maerlyn. This is where his intentions miss the mark. Tim knows there is no honor in killing a caged animal that poses no threat. He is rewarded by meeting Maerlyn and getting the help he needs. The chain of events the Covenant Man sets in motion ends with Tim's mother healed and Big Kells out of their lives. Maerlyn assures Tim that the Crimson King will punish the Covenant Man for allowing Maerlyn to survive, so the family will pay no more taxes. The death of Widow Smack is a sad loss, but on balance the Covenant Man loses more than he wins in this situation.

As Marten Broadcloak, Walter's foul intentions go awry again. Marten warns Gabrielle not to return to Gilead because her son will kill her. She goes anyway because she thinks ka demands it, but what this really means is that she believes she must face what she has done and accept the consequences. She can't know that Roland will kill her unintentionally. She must believe she deserves his justice. While Marten hopes Gabrielle won't return, he also knows if she does her son will have to live with killing his mother forever. This is a stain on Roland's conscience, but Marten's prediction allows Gabrielle to prepare accordingly and leave a letter for Roland. This letter provides some healing of the wrongs done between mother and son, foiling Marten's intentions.

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