This is one of King's fantasies. His "once upon a time" stories are my favorites. This is a story within a story within a story. The "fairy tale" bookends the story of a group of travelers who get caught in a storm. In the middle of the adventure, a young boy is told the story to keep his mind off the terrifying events going on around him.
A band of travelers realizes they are about to be overtaken by a storm of epic proportions. They make their way to cover but do not know if it will protect them or not. To keep their minds off the terrifying events about to rain down upon them, they cajole their leader into telling a tale from when he was just starting his travels as a youth
He recounts the tale of his first outing as a gunslinger. He and a young partner are dispatched to deal with a shape changer who is murdering large groups of people. As they ride into town a report comes of yet another farmstead full of people dead. The gunslingers join local law enforcement in the investigation. They find many people dead. They also find one miraculous survivor - a cook's boy. The child got only a glimpse of the shape changer as he turned back into human form, but he is the closest thing they have to a lead. The gunslinger places the child inside a cell at the local jail for safekeeping. This child has heard the tales of murder and mayhem in the district. He has also heard the screams of his family and friends as they are clawed to pieces. He is thoroughly traumatized.
While they wait for their suspect pool to arrive so the boy can look at them, the young gunslinger tells him a tale that he heard at his mother's knee: The Wind Through the Keyhole. It is a tale of sorrow and death, bravery and triumph, magic and dragons (is a group of dragons really a bonfire, or did King just make that up?). At the end of the story the boy was much calmer and had a role model for brave behavior.
The suspects arrive at the jail, and the murderer is revealed
The fairy tale ends, and the little group of travelers has survived the storm.
I liked this book. I still prefer King’s The Eyes of the Dragon, but this one runs a close second. Every fantasy reader should check this one out.
Read my review of Stephen King's 11/22/63.