Thursday, September 2, 2021

A Different West

 Being in sort of a Old West/Frontier mood of late, I got around the checking out a couple of things that had been on my list for a while, but I just kept never getting to.

The Nightingale (2019) is an Australian revisionist Western from the director of The Babadook. In it's basic plot, it's a tale of revenge, not unlike Hannie Caulder (1971), but the resemblance to traditional revenge Westerns, even revenge Westerns based around women, really ends at the plot synopsis. It's more interested (like many revisionist Westerns) in examining the plight of indigenous peoples, but it takes the particular angle of the allowing its oppressed Irish woman protagonist to develop empathy, through recognizes the points of similarity between her experience and that of her Aboriginal guide. While perhaps not as brutal the last Australian Western I watched, The Proposition (2006), it is tough viewing in places, particularly the assault on the protagonist and her family. Still, it's a good film on its own terms, and it's always interesting to see Western film tropes and themes played out in places besides North America.

The Wind Through the Keyhole is the last book (to date) written by Stephen King set in the Dark Tower universe. It's outside the main story of that series proper, but includes those characters in framing device. While sheltering from fantastical storm, part tornado and part polar vortex, Roland relates a tale of his youthful days as a gunslinger to his friends. Embedded in that story is another story, a Mid-World "fairytale," that his mother had read to him as a boy, "The Wind Through the Keyhole." This story within a story tells the tale of a young boy living on the edge of the Endless Wood who must contend with a malign fairy, a swamp (complete with a dragon), and his own encounter with that same sort of storm, in a trek across a dangerous wilderness to get a cure for his mother's blindness from the wizard, Maerlyn. 

King's feel for his fantasy world keeps getting stronger. While there are clear points of intersection with our history, he relies less on characters or incursions from our reality (or realities like ours). The Dark Tower novels that were mostly about Mid-World (Wizard and the Glass, Wolves of Calla) were my favorites of the series, and I think this short novel does what they do even better. I wish King would write a collection of other Mid-World tales.


Dick McGee said...

Jarring. Had no idea King's series had something called "Mid-world" in it. "Midworld" will always be an Alan Dean Foster novel to me, and a pretty good one, part of his extensive Humanx Commonwealth setting.

Speaking of both non-traditional Westerns and Foster, have you read his Mad Amos anthology? Supernatural Western short stories centered around the titular character, a sort of arcane troubleshooter. Good stuff, Foster's short fiction may be his strongest work.

David Drake has a somewhat similar anthology called Old Nathan, same supernatural themes but set in the Carolinas and pre-Civil War. The two books feel like cousins, although the writing style is quite different as you'd expect. Also like somewhat more distant relatives of Manly Wade Wellman's John the Balladeer stories, although those are Appalachian rather than Western and set much later than either.

Trey said...

I haven't read either Drake's or Foster's stories in this vein, but I'm aware of them. What's interesting about King's Dark Tower books is that it isn't "our world plus fantasy" which is the mode of most "Weird Westerns" but an invented setting like the Hyborian Age or Middle-earth.

Allandaros said...

Thanks for the note about The Nightingale! As you might suspect revisionist westerns are really interesting to me; I want to check this out now. (The content/tone warning is appreciated!)

Good point on the invented setting being very uncommon for the weird western. I feel like there was another setting that should be coming to mind for that, but I'm utterly blanking :/

JB said...

I have been a King fan since my youth, long before he started writing "fantasy" fiction, but the Dark Tower series is one of my absolute favorites, and the best parts for me are definitely the tales of Roland's youth. I will definitely have to pick this one up.

[there's quite a bit of Dark Tower influence in my D&D stuff]

Dennis Laffey said...

I'm also a huge King fan, and The Gunslinger was the first novel of his I ever read. So obviously I'm also a big Dark Tower nerd.

I agree about A Wind Through the Keyhole. The frame narrative of Roland's ka-tet making a pit stop isn't anything special, but both Roland's story of his youth and the fairy tale were good (the fairy tale being better IMO), and it all added a deeper layer of world building to Mid-World.

I'll have to check out the movies mentioned, I haven't seen any of them yet.

Jack Tremain said...

I am also thinking lately on how to make a "Dark Tower D&D" work. I feel that the setting gains a lot in this aspect if one centers around the Mid-World instead of the whole Realworld/Towerworld connections. The full wall of text is at my blog, and with more yet to come if god wills it; but the summary is to center in the youth of Roland and picking parts from strangely harmonic settings (ff8 for example)