The Wind Through the Keyhole- An Audiobook Non-Review

April 26th, 2012 | Posted in General

As many regular readers know, I am an avid listener to audiobooks at certain stages of my work in the studio. I can only listen to them when doing inking or coloring, which is more of a rendering process for me and less a conceptual one and therefore allows my mind to focus on both the work and the story. I’ve found these to be a great way to stay on task during grueling marathons of finish work.

Regular readers might also be aware that I am a big fan of Stephen King‘s writing, especially his epic Dark Tower saga, which are some of my favorite audiobooks to listen to. I probably put those on once a year and relive the journey of Roland and his ka-tet through the bones of a slowly dying land called mid-world. The original narrator was the incomparable Frank Muller, who was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in 2001 and was never able to narrate again, eventually passing away in 2008. George Guidall took up the Dark Tower narration mantle and did a different but equally terrific job bringing the books and characters to life.

Naturally, I was very excited to hear King was going to visit the Dark Tower mythos in a new book called The Wind Through the Keyhole, which was just released on Tuesday of this week. It’s a backstory, as the full Dark Tower tale was told through to the end (or was it?!?) in the final book, The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower, back in 2004. Other than the short story Little Sisters of Eluria which appeared in the collection Everything’s Eventual in 1998, this is the first Roland tale to appear in book form outside the series. I saved up my Audible credits to buy The Wind Through The Keyhole audiobook on Tuesday and figured I’d listen to it right away and then do a review here on The MAD Blog.

Sadly, that is not going to happen.

Sharp-eyed readers may have caught that I wrote I was a “big fan of Stephen King’s writing” a few paragraphs earlier. Very true. What I am not a fan of is Stephen King’s narration. King has narrated several of his stories on audiobook, including Bag of Bones, Needful Things and assorted short stories like Hearts In Atlantis. He is an awful narrator. There is really no nice way to put it. His voice sounds like his sinuses are draining into his throat, with a perpetual mucas-y, nasal smacking that is just under the annoyance-level of nails raking a chalkboard. I was appalled when I saw “narrated by Stephen King” on the audiobook cover, and I didn’t even make it past the foreward…although I did fast forward to a part of the story itself just to see if King pulled some kind of miracle off and became Rich Little since his last foray into narration. Nope. This one will have to be enjoyed the old fashioned way…read with my eyeballs.

This is enormously disappointing.¬¨‚Ć I do not know what King was thinking when he narrated this book himself. I know authors can be funny ducks when it comes to their work, and I can totally understand that they would feel they can bring something to “their baby” on audio that a narrator could not, but honestly there is a reason why professional narrators exist . . . they bring a talent to the table no amount of familiarity with the work can match. This is especially true for a SERIES like the Dark Tower, which has very distinct and rich characters and has already had seven books narrated by two of the best in the business. I assume King insisted on doing this himself (because no one in their right mind would suggest he do it himself), and he must be surrounded by a bunch of bobos and yes-men who don’t have the guts to look him in the eye and say “Steve, this is a bad idea. You are not a profesisonal narrator.” What a shame. Thomas Harris has the same problem apparently . . . although he’s not a bad narrator, he’s just not as good as a real professional would be. King is bad. Historically bad.

The narrator of a book makes a gigantic difference in the enjoyment of the material. A good narrator can make a marginal story sparkle and a bad one can ruin the best of books. Personal opinion enters into the equation, of course. My favorite narrators are Muller, Guidall, Simon Vance, Frederick Davidson, David Ian Davies, Barbara Rosenblat, Jim Dale and a few others. I cannot stand the work of narrator Scott Brick, who seems to attempt to give the same hang-wringing, face-distorting ?¬?ber-emotion to a reading of a car manual as he would Othello. I simply cannot listen to the man narrate, thus books like the Bourne Trilogy and many others are denied me.

So, sadly, is this new Dark Tower audiobook. Sorry, Mr. King, but you dropped the ball on this one. Please fire all the people who didn’t advise you not to narrate this audiobook, and hire people who keep the best interests of you and your fans in mind for future audiobook productions.


  1. Tom Faraci says:

    That’s a shame, but thankfully I have no intention of listening to it since I prefer the old-fashioned eyeball method. Though you’ve inspired me to pick up the original series as audiobooks to relive on long drives.

    • Tom says:

      I also prefer the eyeball method, but the only time I have to read books is when I’m on vacation.

  2. Thanks for the tip, Tom. I was really looking forward to this book as I’m a big fan of the Dark Tower series as well. While I used the ‘old-fashioned eyeball method’ (as Tom Faraci puts it well) for the others, I was going to take a chance on the audio version for this book. Glad I didn’t. Guess I’ll just have to read it.

  3. Joe says:

    King actually narrated the original editions of the first 3 novels in the series, once Wizard and Glass came out, the earlier editions were re-recorded by Frank Muller.

    I have no real issue with King’s reading of his own work. He’s definitely not as good as Muller or Guidall, but there’s something to be said for the author reading his own work.

    • Tom says:

      About King narrating the first three DT books… really? I didn’t know that. Didn’t Muller record the first four books, then Guidall redid book 1 after King did some rewriting and subtle additions to make them more coherent with the final books?

      I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree about King’s narration. The man has every right to demand to read his own work, but look at it this way… say he wasn’t an author and just trying to be a professional narrator‚Äö√Ñ√Æwould you say he was good enough? I certainly would not. A lot can be forgiven because of an author’s intimacy with his/her own work, but…

  4. Scott Evans says:

    I too am a avid listener of audio books. I get through about two a week. I have been put off Stephen King after I listen to The Stand. That is a very long book and for 90% of it I thought it was fantastic but the end was a complete and utter let down and ruined the whole experience for me. The book I have enjoyed most recently was Stephen Baxters offical sequel to the H G Wells Time Machine, and its called Time Ships. I do enjoy sci fi and adventure books, but I have also found, quite unexpectantly that I enjoy the humorous writings of Bill Bryson. His travel books are some of the funniest things I have read in ages.

    If you can recommend any good audio books you’ve listened to lately I would love to know, thanks.


    • Tom says:

      I have odd tastes in audiobooks because I happen to like long, complex stories with slow-burning plots as opposed to short or more explosive stories. I love Frederick Forsyth novels on audiobook for this reason, while some might find them plodding. Right now I am listening to the Stieg Larsson “Girl” trilogy.

  5. Hi Tom. I had the same reservations about this audiobook.. but I went ahead and listened to it all. It was a struggle at times! Pretty good story but very mediocre narration.

    You can see my review here:

    There is another great review by Bob here:

    I’m currently listening to the Felix Castor series by Mike Carey.. pretty good audiobooks narrated by Michael Kramer

  6. Doug says:

    Thanks for the recommendation on 11-22-63. I downloaded that on Audible as I have a long commute. I haven’t finished it yet but it’s been good so far. I recommended it to a couple of people and they enjoyed it as well. My mother doesn’t like horror at all but she read it and liked it however she said she was about done with King books because it gave her really odd dreams the whole way through (going back in time speaking to her younger self). I haven’t had that experience. I’m writing this because I don’t really like the narrator and it’s been a little difficult to get through. First off he sounds a lot older than the main character even though he could be telling the story long after. Second, (and in his defense) he’s had to pull off A LOT of accents – New Englanders, mobsters, southerners, rednecks, southern belles (probably his worst and what I have the biggest problem with being from the south), and Russians (that King describes as sounding like Natasha and then the narrator sounds more cartoony than that. Anyway, the book is good but you couldn’t be more right about a good narrator. Coincidentally for a while I thought it may have been King narrating.

  7. I used to own the first three DT audio books narrated by King. I agree King isn’t the greatest narrator, but his creaky, nasally voice has a certain goofy charm to it. A good friend of mine whom I lent the books to had a lot fun perfecting our SK impressions and driving everyone nuts by talking to them like King.

    • Tom says:

      Part of my vehement disappointment is that after Muller and Guidall, even most other pro narrators would pale. Eddie’s Brooklyn street-bopper accent, Susannah’s sophisticated, slightly southern voice with the cartoonish croaking of Detta Walker creeping in, the mid-world cadences and accents from the pseudo-Mexican talk of Hambry through the rural, New-England-ish talk of the Calla. . . these characters came to life under Muller and Guidall. With King, he’s just reading the story.

      • You’ll definitely get no argument from me in regards to how good Muller and Guidell are, but you really haven’t lived until you’ve heard Stephen King gargle out a few bars from “Hey Jude” like he does in the first book. 🙂

  8. Josh Powers says:

    That is disappointing! I’m a huge dark tower fan, and had the pleasure of talking (briefly) with George Guidall about his experience narrating it. Like any sort of acting, the narrator of choice might not be available due to previous engagements, but I hate switching narrators in the middle of a series, and switching from Guidall to King is a WORST CASE SCENARIO. Listening to Game of Thrones, they switched from Roy Dotrice to John Lee for book for, and it was agony getting through. Later, they re-recorded book four with Dotrice. I hope they do the same for “The Wind In The Keyhole” with George Guidall.

    On the upside, thanks for recommending some narrators to check out! Have you considered doing an audiobook of “The Mad Art of Caricature”? (Okay, just kidding :P. I use your book regularly and learned caricature almost exclusively from it, huge props!) If it weren’t for audiobooks, I would NEVER have time for digesting fresh fiction. Lucky us!

    • Tom says:

      LOL on the audiobook of “The Mad Art of Caricature!”… As a narrator I think I’d make Stephen King sound like James Earl Jones.

  9. Mike Wallster says:

    Heh heh, had the same experience with Ray Bradbury’s reading of his own Fahrenheit 451, with all due respect to the author, he ain’t no narrator. You mentioned Simon Vance….I hope you’ve checked out his readings of the James Bond novels….great stuff.

    • Tom says:

      Oh, yes. The Bond books are all on a playlist in order on my iPod. Vance is great on those.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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