Who’s Your Daddy?: The Absent Fathers of the Stephen King Universe

The Wind Through
The Keyhole
Pages 83-16

It’s easy to view The Wind Through The Keyhole as a story about a mother and son, because it is. But after reading this week’s chapters, I see that it’s just as much about dads as it is about moms. Along with the guilt of killing his mother, teenage Roland is grappling with confusing new feelings about Steven Deschain, and his possible role in the gunslinger’s act of matricide.

In this week’s reading, young Roland meets Young Bill, whose own father, his namesake, was slaughtered while the boy hid under a pile of tack. After putting him in a jail cell and planning to use the traumatized kid to lure the Skin-Man out of hiding, the least Roland can do is buy Young Bill some candy and tell him a story to calm his nerves. Of course, ever the empath, Roland soothes the child with the tale of another boy whose father was murdered.

“Say he ain’t! Please say my daddy ain’t dead!” He started to cry.

– Young Bill, The Wind Through the Keyhole, p. 80

In this story within a story within a story, Tim Ross braves the deadly Ironwood Trail in the dark, all alone, and risks a late-night palaver with the creepy, menacing Covenant Man all because he needs to know the answer to one question: What happened to my ‘da?

Just one book ago we saw Susan Delgado unravelling a similar mystery. And there are plenty of other characters whose fathers were gone in one way or another. There are characters who don’t know their fathers like Eddie and Sheemie, and characters whose fathers are distant and neglectful like Roland’s and Jake’s.

In fact, Stephen King has been writing about the children of absent fathers from the very beginning. In King’s very first novel, Carrie White was raised by a single mother. Now, forty-seven years later, he’s still writing about fatherless kids in Later. In between, there’s been Jack Sawyer in The Talisman, Ned Wilcox in From A Buick 8, and the titular girl who loved Tom Gordon, just to name a few.

Meanwhile, the dads who are present in King’s books usually aren’t the best in the biz. Jack Torrence wasn’t exactly a prize, and the same goes for pretty much every dad in It, as well as the fathers in Dolores Claiborne and Gerald’s Game. I think it’s fair to say that the sons and daughters in these stories would be better off with no father at all.

King’s own father left the family when he was only a few years old, so it’s not hard to draw connections between the author’s life and the lives he creates for his characters (and I’m sure I’m not the first to point them out). Considering this though, I find it fascinating that he chose to construct a fantasy world in which the high water mark of dignity is remembering the face of one’s father.

“I understand that whining and puling won’t solve your problem. I understand that you have forgotten the face of your father.”/“Quit that bullshit! I don’t care dick about my father!” Eddie shouted hysterically…

The Waste Lands, p. 280

But Eddie is proof that even if you grew up without seeing your father’s face, you can still remember it, for Eddie always comes through and stands true. Being able to remember your father’s actual face isn’t that important. Perhaps it isn’t about respecting and revering the man who’s seed you sprang from. Maybe it’s really about facing your own origins and embracing where you came from.

It doesn’t matter if your father’s face is kind like Tim Ross’s, distant and coked-up like Jake’s, or nonexistent like Eddie’s—that face (or lack thereof) made you who you are, for better or worse. Perhaps “remember the face of your father” is nothing more than a fancy way of saying remember yourself.

Next Week’s Reading
The Wind Through The Keyhole
Pages 164-246

Published by Joe Rechtman

Screenwriter/watcher. Constant Reader & Dark Tower Junkie.

2 thoughts on “Who’s Your Daddy?: The Absent Fathers of the Stephen King Universe

  1. Really loved this one! Having an absent father (and say thankya for that, he was a terrible human) and having grown up reading these books, I feel like I recognized a long time ago that the gunslinger’s creed or mantra or whatever that is, is not really about anyone’s specific father – it was always about humbling yourself, divesting from your ego, in order to shoot (and live) true. Thanks for your analysis!

    Liked by 1 person

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