When Stephen King first published The Gunslinger in 1982, he called it the first installment in a massive series, but said that at the rate the writing was going, it would take 300 years to complete. As the subsequent volumes trickled out (The Drawing Of The Three in 1987, The Waste Lands in 1991, and Wizard & Glass in 1997), King openly doubted on more than one occasion that he'd live to finish the work. In 1999, a near-fatal van accident came close to fulfilling that prophecy. Since then, King has churned out the final three installments of the Dark Tower series in short order: Wolves Of The Calla, Song Of Susannah, and now The Dark Tower have all been published over the course of less than a year.
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the three books feel increasingly rushed. They're all hefty volumes—The Dark Tower tops out at 845 pages—packed with King's usual attention to the humanizing details that ground his horror/fantasy in reality. But while Wolves mostly explores a single community and a single situation, Song and Tower send the characters off on cosmic quests and travels that blur by with increasing brevity. The epic began with a gunslinger (a heroic archetype midway between a Sergio Leone cowboy and an Arthurian knight) on a quest to reach a universal lynchpin called the Dark Tower and save all reality from evil forces. His journey continues and concludes in Tower, but along the way, he and his companions have to rescue a captured ally impregnated with a demon's baby and a demon's spirit, deal with the resulting demonic offspring, travel through time to ensure the safety of a magical artifact, disrupt a community of psychics working to undermine the Tower's foundations, and, in an eerie twist, find Stephen King himself and save him from a fatal van accident in order to make sure that the Dark Tower books actually get written.
Taken entirely on its own, that last subplot might seem anywhere from self-indulgent to psychotic, but taken in context with the other vehicular accidents that have cropped up in King's work since 1999, it reads as obsessive to the point of distraction. That's a shame in a book that already feels distracted. It's easy to wonder how the series might have concluded had the accident not forced major health issues and the specter of imminent mortality into King's life.
But that aside, The Dark Tower is a monumental adventure that echoes King's best work, even where it doesn't quite live up to it. Beyond that, it's a resolution 22 years in coming, and any disappointments are minor compared to the pleasure of seeing the work finally completed—not merely adequately, but in compelling high style. Like the series' other installments, The Dark Tower is a powerful, broad, soaring fable packed with the visceral human insight and creativity that has marked King's career from the beginning. The Dark Tower books contain his finest writing, his highest ambitions, and his most indelible characters. Its triumphant conclusion after all these years reaffirms King's place as a populist yarn-spinner of the highest order.