Is this really “The End” for Stephen King?

With the arrival of his 50th book, “The Dark Tower,” the seventh volume in an epic series begun 33 years ago, King claims he’s out of the novel business for good.

But is this just another elaborate ruse like Cher’s umpteenth farewell tour or the last season of “Everybody Loves Raymond?”

In the coda to “The Dark Tower,” King writes, “I’ve told my tale all the way to the end, and am satisfied. … I can stop now, put my pen down, and rest my weary hand (although perhaps not forever; the hand that tells the tales has a mind of its own, and a way of growing restless).”

Whether “The Dark Tower” actually marks the end of the most successful career in publishing history or not, it’s certainly a suitable finale.

King describes the book as a “summation, a way of unifying as many of my previous stories as possible beneath the arch of some uber-tale.”

And for longtime fans, this mammoth story has done just that. Referenced in at least 15 of his other books, the Mid-World setting of “The Dark Tower” stories has always loomed large within King’s literary universe, a place where towns such as Derry and Castle Rock, Maine, are as familiar to King’s “Constant Readers” as New York or Los Angeles are to anyone else.

“The Dark Tower” finds Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger in a dying world, and his faithful Ka-tet (or posse), fighting to save existence from eventual destruction and breach the now-legendary tower, the nexus of all worlds, where an unexpected fate awaits him.

Aiding Roland in his quest are Eddie Dean, a former junkie turned wiseacre best friend; Susannah Dean, an amputee and the love of Eddie’s life; Jake Chambers, a gifted boy with the heart of a man; and Oy, a doglike creature who has more than earned his place in the group.

Together they must defeat the Breakers, a group of telepaths unknowingly bringing on the end of all worlds by destroying the Beams that hold them in place; Mordred, a hideous were-spider determined to devour his half-father, Roland, and anything else that enters his path; the Crimson King, a madman imprisoned in the tower and eager to bring about the destruction of Roland and all creation. They encounter any number of worthy foes along their trail from the blasted, poisoned lands of Thunderclap, across the barren, frigid Badlands, through the snowy white forests of Empathica and across the rose-covered fields surrounding their ultimate prize, the Dark Tower itself.

Not all will survive the journey, and it’s in these often excruciating passages that King’s imagination and writing shines brightest. Not only do readers feel the agony of losing characters they’ve lived with for so long, but readers feel the author’s genuine regret at having to dispatch them as well.

King himself is a pivotal character in the last two books, an unwitting and unwilling Godlike storyteller whose real-life bouts with laziness, alcohol abuse, drug addiction and near-fatal car accident become focal points in the journey of Roland and his friends.

His recurring appearances come off as a bit pretentious (something King himself admits to fearing in his Author’s Notes), but they ultimately function to tie his literary worlds together, further cementing the presence of characters from his other novels.

Such as “Salem’s Lot’s Father Callahan and Ted Brautigan from “Hearts in Atlantis.” In the end, King offers readers two outcomes – one that will warm the heart and is as close to “… and they lived happily ever after” as he’s capable of creating, and another that is destined to have readers debating and reinterpreting for years to come.

Overall, it’s a satisfying conclusion to a tale well told and a benchmark in a career we’re willing to bet is far

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