Okay, so right on time yesterday I finished the seventh and last book of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series. The series was very long; I'm talking probably over 3000 pages of material. It was also complex, so if this turns into a very long post I'll now apologize in advance and put a TLDR brief at the bottom. I'll start by talking about what I believe the general theme of the series is, then the overall structure of the series. If you've read the series, please post your thoughts.
If I were to generalize the series as a type of story, I'd say that first of all it's a story about the quest for redemption. It has a very archetypal hero, a gunslinger cowboy-type, and the more I think of it, it also has an archetypal plot structure, but done in a very complex way. In the beginning, Roland, the main character, is a very simple cowboy, following the "man in black" across the desert. It becomes evident that the reason why he wants to capture the man is to find out how to get to the dark tower to set right a world that has "moved on". What at first seems like a western setting quickly evolves into a post-apocalyptic setting where the world is on its last legs and slipping into non-existence. Roland has swore that he will find the tower, and all of his friends had died in this quest, and he is the last gunslinger.
Perhaps the greatest paradox of the story is that to make things right, Roland is willing to sacrifice everything and everyone, thereby increasing his guilt and his need to make things right. Though he is willing to sacrifice new victims to his quest, he comes to understand that the pain of new sacrifice always outweighs the pain of old. Pain is ephemeral and does indeed heal over time. But he cannot help himself; he has set out with a quest and made promises to himself and to his old friends and is therefore unable to renege.
The fact that the tower becomes the foundation of existence later, I think can be both understood metaphorically and literally. Literally in the sense that the series takes on a sci-fi "many worlds" context, and metaphorically as in the only thing the gunslinger lives for.
Some people might say that the end of the series is the equivalent of a huge drawn out story ending with a single line: "it was all just a dream." But I think that the renewal of his quest shows a concrete progression towards his redemption. He does not achieve it simply by reaching the tower; he must run the whole thing over again until he no longer needs to seek the tower, or seek redemption.
Also it would be hard to ignore the parallels with the Arthurian legend. Roland is a descendant of Arthur Eld, an ancient order of gunslingers (but gunslinger and knight could be interchangeable in a post-apocalyptic setting). He also has his weapons passed down through the ages, ancient and powerful. Also Maerlyn (Merlin), the man in black, or Walter, also known in other works (like The Stand) as Flagg makes several appearances throughout the story.
The interesting parallel with the Arthurian legends is that instead of losing his one true love (Guinevere in Arthurian Legend, Susan Delgado in The Dark Tower) to another man, Roland loses her because of his responsibilities. He is simply preoccupied with duty and killing and therefore unable to protect his love.
Instead of going through the books individually, I will say that the so-called genre of the story shifts back and forth between a science fiction, a western, and a cyber-punk theme, and sometimes two or three of the types combined. What I felt Stephen King did well in this series is developing round characters who experience, learn, and change. Nothing is more off-putting in reading literature than following the acts of characters you are unsympathetic to.
It was a good series. The main character loved, lost, and loved again, only to lose again in his quest to find the tower. It should remind us that the journey, and not the destination, is what is important in life.