Robert E. Howard, in his short, flawed, but prolific life, brought into existence a variety of manly and heroic characters, the most famous being Conan—the Cimmerian warrior and king—who was immortalised (if that is the correct word) on the silver screen by Arnold Swazenneger. However, it is not about the famous Conan I shall write about today, rather I shall turn my pen (or at least keyboard) to discuss one of Howard’s lesser known creations, that of Solomon Kane, an Englishman, who travelled the world armed with rapier, flintlock, and dagger, but most of all—his unswerving Puritan faith.
In a connected series of short stories Howard describes Kane to us. Kane’s demeanour is stoic, his resolution total, and he is devoted to fighting evil, in all its forms. From zombies, to troubled ghosts, in England and Europe, deep in the dark jungles of Africa, and in the frozen north of Europe, he battles bad people, monsters and things, supernatural and otherwise, in his eternal quest to subdue evil.
There is not a great deal of personal introspection to be found here (or in any of Howard’s work). Kane never doubts or finds his goals conflicted, rather to him the world is black and white: good v. evil. He sees injustice and, un-diverted by externals, he seeks out and kills the perpetuators. End of story (literally). Even Howard describes Kane as a ‘fanatic’.
The stories are entertaining and engaging, though lacking what some would call depth, however, this does not hinder the enjoyment. Regrettably, the stories are few in number—seven short tales, and a number of fragments. Speaking of such, there are subsequent stories (and comics) of Kane, written by later authors, however, I have not turned my attention to these. I prefer to read the original, not later adaptations.
There is a 2009 movie, which lead me to Kane. It is only loosely based on the Howard character, but the movie is entertaining nevertheless.
Influence? When I read my first Kane story I was immediately reminded of the protagonist of the “The Jerusalem Man”, Jon Shannon, written by the fantasy author David Gemmell. As with Kane, John Shannon is a cold killer, who wanders the world fighting evil without fear or favour. Both are motivated by a strident christian faith. Did David Gemell know of Howard and Kane? I would suspect so.
Solomon Kane—worth a read.
The 'Solomon Kane' Stories:
- Red Shadows (1928) The first Kane story. It establishes the character and leads into on of the longer Kane stories.
- Skulls in the Stars (1929)
- Rattle of Bones (1929)
- The Moon of Skulls (1930)
- The Hills of the Dead (1930)
- The Footfalls Within (1931)
- Wings in the Night (1932)
These stories can be found, free of charge, here: http://gutenberg.net.au/plusfifty-a-m.html