Confession time: I like Solomon Kane (and his stories) more than Conan.
There. I said it.
Second confession: I only read the Robert E. Howard stories. I have not read the Solomon Kane comics, nor did I finish watching the movie that came out a few years back.
Don’t get me wrong, the Conan stories are great, but the Solomon Kane stories are better. Before I go any further, there will be spoilers for the Solomon Kane stories, so stop here if you want to enjoy them with fresh eyes.
Even his name is better than Conan’s! “Solomon” brings forth the idea of devout wisdom, such as possessed by the Israelite king of old. “Kane” reminds the reader of the first murderer, Cain, a man of blood, cursed to wander the world. This rapier-wielding Puritan has a strong moral code and goes across the globe to right wrongs and correct injustice.
I picked up this book with all of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane stories and I can heartily recommend it to you.
Do not judge this volume by its cover. It suffers from “standing around and looking cool” problem that a lot of fantasy and sci-fi covers suffer from. Luckily, it contains gorgeous black-and-white illustrations within that are action-packed or at least convey a sense of urgency, dread, or potential.
In that interior illustration above, while no action is happening yet, it is about to happen. And that makes all the difference.
But enough about the pictures, what about the stories themselves?
SKULLS IN THE SKY
The first story in this collection begins unexpectedly. Solomon Kane is at a crossroads between the safe road and the dangerous road. A child from a nearby village tells him not to go on the dangerous road because of some terrible danger that kills men. Does Solomon care? No.
“These things be deeds of some power of evil. The lords of darkness have laid a curse upon the country. A strong man is needed to combat Satan and his might. Therefore I go, who have defied him many a time.”
He ventures forth into the night and encounters a ghostly being that is impervious to mortal weapons. His pistol and his rapier were of no use against the incorporeal being. However, his courage is enough and he attempts to fight it bare-handed, his courage somehow manifesting itself to help him in the battle.
After being defeated by the Puritan, the specter tells Solomon of why it haunts the countryside. Solomon finds the guilty party and brings him to justice.
In this story, we see Solomon’s sense of justice; harsh, but fair. Forgive the oversimplification of two thousand years of Christian theology, but he is a bit more Old Testament than New Testament in his justice.
THE RIGHT HAND OF DOOM
Interesting concept, some interesting mental images, but overall, a meh story (of course a “meh” REH story is light-years beyond most modern fantasy). Things happen and Solomon just happens to be in the right place at the right time. A little too much “tell” and not enough “show”.
RED SHADOWS (original title: SOLOMON KANE)
This story opens with Solomon coming across a woman who has been violated and mortally wounded by “Le Loup”. As she dies in his arms,
…he made no wild, reckless vow, sore no oath by saints or devils.
“Men shall die for this,” he said coldly.
Solomon hunts down Le Loup to his lair (after eliminating the entire gang), but Le Loup escapes. Solomon hunts down this man across the world, eventually ending up in the wild African jungle for the final showdown. Along the way he meets a man of magic named N’Longa, who aids him with some pagan arts. Solomon is uncomfortable with this display, but he accepts the help, otherwise the woman will be unavenged.
Once he is finally able to have the showdown with Le Loup, you can tell that Robert E Howard took Benjamin Cheah’s advice in this article from PulpRev.com. A tense and well-written fight scene ensues; man versus man, sword on sword, good versus evil.
Kane is an expert swordsman who does not waste motion or do anything flashy. He is skilled, precise, and controlled, a surgeon with a couple feet of steel. In the end, Le Loup dies and Solomon leaves, justice done at last.
Once again, we see Solomon’s drive for justice and the fact that nothing on earth will stop him from seeing that justice done. Famous characters like The Punisher and Judge Dredd can trace their lineage directly to Solomon Kane.
I will finish the rest of the stories in later posts.