Sunday, February 21, 2010
Solomon Kane: Swashbuckler and Hammer of God
So wrote my friend over at Sword & Sanity of the question I put to him about his favorite character in Robert E. Howard’s dark fantasy stable. His position sums up my own in words that I wish I had written.
Solomon Kane is the creation of Robert E. Howard; a swordsman, pirate, wandering adventurer, and puritan. Howard wrote about his black clad soldier of the 16th century between 1928 and 1932, seeing publication in Weird Tales. It had been often noted by many that the Kane proves that Howard was more than the sum of Conan. I would argue that Howard was never the sum of Conan or any one character, but rather each protagonist is his own man, his own world view, and his own story to be told. Solomon Kane is my favorite.
Solomon Kane was a creation of Robert E. Howard, a master of pulp fiction and one of the forefathers of Sword & Sorcery fantasy. Solomon Kane appeared in magazines from roughly 1928 through 1936 and reappeared in the late 1960’s on the paperback racks. He appeared in comic form for Marvel Comics at about the time their popular Conan series ran in the 1970’s and 80’s. Dark Horse, the comic company that has revitalized Conan in the graphic form has released two series of adaptations for the Puritan. A theatrical release is supposed to be released at the end of this month.
Who or what was Solomon Kane? Robert E. Howard described him in The Moon of Skulls thus: “He was a man born out of his time--a strange blending of Puritan and Cavalier, with a touch of the ancient philosopher, and more that a touch of the pagan, though the last assertion would have shocked him unspeakably. An atavist of the days of blind chivalry he was, a knight errant in the somber clothes of a fanatic. A hunger in his soul drove him on and on, an urge to right all wrongs, protect all weaker things, avenge all crimes against right and justice. Wayward and restless as the wind, he was consistent in only one respect--he was true to his ideals of justice and right. Such was Solomon Kane.”
Living in the age of Elizabeth I roughly between 1575 through 1610 or so, Solomon Kane is described as tall, gaunt, “darkly pallid” and dressed all in black, save for a green sash about his waist. He was armed with weapons of the period, usually two black powder pistols, a rapier, and in many tales a musket and/or a cat headed staff given to him by N’ Longa, an African sorcerer.
A questing knight six hundred years and more too late, a swashbuckler and Hammer of God; Solomon Kane was all this and more and that is why he is such an enduring and memorable hero. His adventures spanned the coast of England in Blades of the Brotherhood, also known as The Blue Flame of Vengeance; to the darkest heart of Africa in several tales like The Hills of the Dead and Wings in the Night. In almost every tale of Solomon Kane, the Puritan is driven to seek out revenge in the name of justice or otherwise defend the weak. The hero would cross continents and face the very demons of hell in Howard’s yarns of daring. Through out the man remained true to the convictions of his own personal honor and belief in the righteousness of his cause; for he had the fanatic’s zeal, tempered with practicality of the world weary adventurer
There was a power in Howard’s prose: to sum up a character so succinctly in one statement that the man himself uttered: Kane said to John Silent in the fragment The Castle of the Devil: “It has fallen upon me, now and again in my sojourns through the world, to ease various evil men of their lives.” Like all Howard’s creations, there was the simmering anger beneath the surface that all men seem to feel at the world as it is, not as it should be. This is what draws readers to Kane, Conan, and Kull. But with Kane there is more, there is a feeling of moral obligation to act on those impulses that other heroes do not answer to. Where Conan acts for gain in one aspect or another, Kane takes action because it is what must be done for the greater good, or the preservation of others. He will take the haunted road to rid it of the evil that stalks the path.
With the tragic death of Robert E. Howard many of the secrets that Kane held were never revealed. Where hence came the green sash that he wore, the only splash of color upon his whole person? Kane never had a love interest in the tales of Howard, another curious division from heroes like Conan. Perhaps that bit of gaudy cloth came from a lady? The poem Solomon Kane’s Homecoming suggests that he had loved once, but his wanderlust drove him away: “Where is Bess…..I left her—though it racked my heart to see the lass in tears….. In a quiet church yard by the sea she has slept these seven years…..” Did Howard himself even know the answers to Kane’s past? As he told others his heroes told him their stories, he only related them. Kane’s existence did not end with his creator’s death, but rather each generation is rediscovering the Puritan and his barbaric brethren as new media comes out and the old work is republished. Perhaps someone else will take up a pen and tell the rest of Kane’s story. Though I hope not, I do not believe anyone can truly tell the stories as Howard had, and some mysteries are better left undiscovered so one’s own imagination can fill in the blanks.
There are many resources on the Puritan swashbuckler on the web, here are only a few of the better examples I have come across:
http://www.robertehoward.com/ : the only place to start.
An excellent chronology of Kane.
The Return of Sir Richard Grenville : an independent film based on the poem.
Gary Gianni: the great artist behind some of the best Kane images, as the one posted on the blog from Wings in the Night.