Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane: The Platypus Reads Part CCLII

I needed a break from A Treasury of Modern Fantasy (too many authors and too many styles coming in too fast) so I decided to turn back to an author whose work I've enjoyed exploring: Robert E. Howard.  This time, however, I decided to skip over Howard's famous Conan yarns and instead take a look at one of his earlier creations, Solomon Kane.  The idea of a puritan occult detective was too intriguing to pass up.  I have the whole collection of Kane's tales and I do intend to blog them all.  Right now, my little literary detour has only encompassed the first two short stories so I'm going to record my thoughts on them right away and get back to the rest as I have time.

Skulls in the Stars

Solomon Kane makes his debut with this classic bit of English Gothic including a haunted moor, a vengeful ghost, and a solitary miser.  Howard's Kane fits the portrait of the archetypal puritan: grim, principled, metaphysical, with an iron sense of right and wrong.  I have a feeling Cotton Mather might have liked to see himself portrayed this way in a graphic novel.  What the author adds to the mix is his own adoration of courage and brute strength that while rightfully absent in his character is explicitly present in his narrator.  This creates an odd, ironic gap between the main character and the teller of the tale that allows the audience to cheer Kane on without feeling encouraged to adopt his worldview.  If that tone persists, it may be one of the keys to the likability of this early Howard creation.

The Right Hand of Doom

The title looks like a nod to Milton and seems to have received a nod from Mike Mignola in return (Hellboy Volume V is titled The Right Hand of Doom).  This short-short makes novel use of the standard puritan trope: the witch hanging.  Howard is careful to preserve the feel of the 16th-17th century in this piece while also including the pacing and action that a modern audience expects.  His knowledge of folklore works hand-in-glove with both the features to bring the whole story home in a way that is worthy of a Hellboy weird tale.  As in the prior story, Kane shows a firm sense of right and wrong which is still subtle enough to be at odds with the breezy moralist.  This helps the stern character earn our respect and if Howard keeps it up it will pay large dividends as the series continues.

So there you have it: The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane.  It's not as polished as Howard's latter works, but it still has all of his raw energy and brilliant knack for spinning a rippin' good yarn.

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