Saturday, January 04, 2014

The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane (Cont.): The Platypus Reads Part CCLIII

Red Shadows

It's onward with Solomon Kane for the time being right now.  After the grim success of the first two stories, I decided to press on to the third.  Red Shadows takes Kane on his first globe-trotting mission as he seeks to avenge the brutal murder of a young girl by a roguish French thief.  The fight will eventually take Kane where most early 20th century pulp goes: the heart of Africa.

While chocked full of swashbuckling adventure, I felt that Howard occasionally lost his hold on the character in this third Solomon Kane offering.  Howard, whether he knew it or not, writes like a true Nietzscheian worshiping strength with ardent zeal.  What he really wants is an excuse to throw his character into one of the boxing matches that he so obsessed over in the real world.  This passion, perhaps fully resolved in the creation of Conan, remains in tension with the fundamentally religious and Puritan character that Howard created in Kane.  Every Puritan has to have his "dark gods in the blood" to wrestle with, and Howard wisely saw the narrative potential there, so we'll see if his writer's sense prevails and he reestablishes an unwavering lock on the character in later pieces.

The above defect was slight, and not a deal breaker.  The main hindrance to enjoyment comes in his racist portrayal of the African tribesmen Kane encounters.  H. Rider Haggard has more respect for Africans (maybe because he actually lived there) than Howard does in this piece and that's saying something.  I find that odd given that Howard is supposed to have taken H.P. Lovecraft to task over the author's racist attitudes.  Maybe greater experience with life in general and African-Americans in particular helped correct some of Howard's prejudices as he got older.  At any rate, we'll see if this element persists in the other stories.

All told, this was an interesting story, but not as good as the first two.  I'm looking forward to the next tale which looks like its set in England.  Returning Kane to his proper English Gothic setting, I hope, will restore Howard's grip on his character and enable him to continue to explore the exciting potential of the heroic oddity that is Solomon Kane.

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