The One Black Stain
In an interesting twist, the world of Solomon Kane is revealed not only in prose but in three short, narrative poems. The meter of these poems has the bounce of country ballad required for narrating stories of this kind and it's an excellent addition to the world. Howard apparently learned from this inventing entire faux epic cycles to quote from in his Conan tales. One distinction from the Conan narratives, however, is that the Kane poems attempt to link Kane in to our real world by means of characters and places. The One Black Stain, for instance, features a show-down between Solomon Kane and the historical figure Francis Drake. This real-world element gives Howard's Kane a sense of immediacy in a way that the characters of the mythical Hyborian age lack. Quite frankly, I like it, and wish he'd been able to write a few more of Kane's exploits before moving on.
The Blue Flame of Vengeance
This is that title than which no pulpier can be thought. True to its name, The Blue Flame of Vengeance is a pure swashbuckling adventure complete with sword-fights, pirates, a damsel in distress, a hero in the making, and the wise, old mentor figure that shows him the way. Kane flourishes in this decidedly English and decidedly non-supernatural setting. Howard had a knack for creating strong characters that could survive being moved from genre to genre thus allowing him to avoid telling the same story over and over again. In this case, Kane does just as well at mundane adventuring as he does in the world of occult detection. My question is: "do we have anyone today creating characters that are this flexible and, if so, what is there any direct link back to Robert E. Howard?"
Then Hills of the Dead
Back to Africa. This story appears to be the start of what was intended to be a string of "African Adventures." I suppose it would be followed by a string of "Oriental Adventures," and then perhaps "Colonial Adventures." It's a great idea and I wish Howard had stuck with the character long enough to perfect it. The real question, though, is what would be left of Kane when the adventures were over? As with Mike Mignola's Sir Edward Grey, Hills of the Dead seems to suggest that constant run-ins with the occult might unravel Kane's solid Puritan faith. N'Longa explicitly challenges him with the idea at the end of this story. I have to ask: "is a Kane without his Puritanism still Solomon Kane?"
Several other fragments follow these stories which I'm not going to comment on due to their incomplete status. Hopefully I can finish out the final complete pieces in this collection in the next post.