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"The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane" by Robert E. Howard

Discussion in 'Books' started by ryanseanoreilly, Aug 2, 2014.

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  1. ryanseanoreilly

    ryanseanoreilly ryanseanoreilly Writer

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    May 18, 2012
    Recently read "The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane" by Robert E. Howard for my podcast (No Deodorant In Outer Space).

    I had heard about this character and watched the movie based on him on Netflix (more on that later). Now, I knew that Howard was adept at creating memorable characters that strike a chord having read about Conan and Kull previously. I liked those stories so it wasn't a great leap to check out Solomon Kane. What intrigued me the most though, was the sheer absurdity and craziness of the character. Picture this, a puritan-garbed, punisher-type man who travels the world like he's plagued by demons to root out all evil--all the while equipped with daggers, swords, pistols, a musket and a voodoo staff. He's the pilgrim version of the Terminator. It sounds like a joke.

    The stories in this book start off in England in classic swashbuckling style which is fine. Kane is sometimes involved with thwarting wrong-doers, sometimes more of a detective-type bearing witness to the awful darkness in the world. Then as the stories progress, you start to shift continents and Kane ends up in all these adventures in Africa where things go into "weird" territory (as Howard often does and in keeping with the Lovecraft tradition he was a part of). There are demons, shamans, ravenous animals, savages and battle-rushing cries screaming in the face of evil doers. Rambo with a religious bent. Everything you could ask for.

    Interestingly, Howard throws in a mix of historical mentions for setting and depth, but he doesn't hit you over the head with Kane's spiritual side. There are no cryptic and questionable bible-verse quotes, something I think a lot of modern authors might be tempted to throw in. There is also no romantic interest for this character...at all. He is a purely driven fanatic as he often says. Sort of refreshing in that the character doesn't fall into typical story lines. Some people might find this to mean that Solomon Kane is one-dimensional, but I disagree. As the tales carry on I think we do see some real depth in Kane as he struggles internally with the fact that, despite all his physical prowess, tenacity and cunning - he can't save the world from everything.

    On the negative side, these stories were written long ago and Howard suffered from old worldviews on race and evolution (and probably sexism). He was very interested in history and makes many references to racial histories, but there are parts that are somewhat cringe worthy if not offensive. That said, and keeping a historical perspective in mind, Solomon Kane’s stories have much merit in them, sometimes refreshingly so. Of note, Howard receives his voodoo staff from an African shaman whom he later dubs his “blood-brother” and he is often found coming to the rescue of African tribes being tortured or oppressed. To be sure, Solomon Kane, is intolerant of all evils whomever may perpetrate them and whomever they may be perpetrated against.

    This book is a great buy for anyone into the author and looking to checkout stories that aren't about his more famous character "Conan". It's also a pretty fast read given that it is actually a collection of short stories (Howard pretty much only wrote short stories) and it contains probably all the stories he ever wrote about the character including some poems and unfinished tales. It's also illustrated throughout, contains a bio on the author and a piece written by renown author H.P. Lovecraft on the author's untimely death.

    Also as part of my podcast I rewatched the film "Solomon Kane" directed by Michael Bassett.

    The spirit of the character is captured fairly well here and this film has a lot of heart and is executed well. There is some typical Hollywood tropes thrown in involving a redemption story and final "showdown" with a CGI version of the devil that were added to give more depth to the character, which I didn't quite care for.

    Obviously, the redemption story is added to give a character arc and make up for a perceived lack of back-story and depth. However, it's a little too typical. I wish they could have found another way to flesh out Kane, but the method is understandable. Kane is a religious figure so you would think he must go against the devil himself for the final battle..... Yet, I think that this takes away from the character's earthbound struggles and Howard actually avoided this in his writings. One of my cohosts on the podcast pointed out that in the book Kane is always suspecting devilry behind everything (almost to the point of paranoia), yet the devil himself never pops out and says "I've got you now Solomon Kane!". I think sometimes Hollywood might focus too much on "High Concept" story ideas that sort of cheapen things.

    Anyway, I found the effects pretty good (though, as I mentioned, on my podcast there was dissension about the requisite CGI demon at the end). The story is decent too. I found this movie on Netflix and was pleasantly surprised while watching it. I think it didn't get any real push when it was released, which is too bad cause it really is a solid little film. Not spectacular, but fairly true to the heart of the character which Robert E. Howard created so long ago. Worth checking out, and a lot better than others in this genre that were also not blockbusters.

    Anyway, this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively conversation on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes or our website: www.nodeodorant.com.

    Episode here: http://nodeodorantinouterspace.word...rt-e-howard-and-solomon-kane-michael-bassett/


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