The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane is my fifth of Del Rey’s eleven collected volumes of Robert E. Howard’s work. I introduced myself to Howard with the three volumes of Conan stories and then read the collection of his horror stories (my introduction to Solomon Kane was in that volume) before picking up this one. I am feeling pretty good about my reading order so far.
I have already written a fair amount about Solomon Kane stories (I wrote posts comparing “Skulls in the Stars” and “The Moon of Skulls” to other stories, and I wrote a post on “The Right Hand of Doom,” “Red Shadows,” and “Rattle of Bones”), so I will keep this brief. The bottom line: Solomon Kane is the better character than Conan, but Conan has stronger stories.
What do I mean when I say that Solomon Kane is the better character than Conan? Like John Wick, Solomon Kane is a man of focus, commitment, and . . . sheer will. Kane and Conan both leap off the page, but that sheer will, that zealous pursuit of justice, make a deeper impression than Conan’s more happy-go-luck view on life. Conan’s giant but often unseen melancholies help make his character great. Kane’s are upfront. He is also a man of contradictions: a man of faith but also a man of doubt with “a touch of the pagan.” There is a principle of public speaking: when you lower your voice, your audience will pay particular attention to what you say next as they strain to hear you. Howard wrote outstanding long curses and booming threats. None cut so deep as Kane’s quiet statement of fact as he stands over a dead, desecrated child: “Men shall die for this.”
Where Conan outstrips Kane is in the sheer variety of stories in which he is featured, from heist stories to war stories to frontier stories to pirate stories. Perhaps if Kane had been more popular with readers at the time things would have been different. The one thing that Kane’s stories have that Conan’s stories lacked is a strong horror element. Howard wrote horror very well.
I said in my post comparing “The Moon of Skulls” unfavorably to She that the African stories need N’Longa to temper them. Howard’s writing about black people collectively is ugly; his writing of individual black characters is much better. This is a very Southern way of looking at it (West Texas isn’t the South, but Howard’s roots were in the South). Sound reasoning, I think, but my actual thesis is wrong, because the N’Longa-less “Wings in the Night” is one of my favorite in the collection.
I will be returning to Howard’s Solomon Kane stories. And I really need to watch the movie adaptation. But the real question is: which Howard collection do I pick up next?
5 of 5 Stars.
PCBushi on Solomon Kane at Castalia House.
Jeffro Johnson on Solomon Kane at Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog.