Saturday, November 25, 2023

Solomon Kane - The Skull in the Stars

One of Robert E. Howard's most iconic characters, along with Bran Mak Morn, Conan, and Kull, is Solomon Kane. The character's first published appearance was in a short story called “Red Shadows”, which was published in the August, 1928 issue of Weird Tales. Mixing sword-and-sorcery and horror, Howard's Solomon Kane stories feature a late 16th century Puritan who adventures around the world fighting evil. 

My introduction to the character is the January, 1929 issue of Weird Tales which features a Solomon Kane short called “Skulls in the Stars”. In the story, Kane is departing a small town in England and is faced with two separate roads to reach his next destination, a village called Torkertown. In the opening paragraph, Howard offers one road as a shorter, more direct route for Kane across a barren upland moor and the second option as a longer tortuous route through a dreadful swamp. Debating the decision, a boy passing by warns – downright prohibits – Kane from taking the moor road. He urges that Kane avoid the moor road because it is haunted by some sort of foul horror that claims men for his victims. Naturally, the adventuring Kane decides to travel the moor road.

Providing any additional insight into this story may spoil your enjoyment, so I'll stray from further plot points. But, Howard's story is just an exceptional blend of supernatural horror and the traditional monomyth of a hero's journey through danger. The author's descriptions of horrifying things lying in wait along the isolated, non-traveled road is superb. I love this:

“Then the thing began to take on shape, vague and indistinct. Two hideous eyes flamed at him – eyes which held all the stark horror which has been the heritage of man since the fearful dawn ages – eyes frightful and insane, with an insanity transcending earthly insanity. The form of the thing was misty and vague, a brain-shattering travesty on the human form, like, yet horribly unlike.”

What I really like about the Kane character, which I'm introduced to in this macabre tale, is his use of two long pistols as well as a rapier sword. There is a unique dynamic approach to the hero's skill-set, which will introduce yet another weapon to his repertoire – a magical staff – in future stories. He's a Puritan, with an eye for injustice and evil and a heart dedicated to the power of all things good. 

With just one story as my trial size, I can see why this character receives so much admiration and loyalty. “Skulls in the Stars” is one of the finest stories I've read this year. Highly recommended! 

1 comment:

  1. Did you know that Howard wrote a few poems featuring Solomon Kane?

    https://youtu.be/q8XXXBkW4vc

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