Saturday, June 29, 2024

Solomon Kane - The Right Hand of Doom

Robert E. Howard's 16th century Puritan hero Solomon Kane made his first appearance in the August, 1928 issue of Weird Tales. The stories that feature the character are a good mix of sword-and-sorcery and horror, and I really enjoyed my first experience with the character in “Skulls in the Stars". I went back to the foggy moors and terrifying towns for another Solomon Kane story, “The Right Hand of Doom”. The story was never published in Howard's lifetime having been rejected by Weird Tales. The first publication was in the book Red Shadows (Grant 1968). It has appeared numerous times over the years. My version is in the Baen collection titled Solomon Kane from 1995. It has a Ken Kelly cover and an introduction by horror author Ramsey Campbell. 

This story seems to take place before “Skulls in the Stars”, although chronology doesn't matter in any of these. In that story, Kane is deciding which road to take to Torkertown and then proceeds to a haunted path. In “The Right Hand of Doom”, Kane is staying overnight in an English inn at least a day's ride from Torkertown. It's in this inn's bar that Kane has an interaction with a loud-mouthed traitor.

A man named John Redly prances into the inn and declares that a necromancer will be executed by hanging. Kane already knows about the relationship between the necromancer and Redly. After Redly boasts about the necromancer's capture, and hints that he was paid for helping with the capture, Kane is quick to scold the man. He tells Redly that the necromancer surely was worthy of death, but that the necromancer trusted Redly as a friend and that friendship was broken for a few filthy coins. He goes on to say he thinks Redly and the necromancer will meet in Hell some day. Strong words.

Kane goes to bed, but his sleep is disturbed when he hears a scampering outside as if something is crawling up the wall. He grabs his rapier (sword) and goes into the next room where Redly is sleeping. Kane is shocked to see a large spider making its way to Redly's throat, eventually crushing the man's neck in one fatal squeeze. On further inspection, he discovers it is a human hand! Kane thrusts his rapier through the hand and proceeds to toss it into the fire off-page. 

The next morning Kane interviews a young man to determine what the necromancer's experiences were in jail and if anything peculiar happened. The man says that the necromancer's last wish was to have his hand cut off. I won't ruin the surprise for you, but you get where this is going. 

This story reminded me of another Robert E. Howard work called “Mistress of Death”, which was later adapted into a Conan comic called “Curse of the Undead-Man” in Savage Sword of Conan #1. In that story, a sorcerer is publicly executed but his severed finger becomes reanimated and finds its way back to the dead sorcerer. Both the finger in that story and the hand in this one feature a magic ring. It also reminds me of the 1981 Michael Caine film The Hand

While Solomon Kane isn't prominent in this short horror story, I still found “The Right Hand of Doom” enjoyable. The dialogue between Kane and Redly at the beginning of the story is well worth the price of admission. Kane's cool and perceptive eyes just ooze off the page and resonate like a veteran gunslinger staring down a boastful cardsharp. The condemnation he heaps on Redly is cold-blooded brilliance. I absolutely love these Kane stories and I'm finding this character to be one of my favorites of the Howard bibliography. 

Get a copy of a Solomon Kane omnibus HERE.

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