Solomon Kane

"Red Shadows", the first published Solomon Kane story tells you all you need to know about his character: Kane is a fanatical Puritan, who does everything in his power to avenge the wrongs he sees. He has very little sense of humour, none actually, but he is a man, who will hunt his prey to the end of the Earth if need be. This is what happens in the "Red Shadows".

Solomon Kane finds a dying girl, who tells him of a bandit group led by a man called Le Loupe. Despite Kane doesn't know the girl, he vows upon her death to see justice be done on the bandits. In the next chapter, he has already killed most of them, not all directly as he does know how to trap his enemies as well, especially when they out stage him in numbers. But Le Loupe escapes him, so Kane needs to start a long trek trailing him, a trek that takes him to Africa. And finally there to story ends. Most of the journey is told only in a couple of sentences before the final confrontation.

As such it's not a strong story, as it clearly feels like something that would have needed more fleshing out, but it does serve as a good vessel of introduction to a grim character of Kane,  probably the second best-known character of Howards.

Kane shares some familiar traits with Conan and Kull. Just like them, he's also a tall, dark-haired and muscular. He knows how to fight and he does so often, be it by hand or with his rapier or pistols. At times he even uses a magical staff he got from an ancient African Ju-ju man. Like Conan, Kane travels to all corners of the Earth, but unlike Conan, Kane always has a mission. If not a direct one, it is the feeling that God is leading him to confront evils of the world.

The avenger of evil deeds, that is how Kane sees himself. A knight-errant, who walks the Earth, saving people from the clutches of evil, no matter where they are. To him it doesn't matter if the people in danger are European or tribal Africans, as long as there's evil, he will do all in his power to vanquish it. This drive to battle evil is to the common backdrop of the stories. At times Kane is just travelling somewhere, not knowing why other than that there's a calling for it. Though on a couple of occasions he is on a specific hunt, looking for some old enemy or an evildoer.

This trait Kane has really made him stand out as an entity of his own. Despite the world, he lives in is a descendant of the world of Kull and Conan, the stories rarely feel like Howard is rehashing the things he's written before. With Kane, he actually blended in more references to real-world mythologies, like from Greek, Roman and Mesopotamia. The monsters Kane fights often make him reflect upon what old mythologies might have more truth in them, as he recognises them from one old myth or an another.

And another interesting thing about Kane stories is the nature of racism on them. They have some of it in them, considering the time they were written on, but as far describing of native Africans go for an example, Howard is actually pretty docile. Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs for an example is far worse than what Howard ever succumbs in his stories. As an example, Tarzan in Burroughs's novels finds killing and tormenting natives to be a fun activity, Kane doesn't really want to harm anyone he deems innocent and good and overall he sees people as people, no matter their background.

There are some throws in the line of the superiority of white race on some stories, but as a whole Kane himself embraces all the people, seeing the good in them, He doesn't turn his back on a group of black men taken slaves. He's willing to put his own life on the line in order to save them, even if he knows that he's outgunned.

This all he does, because he is a man of God. Kane is a Puritan through and through. He rarely swears and he doesn't fornicate nor steal. He tries to live his life without sin, but he's the first to acknowledge that he's a sinner and that the things he does are an atonement for his sin, whatever they may be.

All this is why Kane is an interesting character, despite he is a joyless and at times a cruel person. He has an outlook he believes in. no matter what. He's someone who tries to do good for good's sake, not because he wants something from it for himself.

Howard wrote 9 Solomon Kane stories before his suicide. They vary from monster hunt to revenge stories and there are even a couple of ghost stories in the mix as well. As a whole, they are well written and interesting, despite some might feel a tad formulaic or even silly at times. But more often than not, Howard always has an interesting hook on them, even if the structure might feel familiar. At times it's the other people around Kane, at times it's the fractures in Kane's own Puritanical appearance that make the stories worthwhile.

Other Solomon Kane stories include poems and some unfinished stories, that were later on resolved by other writers. Howard himself managed to write some of these unwritten stories in variable length, some for just a couple of lines, some several chapters, so those other writers just jumped in from where Howard left off.

I must admit, I found Kane to be a far more compelling character than I recalled. I've always thought him as a somewhat dull character, but now, after re-reading his tales, I see I've been wrong. He doesn't have the mirth of Conan nor the pondering nature of Kull, but he is a man of many qualities and complexities. Overall he feels as complete a character as Conan does and as a person, he's someone who tries to make the world a better place. And considering the time we live on, that's not a bad thing at all.