A fun little NES game, to be sure. But I only mention it because it sprung to mind when thinking about the real topic at hand.
A holy man may or may not have once said “[T]he [K]ane is the remedy for every passion.” In other words, Solomon Kane is a kickass character whose stories can cure what ails you, if what ails you is a lack of sweet fantasy stories.
Last week my first post for the Castalia House blog went up. Jeffro had asked me if I’d be interested in joining the recently exploded cadre of talented writers over there by contributing a biweekly post on my SFF meanderings. I’ve long held to the proscribed wisdom of surrounding yourself with people smarter than you are, so I gladly signed on.
Largely at Kaiju’s prompting, I’ve circled back to Robert E Howard of late. As if I don’t have enough unread authors to get to! But the gift of the Savage Tales of Solomon Kane was on point, as is usual from my friend. I’m nearing the end of the volume now, and savoring each story about our grim hero.
One thing that’s become clear to me is the error of Tor’s 2008 piece on Kane. While it’s true that the crusader is tortured and cursed, describing him as a “functioning madman” just doesn’t do the character justice. It’s true that what we see of Kane’s attitude towards evil does seem to change over time. In the jungles of Africa, Kane picks up a powerful ally – the sorcerer N’Longa.
This “blood brother” gifts him a mysterious staff, which has the power to vanquish evils that cannot be harmed by steel or other mundane weapons. For a time Kane is conflicted on both N’Longa and the stave.
Of N’Longa, Solomon at first thinks that he is conspiring with a Satanic wizard, but is resigned to do so in order to fight a darker evil. After a time and the ju ju man’s assistance in slaying a horde of vampires, however, Kane reassesses:
Kane listened unspeaking, seeing for the first time in N'Longa's glittering eyes something stronger and deeper than the avid gleam of the worker in black magic. To Kane it seemed almost as if he looked into the far-seeing and mystic eyes of a prophet of old. - "The Hills of the Dead"
It seems that there is more to the old magic man. Perhaps something divine or divinely guided.
Similarly, Kane has misgivings about the staff, but determines once again that it may take evil to defeat evil. It ultimately turns out that the wood is the very same wielded by Moses and Solomon in the Bible. Kane’s faith and determination is vindicated once again.
Though I originally compared our dark avenger to Batman, Tor’s evocation of the Punisher also seems apt. Or Judge Dredd, perhaps? Yes, Kane sees a divine purpose in his “just murder.” But the tales seem to indicate a sort of providence both guiding and vindicating this belief.
The fact that he clearly wrestles with these issues, though, and that he acknowledges that someday he may be punished by God for his deeds, indicates that he is both sane and morally driven. He doesn’t know for a fact that what he does is right, but that’s what faith is about – living out your beliefs without ever being presented with ironclad proof.
Were he mad, he would likely not suffer doubt or regret, nor would he grapple with weighty decisions. It’s true that Kane is resolute; a man of action. But he is also introspective.
No, Kane is not a madman. His sanity has not slipped away. Rather, he’s seen some shit. Horrors of both fantastic and human nature. Call it PTSD; call it age and countless unwanted, haunting memories. But Conan and Kull could take it, and Solomon Kane is no less a mensch than they. These are Howardian men; men of valor and blood. This strikes me as key to understanding our dark knight.