The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane - Robert E. Howard, Gary Gianni I’ve been reading Robert E. Howard’s Conan for 30+ years now. I remember – and still have – the Science Fiction Book Club editions edited by the late Karl Wagner and I think any consideration of the best fantasy writing has to include “Beyond the Black River” and “A Witch Shall Be Born,” at the very least, but I was never much interested in reading any of the non-Conan stories Howard wrote.* I was always intrigued, however, by what I heard about “Solomon Kane” – a Puritan soldier-of-fortune who went around smiting the wicked. The idea of a fanatic, self-righteous, holier-than-thou Puritan slaughtering the heathen and the un-Godly sounded like such a “cool” idea. Recently, I had opportunity to utilize an Amazon gift card, and purchased Del Rey’s reissue of the Kane stories and…

There’s nothing “wrong” with the stories and fragments in this collection (assuming one can get past the racism**) but there’s nothing really “right” either. In short, they’re kind of boring. The passion and fun found in the best of the Conan stories is singularly lacking in all of these stories, as is the introspection found in the Kull canon. And there’s far too much exposition; this is Howard clearly learning how to write a story so I can only recommend it to a Howard completist and will be gifting my copy to my brother this Christmas.

* I read the Kull stories when I was in college but didn’t have the depth of imagination to really appreciate them, and it was only a middle-age reread that made me realize Howard’s largely unrealized potential as a writer worth remembering.

** The racism is not often worse than what you would find in much of the writing of the period (esp. in the pulps) but Howard does go way over the top in the last paragraphs of “Wings in the Night,” where he writes:

Kane stood with the ju-ju stave in one hand and the smoking pistol in the other, above the smoldering ruins that hid forever from the sight of man the last of those terrible, semi-human monsters whom another white-skinned hero had banished from Europe in an unknown age. Kane stood, an unconscious statue of triumph – the ancient empires fall, the dark-skinned peoples fade and even the demons of antiquity gasp their last, but over all stands the Aryan barbarian, white-skinned, cold-eyed, dominant, the supreme fighting man of the earth, whether he be clad in wolf-hide and horned helmet, or boots and doublet – whether he bear in his hand battle-ax or rapier – whether he be called Dorian, Saxon or Englishman – whether his name be Jason, Hengist or Solomon Kane.” (p. 320)