Thursday, December 07, 2006

Definitely not Conan.....

The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane
by: Robert E. Howard

I'm not a Conan fan. Yes - I'm a total comic book/sci-fi/fantasy geek. But Conan annoys me - the hyper-masculinity, the lack of character development, the adolescence of the barbarian worship. Yet - yet, Robert E. Howard does have one thing many other better writers lack: Energy. His tales sparkle with life, and his prose - while sometimes clunky and cliched - pulsates and moves, twists and turns and refuses to stay put.

Because of that, I figured I would give this book a try. It features one of Howard's lesser known heroes: a 16th century Puritan with an unquenchable wanderlust and an unforgiving desire for vengeance. And I was well rewarded. Solomon Kane is a true original character, the best Howard created.

The science fiction writer Orson Scott Card once wrote that the best stories were written when the author tries to reconcile two seemingly incongruous elements. And that is exactly what Robert E. Howard has done. He has taken the archetypal primitive barbarian that make up most of his tales (such as Kull, Conan, Bran Mak Morn) and placed him in a 16th century setting with an Old World Puritan sensibility. And the combination is powerful: Solomon Kane is a character that deserves a much wider audience. It's too bad most readers will see "by the creator of Conan" and walk on by like I nearly did.

[One note: even Howard's usual racism and ethnocentrism find themselves undercut at every turn. While definitely products of the first half of the 20th century, nearly every tale that seems somewhat racist at its front deconstructs its own cultural assumptions by the end, often poking fun at any ideas of racial superiority. For example, one tale hinges on the idea that all current races - white, black, whatever - are descendants of inferior slave races that once served the true master race: the brown skinned inhabitants of Atlantis. However, because of Howard's quite reactionary (even for the early 20th century) views on race, these tales may upset quite a few readers. Consider this my disclaimer.].

7 comments:

Daniel said...

The Island of Dr. Moreau was disturbing and had racist undertones.

It was also an arresting tale, in a grotesque way. I couldn't believe some of the ideas the author had in that book.

I might have to take your suggestion and pick up this story somewhere.

danithew said...

Bah, that link is bad. You can find me at http://www.blognitivedissonance.com

Friar Tuck said...

Again I learn something new everyday. Have not ever really been interested in fantasy kind of stuff really

Anonymous said...

Everyone insists R. E. Howard is a racist yet he does have as Kane's right hand man an old African shaman who has given Kane his #1 weapon the aforementioned staff. And most times the regular natives are quite decent folks who Kane helps whenever he is needed. He certainly hates the slavers and battles them throughout.

Ivan Wolfe said...

All of that is true, anonymous, but Howard's Bran Mak Morn tales, his personal correspondence and Solomon Kane's patronizing attitude towards Africans show that Howard was hardly enlightened. That he could occasionally transcend his own biases (such as in the Kane tales) shows that he was a better artist than most realize - but it doesn't mean he wasn't somewhat racist.

Kike said...

Daniel: are you serious? H.G. Wells was a very intelligent guy and incredibly advanced for its time. I think you must read again the book.

Stephen said...

Howard was hardly enlightened. That he could occasionally transcend his own biases (such as in the Kane tales) shows that he was a better artist than most realize

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