Pilgrim Avenger: Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane

Solomon Kane Gary Gianni

Solomon Kane – Artist: Gary Gianni

When we think of Thanksgiving, we usually think of turkey, family, and maybe give a passing thought to the pilgrims who almost starved to death if not for the help of the Native Americans. However, when we think of pilgrims, we often picture plain-faced souls wearing buckled hats. What we don’t think of are demon hunters doomed to walk the Earth ridding it of evil. Personally, I prefer to think of these people as the latter, a band of dour Dean Winchesters dispelling monsters from the earth. If this version of the Puritans seems like something you might enjoy, I’d suggest reading the adventure stories featuring grim Puritan, evil-squelcher Solomon Kane.

Solomon Kane is the creation of pulp writer Robert E. Howard, who is perhaps best known for creating Conan the Cimmerian. “Red Shadows,” published in Weird Tales Magazine in 1928, was the first of nine short stories featuring the Puritan hero. The character of Kane was described thusly in his introductory tale:

“A tall man, as tall as Le Loup he was, clad in black from head to foot, in plain, close-fitting garments that somehow suited the somber face. Long arms and broad shoulders betokened the swordsman, as plainly as the long rapier in his hand. The features of the man were saturnine and gloomy. A kind of dark pallor lent him a ghostly appearance in the uncertain light, an effect heightened by the satanic darkness of his lowering brows. Eyes, large, deep-set and unblinking, fixed their gaze upon the bandit, and looking into them, Le Loup was unable to decide what color they were. Strangely, the mephistophelean trend of the lower features was offset by a high, broad forehead, though this was partly hidden by a featherless hat. That forehead marked the dreamer, the idealist, the introvert, just as the eyes and the thin, straight nose betrayed the fanatic.”

The Kane stories are mixed between historical high adventure and supernatural horror. As Solomon Kane wanders the world (England and Africa primarily), his sole aim is to destroy the wicked and avenge the wronged, all in the name of God. His adventures lead him to cross paths with pirates, bandits, and monsters. Using his rapier and trusty flintlock pistols, Kane is more than happy to mete out his dour grimdark of justice. According to writer and editor Douglas Cohen, in his blog for Tor.com concerning Howard’s Pilgrim avenger, “He is a bit like Marvel’s Punisher, in that whenever possible Kane deals out death to those he considers evil.  The main difference between them in terms of psychology is that Kane believes he’s doing God’s work.  Kane always strives to do good as he sees fit.  The wonderful twist to this avenging angel of goodness is that Howard makes it abundantly clear that Solomon Kane is a functioning madman.” * Cohen seems to nail the character perfectly. Like other Howard creations, he is an anti-hero, following his own code, which inevitably leads to bloodshed.

These stories feature all of the angst of an episode of Supernatural, but are also fun period adventures, and can be found in collections of Howard’s work, as well as on the internet via Project Gutenberg. So if you’re looking for an geeky, off-beat way to spend your Thanksgiving holiday, you might consider giving the tales of Solomon Kane a whirl.

*Cohen’s essay about Kane is a brilliant dissection of the character and how his growth and torment is reflected in the life of his creator. You can read it HERE.

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