Book Review: The Savage Worlds of Solomon Kane

Howard, Robert E. The Savage Worlds of Solomon Kane (Del Ray Reprint, 2004) E-book.

Although best known as the creator of Conan the Barbarian, Robert Howard had a number of other memorable protagonists, including the lean Puritan with glittering dark eyes, Solomon Kane. He traveled the world righting wrongs and sending the doers of evil to their fate, whatever that might be. The stories are set in Europe and Africa of the late 1600s, although there are a number of hints and nods to lost civilizations such as Atlantis and Mu.

I like the stories better than I like Conan. OK, I said it, yes, Solomon Kane is a more intriguing protagonist to me than Conan is. I think it is my Calvinist streak. I freely admit that once or twice I gritted my teeth at Howard’s, ah, let us say, interesting interpretation of Congregationalist beliefs. And some of Kane’s and the author’s descriptions of different ethnic groups will make modern readers twitch. However, they do fit a lot of what I have read from the time, and Kane himself is not racist in the way that some readers will take him. He will aid anyone in need, be they Protestant, Catholic, European, African, man or woman, and judges people by their character. Yes, some of the descriptions of African societies are appalling to modern sensibilities. Just keep reading.

There is a strong element of horror in many of the stories, of dark mysteries best left untouched by mortal men, of evil too long nourished in the shadows. Kane is never really surprised by these, which also fits the mental world Howard has built. To take David H. Fischer very far out of context, “A Puritan was someone who was never disillusioned.” Kane has no illusions about his world. However, he is determined to right the wrongs that he finds, be they done to Europeans or others.

One of the strengths of these stories is Howard’s detailed descriptions of the setting and characters. He is not terse, but uses language to lure the reader into the world he created. You can see, smell the places Kane walks, feel the heat of the sun, hear the silence that should not be so quiet. The descriptions of fight scenes are also excellent, and are well choreographed.

Some stories begin with quotations by G. K. Chesterton, an intriguing combination. And Kane’s extended quotation from Isiah at the end of one novella will have readers hunting for the rest of the passage. Hint: there’s a reason that part of the book is not generally used for sermons.

The collection includes short stories, story fragments of varying length, novella-length stories, and three poems. An introduction by H. P. Lovecraft (fitting), and a biographical essay about Howard round out the volume. There are also extensive notes as to what was changed between the original manuscripts, the pulp-magazine version, and this edition.

If you can read past some of the character’s attitudes to non-English people, the book is a great collection of swashbuckling horror and adventure. Those who say that horror is the most moral genre would certainly point to these stories as a clear example. I’m sorry Howard didn’t write more, and I’d love to know what propelled Solomon Kane to leave Devonshire and roam the world. Alas, we will not know.

I enjoyed the stories and novellas, and recommend the collection, either in print or as an e-book. The illustrations transferred very well and looked crisp on my older Paperwhite.

FTC Note: I purchased this book for my own pleasure and received no remuneration from the publisher for this review.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: The Savage Worlds of Solomon Kane

    • Howard is the author. Solomon Kane is the character (and who I was talking about). đŸ˜‰

  1. I’ve been reading Solomon Kane stories a little at a time; it takes more time to read and appreciate these tales. He’s complex and subtler than Conan, but a warrior at heart. Think of him like a Bossonian Marches captain from the Hyborean Age. He’s civilized and religious, but there’s a flinty vein of vengeance and righteousness under the surface, caused by his ancestor’s interactions with the boundaries and the people beyond. Devonshire is one of the wild, less populated places where it feels as if the world’s borders are thin, and strange or dangerous things seek to cross over and cause harm.

  2. I’m not surprised you like Kane more than Conan. I came to Conan first, at just the right age, so Conan is my default Howard reading.

    The thing a lot of people don’t realize is that Conan was intentionally created to be a commercial fantasy series character. Most of Howard’s other characters, such as Solomon Kane, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, as well as his non fantasy characters such as Sailor Steve Costigan, were not written with the intention of getting the cover slot on Weird Tales. Conan was, which is why there are often more pulpy elements such as naked women in the Conan stories than in the other series.

    Which is not to say that the Conan stories don’t contain some of Howard’s best writing. “The People of the Black Circle”, “Red Nails”, “The Tower of the Elephant” are among some of the best things Howard wrote. And let’s not forget “Beyond the Black River”, in which Howard clearly states his views on barbarism and civilization. (Allma, have you read this one? I would be interested in your thoughts. I got an assignment for a series that will run at Black Gate to argue that this story is the best Conan story.)

    Also, Howard wrote straight historical fiction that is extremely good and well worth checking out. It’s collected several places, but the easiest collection to find is Sword Woman. He would have probably written more except that it was easier to sell fantasy, and the man had to eat.

    • “Beyond the Black River”? Good story with surprises, thrills and suspense. I’d be glad to read other considerations of it, and will reserve my opinion beyond mentioning that. I’ll need to start reading over at Black Gate more frequently.

    • Fredericksburg and a lot of other places. Some biographers think part of the reason his heroes all roam is because Howard never had a really settled childhood, in the sense of living in one place for an extended period.

  3. Thanks for posting this informative review. On the topic of Atlantis, I’ve heard that there “are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the universe, with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans. That they may have been the architects of the Great Pyramids, or the lost civilizations of Lemuria, or Atlantis.” đŸ™‚

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