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Literature / Solomon Kane

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"It has fallen upon me, now and again in my sojourns through the world, to ease various evil men of their lives."

"He was a man born out of his time — a strange blending of Puritan and Cavalier, with a touch of the ancient philosopher, and more than a touch of the pagan, though the last assertion would have shocked him unspeakably. An atavist of the days of blind chivalry he was, a knight errant in the somber clothes of the fanatic. A hunger in his soul drove him on and on, an urge to right all wrongs, protect all weaker things, avenge all crimes against right and justice."
Robert E. Howard, "Moon of Skulls"

Solomon Kane is a character created by Robert E. Howard in 1928. He appears in several short stories by Howard published mostly in the pulp magazine Weird Tales. A 16th century English Puritan, Solomon Kane wanders the world with no apparent goal other than to vanquish evil in all its forms. His adventures often take him from Europe to the jungles of Africa and back.

Howard described him as a somber and gloomy man of pale face and cold eyes, all of it shadowed by a slouch hat. He is dressed entirely in black and his weaponry consists of a rapier, a dagger, and a couple of flintlock pistols. During one of his latter adventures his friend N'Longa, a black African shaman, gave him a juju staff that served as a protection against evil, but could easily be wielded as an effective weapon. It is revealed in another story, "The Footfalls Within," that this is the mythical Staff of Solomon, a talisman older than the Earth and unimaginably powerful, much more so than even N'Longa knew. In the same adventure with N'Longa, Kane is seen using a musket as well.

The Solomon Kane stories (like most of Howard's writing) are a peripheral part of the Cthulhu Mythos. C.J. Henderson's continuation of one unfinished story fragment, "Death's Black Riders", directly pits Kane against Tsathoggua, a well-known Great Old One.

In the 1970s Marvel Comics, who'd licenced several of Howard's creations (most notably Conan) gained the rights to publish comics based on Solomon Kane. The stories were a mix of new tales and direct adaptations, some of which linked their version of Kane into the wider Marvel Universe. Marvel eventually lost the licence to Dark Horse Comics, who started publishing their own adaptations in 2008. Marvel regained the licence in 2019, only to lose it again (this time to Titan Comics) in 2023.

Some of the original stories are now free to read here. As of 2010, he's having a bit of a renaissance, with a new comic, roleplaying game, and live-action movie.

    Stories by Robert E. Howard 
  • "Red Shadows". First published in August, 1928.
  • "Skulls in the Stars". First published in January, 1929.
  • "Rattle of Bones". First published in June, 1929.
  • "Blades of the Brotherhood", also known as "The Blue Flame of Vengeance". There are 3 known versions of this tale Two by Howard, and one by John Pocsik. Howard wrote his original version in 1929, but could not find a publisher for it. This version was first published in 1968. Howard wrote a second version in 1932, replacing Solomon Kane with Malachi Grim. This version was not published until 2007. Pocsik revised the original story and added new elements in it. His version was first published in 1964.
  • "The Moon of Skulls". First published in 2 parts, in June and July, 1930.
  • "Hills of the Dead". First published in August, 1930.
  • "The Footfalls Within". First published in September, 1931.
  • "Wings in the Night". First published in July, 1932.
  • "Solomon Kane's Homecoming". A poem, first published in Spring, 1936. An elderly Solomon Kane returns to his native Devon, contemplating retirement. He learns that Bess (apparently his former lover) is long dead, and nobody remembers him. He leaves home once again, heading for unknown destinations. The story is seen as a finale for the character, with the date estimated to c. 1610.
  • "The One Black Stain". Poem, first published in Spring 1962. Kane attends the trial and execution of Thomas Doughty (1545-1578). He has an argument with the man responsible Francis Drake (1540-1596). This is the only Solomon Kane story with a specific date for the events covered.
  • "The Right Hand of Doom". First published in 1968. Unusually, Solomon Kane is actually a peripheral character in this story.
  • "The Castle of the Devil". Left in fragmentary form, first published in 1968. Ramsey Campbell wrote a completed version of the story in 1978.
  • "The Children of Asshur". Left in fragmentary form, first published in 1968. Ramsey Campbell wrote a completed version of the story in 1978.
  • "Hawk of Basti". Left in fragmentary form, first published in 1968. Ramsey Campbell wrote a completed version of the story in 1978.
  • "The Return of Sir Richard Grenville". Poem. First published in 1968. Solomon Kane encounters the ghost of his old friend Richard Grenville (1542-1591).
  • "Death's Black Riders". Left in fragmentary form, first published in Spring, 1968. Several writers have created alternate completed versions of the story.

Tropes present in this work:

  • Abusive Precursors: Kane believes the Atlanteans to have been these, considering it good fortune that such a civilization would fall.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The underground civilization in "The Moon of Skulls" and the Akaana.
  • Animal Motifs: Solomon Kane is often likened to a wolf for his speed and fierce nature. His first foe in his first story ("Red Shadows") was a sadistic French mercenary called Le Loup (i.e the Wolf).
  • Anti-Hero: Of the Knight in Sour Armor variety.
  • As the Good Book Says...: For example, after the lost city of Negari collapses and crumbles, Kane recalls a prophetic passage of ruin from the book of Isaiah.
  • Backup from Otherworld: In the poem "The Return of Sir Richard Grenville", the ghost of the eponymous worthy (who was a real life historical figure) appears to fight side-by-side with his comrade-in-life Solomon Kane.
  • Badass Boast: A bit more somberly stated that most, but "It has fallen upon me, now and again in my sojourns through the world, to ease various evil men of their lives." Almost a Badass Creed, as he seems to like using the phrase (Once in "The Blue Flame of Vengeance", once in "The Castle of the Devil").
    • From "The Moon of Skulls", though it's more the opposite of a boast; it's a sign of humility;
      Nay, alone I am a weak creature, having no strength or might in me; yet in times past hath God made me a great vessel of wrath and a sword of deliverance. And, I trust, shall do so again.
    • It falls in line with Kane's strict Christian worldview. Even if he had the means to fight and destroy single-handed the murderous cult in "The Moon of Skulls" (which was blatantly impossible), this was mass murder, a great sin by itself. By shooting their skull idol, their own cruelty and madness drove them to self-destruction, while the earthquake (God's action) completed the razing of their city. Practically Kane used sword, dagger and pistol throughout only in self-defense and he ended the adventure with clean hands, which was a feat in itself.
    • The stories are peppered with them, but there's a wonderfully understated "boast" from Solomon, always a man of few words, in one of his first spoken lines in "Red Shadows":
      [Solomon] eased her to the earth, and touched her brow lightly. "Dead!" he muttered.... A dark scowl had settled on his somber brow. Yet he made no wild, reckless vow, swore no oath by saints or devils. "Men shall die for this," he said coldly.
  • Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: "Rattle of Bones" has a double-dose of this. The murderous innkeeper kills treacherous French bandit Gaston, saving Kane. And then the animated skeleton of a Russian sorcerer, unchained by Gaston before his death, kills the innkeeper, who was his murderer.
  • Bat Scare: Kane disturbs a swarm of bats while exploring a tunnel in "The Moon of Skulls". Normally this wouldn't have fazed him, but it happens in complete darkness, so it takes him a moment to realize they're harmless.
  • Berserk Button: Slavery. Kane, who keeps a remarkably cool head in front of the fiercest bandits and most horrifying Eldritch Abominations, becomes near hysterical with rage in "The Footfalls Within" when he sees a band of slavers torturing captured Africans.
    • At least one story mentions that Kane spent some time as a Turkish galley slave.
  • The Berserker: He's really a kind man, and usually almost uncannily calm and controlled, but when he does snap (like in "Wings in the Night"), it's quite a sight.
  • But Not Too Black: Zunna is referred to as a "higher type of Negro" due to her more traditionally Caucasian features, attributed to a Berber strain.
  • Canon Welding: Solomon Kane shares a universe with the creations of H. P. Lovecraft. One of the entities Kane has encountered is the Great Old One Tsathoggua.
  • Celibate Hero: Kane, though the poem "Solomon Kane's Homecoming" does hint he did have a lover in his youth.
  • Character Development: Kane has an arc in that he starts off very close-minded and suspicious of pagan magic, but through his friendship with N'longa he slowly starts to realize Voodoo magic may have a righteousness of its own in the end.
  • Church Militant: Or a milder Knight Templar, take your pick.
  • Collapsing Lair: In "The Moon of Skulls", the lost city of Negari is destroyed by an earthquake just after Kane kills the queen, and Kane is forced to flee through the collapsing city.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Kane vs. Sir George:
    With a great advantage in height, weight, strength, and reach, Kane had still other advantages - those of skill and of speed.
  • Darkest Africa: Oft does Kane venture forth into the thick dark jungles where the beasts make their lairs, the primitive tribesmen chant black magic, and naked rulers eat others.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: N'longa can be a bit creepy even to a modern reader. He's a good guy because he keeps limits on how to use his significant magical powers, mainly to help others.
  • Dem Bones: In "Rattle of Bones", before his death, a sorcerer pledges vengeance on his murderer. His skeletal corpse is animated with that intent, but the murderer leaves it chained to a wall so it can't reach him. Until Kane's companion breaks the chain...
  • The Determinator: Kane will pursue wrong-doers across all continents to avenge the innocent and defeat villains.
  • Devil, but No God: Kane comes across various kinds of supernatural phenomena in his travels, both good and evil, but never anything that would confirm the existence of his God, and this causes him a great deal of internal turmoil.
    • Considering his setting and stories are part of the Cthulhu Mythos, it's likely that the God he worships doesn't exist.
  • Diamonds in the Buff: The evil Queen Nakari in "The Moon Of Skulls" is naked save for a skirt of ostrich feathers, rich golden bracelets and anklets and a plumed helmet. Which for a modern reader would simply convey a barbarian Queen of the Darkest Africa, but which was also typical for the attire of cabaret dancers and strippers of the 1930s, when the story was published. A period reader would understand the titillating allusion much better.
  • Doomed Fellow Prisoner: In "The Moon of Skulls", Kane is imprisoned alongside the last surviving pureblood Atlantean. The Atlantean relates to him the history of the city of Negari before expiring, seemingly of old age.
  • Dual Wielding: Kane often uses a rapier and a dagger.
  • Duel to the Death: Kane engages in these often with his human opponents.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Kane sometimes battles these.
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue: N'longa. When he speaks to Kane through his dreams and in one of the river languages Kane knows, he's impressively well-spoken to the point of delivering a fairly epic Dark Is Not Evil speech at the end of "The Hills of the Dead". However, he sticks to pidgin English when talking to Kane simply because he's proud that he's learned it.
    • He also seems to be aware that he spooks Kane out, and makes with a bit of Uncle Tomfoolery to avoid becoming too threatening with his black magic to a Puritan Christian.
  • Evil Counterpart: Le Loup, the sadistic French mercenary from "Red Shadows", is of a similar background to Kane himself (hardcore war veterans, expert swordsmen, now wandering the world) and both are likened to wolves.
  • For Great Justice: Kane's motivation, although more grim about it than usual for the trope.
    • Interestingly, the live-action movie provided some background as to Kane's motivation. In Howard's original stories, however, we are never given any motivation for Kane pursuing the life he does.
  • Genius Bruiser: Kane, for he is not only a skilled swordfighter but also crafts cunning plans within his imaginative mind.
  • Guns Akimbo: With two snaphaunce (an early form of flintlock) pistols. They're single-shot weapons, so it actually makes sense and was done in real life.
  • Harping on About Harpies: The akaanas from "Wings in the Night".
  • Helping Hands: "The Right Hand of Doom" revolves around a sorcerer who, having been sentenced to death for practicing magic, uses his last night before the hanging to amputate his right hand and send it skittering off to assassinate the treacherous friend who sold him out to the authorities before he could flee to France.
  • Hungry Jungle: African wilderness. N'longa even says as much:
    N'longa: “You take care—that one fellow jungle, she pluck your bones yet!"
  • Ideal Hero: The case could be made that he's one of these instead of a Anti-Hero; the strongest supporting evidence toward this argument lies in the finale of "The Blue Flame of Vengeance" where he tries to talk one of the villains into walking away from the fight and from the evil men he has aligned himself with. When the villain refuses and subsquently dies, Solomon is visibly grieved and exits the story in a somber mood.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: In "Rattle of Bones", it should come as no surprise that the 'Cleft Skull Tavern' turns out to be an Inn of No Return.
  • Inn of No Return: In "Rattle of Bones", the 'Cleft Skull Tavern' is run by a man who claims he was falsely imprisoned in the Karlsruhe dungeons. He now murders all travellers who stop at his inn as revenge on all men for his false imprisonment.
  • It's Probably Nothing: In "Footfalls Within", the titular footfalls are blithely dismissed as "nothing" by a bunch of slavers, with foreseeable consequences.
  • Kangaroo Court: The poem "The One Black Stain" deals with the aftermath of the (Real Life) trial and execution of Thomas Doughty by Sir Francis Drake:
    Solomon Kane stood forth alone,
    grim man of sober face:
    "Worthy of death he may well be,
    but the trial ye held was mockery,
    "Ye hid your spite in a travesty
    where justice hid her face."
  • Killer Gorilla: One features in the climax of "Red Shadows".
  • Knight Templar: Kane, though much more heroic than most.
  • Last of His Kind: Kane meets the last Atlantian in the Lost city of Negari during "The Moon of Skulls", who gives a long account of the rise and fall of his people before dying out for good.
  • Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: Kane's human opponents often challenge him thusly (for example, Le Loup and Fishhawk). Even without using underhanded tactics, they stand a good chance.
  • Load-Bearing Boss: Seemingly Nakari in "The Moon of Skulls", or possibly the holy skull Nakura itself. An earthquake destroys the hidden city mere minutes after the skull is shattered and Nakari is killed.
  • Logical Weakness: Kane and N'longa encounter a tribe of zombies (well, they call them vampires, but are closer to the modern definition). They're defeated by N'longa summoning a gigantic wave of vultures, who know dead meat when they see it.
  • Lost World: "The Moon of Skulls" is set in the hidden city of Negari, located within a mountain valley in Darkest Africa.
  • Magical Negro: N'Longa, but only in the literal sense - N'longa helped Kane so he could reclaim his recently usurped position of power in his tribe. He's not so much a saintly, benevolent figure that solely uses his (actual) magic to aid the white Kane as he is a clever man who knows how to play a situation to his advantage.
    • He does come to Kane's aid in later stories simply to provide magical aid that Kane desperately needs to survive certain encounters. Once he even possesses the body of a young warrior from miles away to help Kane fight some vampires.
  • Man Bites Man: In "The Children of Asshur." Kane is not above ripping an opponent's throat out with his teeth when necessary.
  • Meaningful Name: A deeply religious man and determined killer who bears the names of the man most favored by God and the first murderer.
  • Mighty Whitey: Subverted in "Wings in the Night", when villagers in Africa, impressed by Solomon's guns, beg him to protect them against flying monsters. Kane is helpless when an overwhelming horde of monsters slaughter the entire population.
    • Subverted again in "Hills Of The Dead", when a girl impressed by Kane's one-shot kill of a charging lion deems him a god. With humility fitting a Puritan he answers "I'm no God, just a man like you, though my skin color is different". Despite this, she keeps calling him a god.
    • The series as a whole seems to love subverting this trope; Kane's very first adventure sees him coming to an African village and being asked for help by a local wizard - and then the wizard himself ends up resolving the situation without Kane's help.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: Solomon is quite often ("Red Shadows", "The Moon of Skulls", "The Footfalls Within", "The Blue Flame of Vengeance") laser-focusing on a missing white girl in danger (despite the fact more often than not a lot of other people are also in danger). On his defense, he almost always ends up saving the other people in danger as well.
  • Mission from God: Kane is a relentless righter of wrongs. The fact that this generally involves killing people doesn't seem to bother him much (if at all).
  • Monstrous Cannibalism: The flying harpy-like creatures from "Wings in the Night" are alleged to have eaten their own kind when drought depleted their usual prey.
  • Mundanger: The Fishhawk and his men from "Blades of the Brotherhood".
  • The Musketeer: Kane normally discharges both of his pistols before drawing his rapier and dagger.
  • Old Soldier: Marylin Taferal, the English girl he saves from slavery in "The Moon of Skulls", remembers Kane as a Captain back in the British Isles many years before.
  • Pirate: In "Blades of the Brotherhood", Kane battles the Fishhawk and his fellow pirates on the English coast.
  • Powder Trail: Kane uses one to kill the majority of Le Loup's gang in "Red Shadows".
  • Precursors: Kane meets the last Atlantian man in Negari's dungeon. He tells Kane of the vast, terrible ocean empire of his people that ruled great swathes of the world in times past and then dies.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: If you keep slaves, Kane will end you. It's the only sort of crime that almost immediately makes Solomon lose all cool and recklessly throw himself at danger.
  • Speak of the Devil: Nearly used in "The Blue Flame of Vengeance", except that Solomon shows up right as the Fishhawk is about to say his name.
  • Sword and Gun: Kane often fights with his rapier in one hand and his pistol in the other.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Downplayed in "The Right Hand of Doom", but the story opens with Solomon condemning John Redly for betraying the wizard Roger Simeon, as even if he does think Roger deserves to die for his practicing of magic, he finds John Redly contemptible for betraying a man who trusted him and called him friend simply for money, not out of any sense of real justice. Perhaps this is why he is relatively passive when Roger Simeon's hand comes creeping in through the window to murder the traitor, doing little more than shout a brief, too-late warning.
    Solomon Kane: I say... that you have this day done a damnable deed! Yon necromancer was worthy of death, belike, but he trusted you, naming you his one friend... and you betrayed him for a few filthy coins! Methinks you will meet him again some day — in Hell!
  • Tranquil Fury: Most of Kane's duels with a Worthy Opponent are fought in this state, and his unspeaking, righteous stoicism contrasts sharply with human adversaries' snarky attitudes. Averted when his foes are supernatural enough to creep him out, although he shifts to Unstoppable Rage if such menaces are harming innocent people.
  • Translation Convention: The stories will occasionally make note of the fact that while we're reading conversations in English, for ease of reading, Solomon is actually speaking to people in their native tongues (this is particularly evident when dealing with the Arab slavers in The Footfalls Within).
  • Überwald: Solomon's adventures in continental Europe usually take place there.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Nakari, although we don't really learn about it until after the fact.
  • Walking the Earth: Kane is stricken with an insatiable wanderlust.
  • Weapon of X-Slaying: Kane finds the staff gifted to him by N'Longa to be this type of weapon against supernatural foes.
  • We Can Rule Together: Nakari makes this sort of offer to Kane, and he actually thinks about it, but then ultimately refuses.
  • The Witch Hunter: Kane is a quite unambiguously good case, as his friendship with N'Longa (a pagan magic-user) shows. He despises actual, official witch hunters.