Sunday, 16 March 2008

Solomon Kane

When I was in London last week, I picked up a copy of The Right Hand of Doom and Other Tales of Solomon Kane by Robert E Howard. This is one of the classily packaged and attractively priced Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural series by Wordsworth Editions.

Why Wordsworth Editions have styled Robert E Howard as R Howard on the cover, I do not know. This is like putting C Lewis or J Tolkien. It is just a bit odd.

I know Robert E Howard from reading his Conan stories when I was a teenager. I first came across Conan the Barbarian in his Marvel Comics version, and then read the paperback books. The covers featured paintings I am a little bit ashamed (but not so much) to admit to having greatly admired. They were by Frank Frazetta. The fearless musclebound barbarian with a nubile slave girl draped round his overdeveloped quads was an exact opposite of my young self in every way. Actually he is quite dissimilar to my present self, come to think of it.

Howard was American: a Depression-era pulp fiction writer, a contemporary (and friend) of H P Lovecraft, and they both contributed to the pulp magazine Weird Tales in the late 20s and early 30s. Howard wrote sword-and-sorcery like Conan, westerns, detectives stories - all sorts of stuff. He put a bullet in his head when he was only thirty.

Solomon Kane also had a Marvel Comics outing apparently - though it passed me by. He is a bizarre creation: a kind of avenging angel in the shape of a sword-wielding 17th Century Puritan. It is all utter nonsense, of course. The historical setting is so lightly sketched as to be all but invisible and the plots lurch about all over the place.

And yet there is something compelling about the way he writes. He grabs you and drags you through his weird, weird world with such demented conviction that in the end it seems easier to just give in and let him get on with it. It certainly makes me want to take another look at his Conan books.


  1. I say read more pulp! You can't resist those cheesy covers and potty plot lines. In the comic emporium the outside world just melts away!

  2. I remember in art class we got to draw a skull in still life , atleast I never saw it move! It was about the same time as the old art teacher was off sick and the rather lovely young PE teacher was standing in. The boys in class were rather distracted! My favourite thing to draw was birds and animals. I loved the work of Keith Brockie whose book 'A wildlife Sketchbook' had a big influence on me.