Wednesday 24 February 2010

Unanswered Questions: Solomon Kane

A fridge moment is a thought that occurs to someone after the initial viewing experience, derived from the idea that you watch the show, enjoy, then when you open the fridge door for the milk... you remember something.

It's usually something like a plot hole, forgotten thread, or something along those lines, but other times, it's just a case of being inattentive or not reading between the lines. I had a few of these for Solomon Kane. Sometimes, further thought reveals hidden depths you didn't think of beforehand, as well as a rather crazy theory that actually makes everything fall into place.

Naturally, thar be spoilers in these waters!

Why did the Reaper come for Kane?

It's never explained exactly why the Reaper was sent for Kane in 1600. Normally, when people have lived a life of sin, Satan claims them when they die. Could the Devil not wait another few decades?

Theory: The Devil isn't THE Devil, but a Devil of the Outer Dark.

This is tied into my justification that Judeo-Christian cosmology's dominance is not as concrete as it appears in the film, that with a Howardian perspective, the classic "forces of good hopelessly outnumbered by the forces of evil" can be maintained. However, this necessitates that the "Devil" in this case is not the Devil, merely a powerful and terrible entity who's claiming the guise. Or, of course, one of the "Heads of the One Black Master," take your pick: however, since it seems this Devil is comparatively easily thwarted, I prefer to think of him as going into business for himself.

This doesn't address the question though, so my theory is the Reaper was sent by this devil in order to recruit Solomon into his army. The blood tie to Marcus means that Malachi would be able to track him, and set a trap for him. Since Malachi seemed to be making his great bid for power that year, he couldn't wait for Kane to die: he needed him now. Thus, the devil sent his Reaper to collect Kane, and make him Malachi's henchman. Satan, be it the Judeo-Christian one or the One Black Master, would have no need or difficulty in getting recruits, so it just seems more likely to me that this is one of those Devils of the Outer Dark using the local religion to ingratiate himself with Malachi and others, who would facilitate his entry into this plane of existence (as was the case with Cthulhu, Ollam-Onga, Thaug, Thog and others.)

What's the deal with the castle?

In the prologue, Kane sacks a North African settlement, before coming to a great obsidian castle. Inside, there is a Hall of Mirrors similar to the one later used by Malachi in the finale. There's no explanation given either to why Kane was beseiging the castle, or what it has to do with the rest of the film.

Theory: This was Malachi's North African stronghold.

There's a lot of dark magic in the dark continent. It stands to reason that Malachi traveled there to learn of the evil sorcery unknown to Europeans. As such, it's possible that the castle was one of Malachi's previous hosts, whom he also manipulated and controlled, as he did Josiah and Marcus: the slain king in the throne room would seem to support that.

Why was Kane at the castle?

The previous question thus begs the next. Why was Kane - with the British fleet, as it happens (with an anachronistic Union Flag, though I'm going to be charitable and pretend that it was a ghost ship that somehow went back in time a few years) - at this North African city?

Theory: ITS A TRAP!

Kane appears to be a privateer, as opposed to full-on pirate. As such, he'd have a letter of marque (perhaps signed by the Queen herself) to raid enemy or unfriendly neutrals. It surely wouldn't be difficult for Malachi to manipulate the situation to have Kane "just happen" to go and assault this city. I note that they also don't put up too much of a fight: methinks it was Malachi's plan all along.

How in blazes could there be a monastery in 1601 England?

The Dissolution of the Monasteries some sixty years ago was one of the many power plays undertaken by Henry VIII to increase his influence and reinforce his status as Supreme Head of the Church of England. The presence of a monastery in a time of extreme anti-clericalism, and when such organizations were illegal, is thus very unusual - to say the least.

Theory: This was a Catholic Speakeasy.

With the massive anti-Catholicism going on in England at this time, it's easy to imagine much of the Catholic populace going underground, to continue supporting and exercising their faith. Situated somewhere in Devon in the middle of a lake, this unnamed Monastery could well be run in secret, either under the guise of some other organization, or otherwise without the knowledge of the state. Lovecraft deals with such an underground abbey in "The Rats in the Walls."

This is naturally quite a stretch, since a Catholic monastery operating right under the Queen's nose would be a scandal. If, of course, the Queen didn't know about it... DUN DUN DUN!

Why did Kane, a Puritan, go to a Catholic Monastery?

There's also the question of why exactly Kane went to a Monastery instead of something like an Anglican ministry or among sympathetic Puritans

Theory: he really had nowhere else to go.

Obviously, Kane-from-down-the-coast didn't start out as a puritan: he'd probably be an Anglican/Church of England, seeing as his family was pretty powerful, and I can't see Puritans holding so much land and influence in late Elizabethan times. My guess is that with the prospect of the forces of Hell hot on his heels, combined with his history of rapine and murder, he might well have been turned away for the sake of their own safety. The only people who would take him in are fellow oppressed groups: Catholics. There's also the arcane literature to consider.

Why did the Abbot send Kane on his way?

There's a really annoying bit in the film where Kane is kicked out by the Abbot, for no reason other than "his dreams told him." Which isn't good enough, in my opinion.

Theory: Malachi strikes again.

I suspect that Malachi finally tracked down Kane, but instead of sending someone to pick him up, he telepathically persuaded the Abbot to have Kane do it for him. Planted seeds of Kane's noble birth and home in Devon, haunted him with night terrors of what would happen when the Devil's Reaper finally came to his doorstep, that sort of thing.

Where did Meredith get those snazzy togs?

Meredith hands Kane some nifty clothes to replace his rags. No explanation given, leading to some reviewers to suppose she was some sort of super-seamstress who made them up in one night.

Theory: They were originally intended for her older brother Samuel.

Originally, Samuel, played by Rachel Hurd-Wood's real life brother Patrick, had a larger part in the story: I guess Bassett had to trim some fat. Anyway, Samuel (seen in the background) looks to be around Kane's general size and shape. Meredith, in a typical teen crush move, could have just decided to give it to Kane instead.

What happened to Katherine?

When Meredith is captured with both her brothers slain, William (the father) imparts his dying wish to Solomon: bring her back. Through all this, Katherine (the mother) is cradling her husband. Kane goes off to rescure the girl... leaving Katherine where she is. In the woods. Completely alone. With slavers and raiders roaming the land.

Theory: Umm...

Alternate Theory: The Real Kane!

If I ever come across something I simply can't explain, I'm just going to say the real Solomon Kane swoops in and lends a hand. We just never see him, because most of the time he's fighting the even greater evil Malachi's working for, the devilish beastie claiming to be "The Devil," with the help of the Staff of Solomon. Since he has a break in the schedule, he brings Katherine to safety until Cousin Kane brings Meredith back.

What's with the crone?

Yeah... when Kane is healed up after his crucifixion episode (a note: the way the scene is portrayed is done in a way that makes him badass, but not more badass than Jesus or Conan, since he wasn't scourged or beaten up prior to it, plus he didn't have his feet nailed), a weird old crone talks about various pagan magic and how there are "other forces" than the Christian god.

Theory: Foreshadowing for N'Longa.

I appreciate laying the seeds for N'Longa, who also says as much to Kane, but unfortunately the way Bassett did it, it'll just make N'Longa's introduction a retread of the Old Crone, which is not desireable.

Alternate Theory: Confirmation of the ambiguous cosmology.

On the other hand, it could be taken of an indication that the film isn't all about God vs Satan/Heaven vs Hell/Good vs Evil, but rather reinforcing the Howardian paradigm of outnumbered Good versus overwhelming Evil. The pagan magic did seem to heal up Kane's wounds. Perhaps the idea of Good supernatural forces being ambiguous is there after all.

Where the hell is the army?

England was a superpower in the 1600, and wasn't going through any civil war or popular uprising where a horde of Chaos Marauders were threatening to take over the country. This has been happening long enough for peasants to talk of resistance (Halp! Halp! Oim Bean Oprest!) So where was the army during all this?

Theory: Elizabethan England kinda sucked.

First of all, Malachi has been consolidating his power for many years. We don't know how old Kane is, but if the Drake comment was a reference to "The One Black Stain," then it's extremely likely he's the same age as Purefoy himself: 45. The young Kane we saw at the beginning can't have been older than 15. We know that Josiah brought Malachi to Axmouth to cure Marcus after his accident, so Malachi's been at the castle for more than 30 years. Therefore, Malachi has been working for decades to make his move.

But why did it take so long? Obviously, sorcery doesn't come easily to Malachi, probably a result of the diminishing power of magic in Howard's universe. He would've been the power behind Josiah, and the real ruler of whatever fief of Devon the Kanes ruled. In 1600, Malachi was ready: he had Josiah locked in a dungeon, debuted the Overlord (who was the de facto ruler of the area), and started getting his army organized.

The army didn't respond because Malachi was careful. He kept things in his local neck of the woods, which was still a pretty large expanse of land. Elizabethan England was a horrible time to be a peasant: the mortality rate was 35, the Black Death ravaging the land (the plague doctors seen in the movie a grim prelude of the next great outbreak in 1603), and the nobility had the freedom to be incredibly harsh. By the time news spread that this was more than just a petty uprising, England would have a zombie apocalypse on its hands.

Alternate Theory: Elizabeth I was in on it.

Alright, that's the third strike against her.

First, she sends Kane to North Africa on a letter of marque to raid the port. Then, she just happens to ignore the illegal monastery on her turf. Now, she seems to do nothing about a bunch of crazy hoodlums roughing up her countryside...

And you're telling me this is all coincidence!?! No way, man: she's in on it, for sure.

I never liked the wench. Residual Scottish patriotism, natch (She killed my queen!) Kane wasn't fond of her either. Might as well have her involved in some manner. Either Malachi or his master corrupted her, or she's in it for her own sake. One of my fan-fiction ideas was Kane meeting QENil. Not sure how it'd play out, but definitely not in her favour.

Why are there two Scots in Devon?

The relationship between Scotland and England has peaks and troughs: in 1600, they are pretty decisively at a trough, considering the whole Rough Wooing business with Bessie's dad and the resulting conflicts a few decades back, border skirmishes and the infamous Border Reivers were still frequent. Not to mention the bitch currently in power killed their Queen 14 years before. The two countries wouldn't really see any lasting peace in this period until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. So naturally, seeing two Scots all the way south in Devon struck me as a bit odd: what were they doing there?

Theory: Umm...

Alternate Theory: They were sent by James IV to put a stop to Elizabeth's megalomania.

James IV knew about QENil's deal with the Devil, and knew that in her quest to achieve immortality and absolute power, she would stop at nothing. So, James sent some of his finest spies south to investigate and sabotage the Queen's operations, which naturally means they would discover Malachi. As such, McNess (the tall one who's clearly had his Scott's Porage Oats) and Garrick (he of the awesome beard) knew that if they could foil Malachi, then Elizabeth's evil plans would be halted at last. The fate of Great Britain - indeed, the world - rested in their hands. Lucky Cousin Kane came along to lead them into the castle, where they could kick arse.

See? See? It all ties together: Malachi and Elizabeth are in cahoots. I guaran-damn-tee it.

What's with the ending?

The end of the film has Kane save his soul by shooting Malachi in the head. This results in the sorcerer being dragged through the giant mirror to hell, as well as the fire demon, with tendrils of light piercing Solomon. So, did God save the day, or what?

Theory: the Powers Opposed To Darkness manifested themselves.

There are a couple of examples in Howard literature of piercing "heavenly" light saving the day: "The Cairn on the Headland" and The Hour of the Dragon the most pertinent. In both occasions, a "good" person is using a holy, arcane relic or symbol is striking down a profound threat to humanity that they could not possibly defeat themselves. In both cases, it isn't clear at all whether some divine "Good God" is saving them, or whether there's some sort of good magic involved. "The Cairn on the Headland" describes it thus:

But I flinched not, and in that instant I feared him not, neither the horror of his countenance nor the threat of his thunderbolt dooms. For in a blinding white flame had come to me the realization of why Meve MacDonnal had come from her tomb to bring me the ancient cross which had lain in her bosom for three hundred years, gathering unto itself unseen forces of good and light, which war forever against the shapes of lunacy and shadow.

As I plucked from my garments the ancient cross, I felt the play of gigantic unseen forces in the air about me. I was but a pawn in the game-merely the hand that held the relic of holiness, that was the symbol of the powers opposed forever against the fiends of darkness. As I held it high, from it shot a single shaft of white light, unbearably pure, unbearably white, as if all the awesome forces of Light were combined in the symbol and loosed in one concentrated arrow of wrath against the monster of darkness.

What were these mysterious forces? A proper explanation is outside the bounds of this post. For now, I'll just say that the "arrow of wrath" of "Cairn" is identical to the light which slew Xaltotun. So, it appears that these forces, whatever they are, aren't exactly the Judeo-Christian deal.

As for how Kane could muster them: I'd guess that much like the Cross of Saint Brendan, the forces had gathered around him, to use him as an instrument of their will. Just as, somehow, the real Kane became the bearer of the Staff of Solomon, so young Kane would be a fellow avenger of "the forces."

Why do we never see the Devil's Reaper or the Mirror Demons again?

The Reaper and the Mirror Demons both have cool scenes in the prologue, but they never appear again. Huh. For an implacable hunter, the Reaper kinda gave up after a while.

Theory: Umm...

Alternate Theory: the real Solomon Kane kicks their asses.

As Cousin Kane plunges into the sea in the prologue, the Devil's Reaper said the Devil would have his due. Meanwhile, a tall, sombre figure clad in black stalks through the castle. The Mirror Demons lunge out, only to be stabbed through the heart with a sharpened staff, light as wood, but strong as iron, topped with a cat's head. Soon, the Demons stop erupting from the mirrors, and instead cower behind the glass, powerless to stop the stranger from shattering them with blows from the staff. The figure reaches the door to the throne room: he pushes them open. The Reaper turns, raising his sword aloft... and, with a sound like the sharp intake of breath of a skeleton, he takes a step back.

The man in black, eyes of grey glinting with resolute determination, spoke in tones powerful and resonant.

"Are you prepared to meet your master?"


  1. I'll prefer to wait for Ramsey Campbell's novelization, and perhaps the "Director's Cut", as my source for plugging plot holes.

  2. Eh, whatever floats yer boat.

    I prefer my Queenie theory. Maybe they could get Miranda Richardson for the sequel.

  3. Heh, most of those incongruencies can be boiled down to: Because No One in Hollywood Ever Read a History Book.

    Look at the crap they keep knocking out all the way from Braveheart to Centurion.

  4. Of course, that's the REAL answer, but that's no fun.

    I justify Braveheart as taking place on one of those planets on Star Trek. You know, the one with aliens that are so enamoured of a particular period that they end up just like them apart from a few noticeable changes - Roman Planet, Nazi Planet, Gangster Planet. I'm pretty sure there's a planet out there based on Star Trek. How's that for reality-breaking confusion?

  5. Well, that blue painted Keira Knightley clone in the Centurion trailer looks alien enough. :D

  6. It'd be nice if Centurion was SF (the Lost Legion: lost... or beamed up by aliens!?!) but I'm guessing otherwise.