IMO I don't think that Kane started out evil, just really really amoral. Which kind of fits with the universe of the stories if you think about it - there are any number of subtle references to how Kane was once a mercenary sailor. There's even one quote from The Blue Flame of Vengeance where after Kane give his usual "I am a landless man out of Devon" spiel (and I personally love how the movie took that one little detail and expanded upon it and made it literal) he adds "I seek...my soul's salvation, perhaps" which certainly fits with this movie.
- morden1018, over at the IMDB
It occurred to me that though we far more often get people trying to reconcile Conan the Barbarian with Howard's stories, there is a small number of folk who insist that Bassett's Solomon Kane is entirely in keeping with Howard. This intrigues me, since they even cite stories supporting the idea - though of course, it's only ever those two lines from "The Blue Flame of Vengeance" which Bassett latched onto.
They don't seem to take into account the dozens of lines which are directly contradictory to the film's origin story. Well, since I've been on a roll, I figured I'd do the same as I've been doing with the Filmgoer's Guide, and discuss those Howard stories which have direct conflicts with Bassett's Solomon Kane.
"Solomon Kane/Red Shadows"
All his life he had roamed about the world aiding the weak and fighting oppression, he neither knew nor questioned why. That was his obsession, his driving force of life. Cruelty and tyranny to the weak sent a red blaze of fury, fierce and lasting, through his soul. When the full flame of his hatred was wakened and loosed, there was no rest for him until his vengeance had been fulfilled to the uttermost. If he thought of it at all, he considered himself a fulfiller of God's judgment, a vessel of wrath to be emptied upon the souls of the unrighteous.
As Miguel pointed out, this single sentence should be enough to show that Kane did not spend a few decades as a murderous scoundrel, or even a particularly "hard man" who just viewed himself as evil. Not only was Kane not fighting evil "all his life," but according to this film, he knew exactly why: because if he didn't, he'd go to hell. How does that fit with the film?
"Le Loup, take care!" Kane exclaimed, a terrible menace in his voice, "I have never yet done a man to death by torture, but by God, sir, you tempt me!"
Between Bassett's Kane dragging that poor Turk by his neck with his sword, and his admission that he once tore out a man's heart and showed it to him, I find it hard to believe such words coming from Purefoy's lips.
Though he did not realize it, the Wolf was more than merely an enemy to him; the bandit symbolized, to Kane, all the things against which the Puritan had fought all his life: cruelty, outrage, oppression and tyranny.
There's that "all his life" comment again.
Le Loup broke in on his vengeful meditations. "What did you do with the treasure, which--gods of Hades!--took me years to accumulate? Devil take it, I had time only to snatch a handful of coins and trinkets as I ran."
"I took such as I needed to hunt you down. The rest I gave to the villages which you had looted."
"Saints and the devil!" swore Le Loup. "Monsieur, you are the greatest fool I have yet met. To throw that vast treasure--by Satan, I rage to think of it in the hands of base peasants, vile villagers! Yet, ho! ho! ho! ho! they will steal, and kill each other for it! That is human nature."
"Yes, damn you!" flamed Kane suddenly, showing that his conscience had not been at rest. "Doubtless they will, being fools. Yet what could I do? Had I left it there, people might have starved and gone naked for lack of it. More, it would have been found, and theft and slaughter would have followed anyway. You are to blame, for had this treasure been left with its rightful owners, no such trouble would have ensued."
An interesting twist on Kane's "robbing the rich" modus operandi. I find it hard to believe a canny privateer such as Bassett's Kane couldn't have found a better way to distribute the money.
All this and more the drums roared and bellowed to Kane as he worked his way through the forest. Somewhere in his soul a responsive chord was smitten and answered. You too are of the night (sang the drums); there is the strength of darkness, the strength of the primitive in you; come back down the ages; let us teach you, let us teach you (chanted the drums).
In a seemingly throwaway line, Kane mentions that one of his scars was given by "a spear thrust from a tribesman of Africa." I see no reason to assume Kane had ever been to Africa prior to "Red Shadows," and the sound of the drums distinctly seems to suggest that. Did Kane hear those drums in his soul back when he was the murderous pirate, or did they just not speak to him back then?
Kane stared, for the first time in his life smitten speechless and thoughtless. To his Puritan mind this was Satan's hand manifested.
It's difficult to imagine Kane being dumbfounded by this act of necromancy when, as Bassett would have it, he's already seen sorcery just as foul by the hand of Malachi after effectively resurrecting his own brother. It's even harder to imagine Kane thinking this was Satan's hand manifested, when Bassett has him facing a creature announcing himself as the Devil's Reaper and a 20-foot Demon from Hell - a mere zombie should be small fry compared to that. This is the first time Kane has been rendered speechless and thoughtless: if a giant burning Transformer lumbering out of a hellgate isn't enough to do that, how can a zombie?
Was he dreaming? Kane wondered as he hurried on. Was all this part of some foul magic? He had seen a dead man rise and slay and die again; he had seen a man die and come to life again. Did N'Longa in truth send his ghost, his soul, his life essence forth into the void, dominating a corpse to do his will? Aye, N'Longa died a real death there, bound to the torture stake, and he who lay dead on the altar rose and did as N'Longa would have done had he been free. Then, the unseen force animating the dead man fading, N'Longa had lived again.
Yes, Kane thought, he must admit it as a fact. Somewhere in the darksome reaches of jungle and river, N'Longa had stumbled upon the Secret--the Secret of controlling life and death, of overcoming the shackles and limitations of the flesh. How had this dark wisdom, born in the black and blood-stained shadows of this grim land, been given to the wizard? What sacrifice had been so pleasing to the Black Gods, what ritual so monstrous, as to make them give up the knowledge of this magic? And what thoughtless, timeless journeys had N'Longa taken, when he chose to send his ego, his ghost, through the far, misty countries, reached only by death?
This is the clearest evidence that Kane had never witnessed necromancy - possibly never personally witnessed sorcery of any sort - before the events of this tale. The sight of men rising from the dead filled Kane with such horror that he questioned reality, wondering if this was a dream or delusion - to the point where he had to convince himself that this was fact. This is pretty hard to square with the events of Solomon Kane: what possible horror could two zombies instil if Kane had already seen the Devil's Reaper, possessed warriors, ghouls and gigantic flaming demons?
The trail ended here, and Kane was conscious of a strange feeling of futility. He always felt that, after he had killed a foe. Somehow it always seemed that no real good had been wrought; as if the foe had, after all, escaped his just vengeance.
Again, "he always felt that, after he had killed a foe." Did he feel such strange futility when he slew countless castle defenders, that defenseless Turk in North Africa, or his soldier as he shot him in the back? "I was never more at home than I was at battle." doesn't jibe with "strange feeling of futility" to me.
Kane looked about him and saw that a small stream trickled through the glade at the far side. Here he made the only mistake of that kind that he ever made in his entire life. Mayhap he was dizzy from loss of blood and still mazed from the weird happenings of the night; be that as it may, he laid down his rapier and crossed, weaponless, to the stream. There he laved his wounds and bandaged them as best he could, with strips torn from his clothing.
Kane was clearly weaponless for much of the film, yet this was "the only mistake of that kind he ever made in his entire life?" Presumably what Howard really meant was
"the only mistake of that kind that he ever made in his entire life... apart from that one year he became a pacifist, when his lack of weapons and vow of non-violence meant he got beaten up by a bunch of hoodlums.
"Oh, and when he left his weapons behind and let half the Crowthorne family get killed while trying to negotiate with demon-possessed thugs.
"Oh, and when he gave up on life when he thought a girl he was going to save died, which led to him getting troattered in a tavern and eventually crucified..."
So that jumps from "only mistake" to about three mistakes in the course of a single adventure...
Kane could not even have fled had he wished--and he had never fled from a single foe.
Kane certainly fled from the Devil's Reaper. His entire time at the Monastery could easily be considered a flight.
And that's just "Red Shadows" alone. Almost a dozen direct contradictions that result in plot holes, continuity problems and character confusion. Miguel already pointed out that "The Return of Sir Richard Grenville" is seriously compromised by the film, and "The One Black Stain" completely contradicted. Who knows how many contradictions the film has with "Rattle of Bones," "The Castle of the Devil," "Death's Black Riders," "The Moon of Skulls," "The Blue Flame of Vengeance," "The Hills of the Dead," "Hawk of Basti," "Wings in the Night," "The Footfalls Within," "The Children of Asshur" and "Solomon Kane's Homecoming"?
Whenever I have the time and inclination, I'll have an exploration of the other tales. Perhaps the question wouldn't be "which stories contradict Bassett's Solomon Kane," but rather "is there a single story that doesn't directly contradict Bassett's Solomon Kane"?