Wednesday 10 March 2010

Mark Chadbourn on Solomon Kane

During my trawl for Howard-related things via Google Alerts (you guys need to try this, it's tremendously useful) I came across James Long's review for Solomon Kane, which links to novelist Mark Chadbourn's thoughts on Solomon Kane.

I couldn't not cover this.

And the most barking mad of all was Solomon Kane. A Puritan adventurer setting out to bring a little God-fearing justice to the world, this was not a sympathetic character. Let’s face it, Puritans are not known for their gut-wrenching sense of humour, but Kane was beyond sombre, a miserable git who hated fun, drink, probably women – although that was left to the sub-text – and, apparently, life in general. He put the loon in gloomy (okay, that doesn’t quite work, but you get my drift).

What astonishing nonsense. How on earth is Kane not sympathetic? He's by far one of the most likeable and sympathetic of ALL REH's protagonists, for all his idiosyncracies. For a guy who hated "fun" he sure went on a lot of adventures, and enjoyed an acerbic sense of humour. I don't remember him crashing any parties or telling off a bunch of youths for drinking. For a guy who "probably hated women," he seemed to be terribly fond of Marilyn and the mysterious Bess, and he was incredibly gentle to that girl in "Red Shadows."

This "miserable git" might describe the caricature of puritans blighting popular culture (the kind that make jokes about how they never make love standing up for fear it would give way to dancing), but it sure doesn't describe Kane.

The truth is, by any modern standards, this hero is the villain.

Are you kidding me? I can barely wrap my mind around this. Solomon Kane is a man who goes out of his way to protect the innocent, or if he can't, avenge them. He kills murderers, rapists, pirates, plunderers, sorcerers and all manner of genuinely evil men. He goes out to make the world the better place, and actually succeeds. He can be rough and intolerant, but his character evolution between tales portrays a much more tolerant man. What possible "modern standards" make such a man into a villain?!?

Then there’s the setting: the 17th century, with its inherent romance, and the wildness of a world still half-explored, with mysteries lurking around every corner. Kane was a man who had left the civilised world behind and travelled to the source of mystery and supernatural terror. There was a constant tension between his rigid Puritan world-view and the chaos of the shadowy places to which he found himself drawn.

Thank Crom he got something right.

But like many religious obsessives, there’s a sense that he rails against the things he fears most within himself, the part that is really not pure at all.

Wow, way to totally destroy one of the most subtle aspects of Kane's character. Kane rallies against the things he fears because. They're. Evil. We're talking about either the dregs of humanity, or the spawn of darkness. What's so weird about that? By making it an act of Kane going against aspects of himself, you turn Kane into little more than a hypocrite, seeking to "purge" his dark side by externalising the conflict. How painfully unsubtle: this instead of the much more interesting puritan/pagan dichotomy going on, which is more nuanced than mere good/evil.

The stories, frankly, are filled with all sorts of psychological craziness, and they say a lot about the very troubled Howard himself. That adds an off-kilter feel to the adventuring that you don’t get in Conan or Kull. They’re dark, conflicted, and really, really not well. I love them."

Oh feck right off. Now you're going to the tired old "Howard was a nutter" argument that nobody who knows anything worth a damn about Howard has taken seriously for nigh on 20 years? I'll bet Hemingway never had to put up with this nonsense. What is with people who have this need to make Howard sound more interesting by turning him into a psychopath? "Psychological craziness"? Gimme a break, dude.

Oddly enough, it's mostly Brits and Yanks who are making these mistakes. For some reason Europeans are more careful. When the non-native English speaking countries are more accurate than the English-speaking ones, you know something's wrong.


  1. Wow. A mediocre author of cardboard fantasy trilogies and licensed novels feels the need to measure himself against Howard and come out the winner due to reason of greater sanity. Were he the only one of these fellows to do this, it would be easier to let such nonsense slip.

  2. I confess, I knew nothing of Chadbourn's work, but then, that wouldn't make his words any more stupid. I guess I wasn't missing anything much, then.