Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Solomon Kane's First Homecoming

Solomon Kane by Ramsey Campbell, based on the screenplay by Michael J. Bassett and the character created by Robert E. Howard (2011): Based on a well-regarded movie that I haven't seen yet, Solomon Kane gives Conan creator Robert E. Howard's 17th-century Puritan ghost-and-demon-buster an actual origin story.

Featured in about a dozen stories, poems and fragments from the early 1930's, Solomon Kane predates Conan by a few years. Robert E. Howard created a LOT of heroes during his short, prolific life. Unlike many of those heroes, Kane moves within an actual historical context. His adventures take place in the 16th and 17th centuries, though many of them are in an Africa as fanciful as any of the wholly fictional lands of Conan.

Campbell finished up several Kane fragments for publication in the 1970's, there demonstrating an ability to approximate Howard's prose style without sliding into parody. He does the same here. His Kane is a brooding, haunted hero, and the environment is bloody and filled with the violence of men and supernatural beings. Campbell nicely echoes Howard's occasionally wonky diction (there's a stretch involving the repeated use of the word 'supine' that almost does slide into parody) and seriousness of purpose.

The novel is fun, but it's not funny or light-hearted or campy, though Campbell does seem to get stuck with what seem to be a couple of campy, Bondian missteps from the original screenplay. The worst of these comes when a necromancer says 'How do you like what I've done to the place?' to Kane as Kane regards with horror what the necromancer has done to his ancestral home. Augh! This is what Michael Moorcock and James Cawthorn flagged as "deadly jolite" in their study of fantasy, Wizardry and Wild Romance, a terrible bleedover from the Bond films.

Overall, though, this is one of the ten best non-Howard, Howard novels I've read. Ramsey Campbell deserves praise for sublimating his own peculiar style and thematic concerns to the service of telling a fairly straightforward sword-and-sorcery novel in the Howard tradition. And screenwriter Bassett does, for the most part, lay out a plausible background for this Renaissance Man, whose greatest Howard moment (in my eyes) came when he physically beat the crap out of a ghost. Recommended.

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