Click to Subscribe
Re-Killing Robert E. Howard
Solomon Kane and the Death of a Genre
© 2013 James LaFond
I have read Robert E. Howard since age 13. As Americans are want to do, I have always wanted to see my favorite author’s stories adapted to film. In this I have been vastly disappointed. Conan, Red Sonja and Kull where all done poorly; converted from the enigmatic protagonists of gripping short stories into comic book superheroes with overwritten back-stories fumbling through a save-the-world-from-banal-evil epic. The characters were not bad, the actors all well-selected for their roles. I have tended to blame the screenwriters. But really, it is the modern American idiot that is the problem.
I suppose I owe my readers an explanation. I see the modern reader’s and moviegoer’s inability to appreciate episodic fiction in the Howard style as symptomatic of a vast cultural emptiness.
1. The way in which readers and moviegoers usually prefer to interact with fiction is as a fully informed expert on the protagonist. Howard’s protagonists were enigmatic to the core. If you want to appreciate a Howard character in film, watch Arnold’s [I don’t have to spell that last name do I?] performance in Predator. That is a Conan story, the character becoming known through what matters—his actions. But modern Americans want to know if his mommy was nice to him, and why he hates authority figures. Conan was an asshole! Howard made no excuses; just let him be an asshole, and be cool doing it. But America cannot have that.
2. Modern readers and moviegoers have zero imagination—jerks like me get paid to provide that. Therefore, they cannot get behind a character en masse unless he exemplifies either classic Hollywood good guy characteristics, is mindlessly rebellious [for youth appeal], or is a conflicted pussy, like them. Solomon Kane, the literary character, was a dark vengeful persecutor. He was the Osama bin Laden of his day; a religious fundamentalist who believed in sending people to hell the hard way. Solomon Kane the movie draws only the character iconography [hat, pistol, sword, cloak] from the comic version of Kane, and comics are only concerned with the above mentioned iconography, super powers [which the movie Kane has but Howard’s Kane did not], and back-story [which the movie spends 70% of its time on and Howard intentionally obscured]. The movie was so alien to the literary character I cannot review it objectively, although I found it mildly entertaining. If you would like to enjoy a Solomon Kane-like story on film, view Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter. That is Solomon Kane softened up enough to get an American to swallow it.
3. Having a Howard character save the world from evil is ridiculous. The entire basis of Howard’s fiction was that he hated the world; saw the world as an evil unfulfilling place. Standard fantasy like Tolkien and C.S. Lewis presents the heroic setting as a child’s escapist fairytale. This fairytale land is threatened by darkness, and is then rescued by heroes who are good, either because their ancestors were rich [Aragorn], or because they possess the innocence of children—Tolkien’s hobbits and Lewis’ entire cast. Howard’s fantasy settings suck just as much as ours as far as misery and injustice goes, and on top of that, have intrinsic supernatural horrific elements. His characters succeed only in keeping these evils at bay enough to carve a temporary path for themselves and perhaps some lucky associate, and they do so because they possess a defiant mindset and what writer Jack Donovan would call the ‘tactical virtues of manliness’. [Red Sonja was a big breasted dyke guys, sorry.] In other words, Conan, Bran Mak Morn, Kull, Cormac, and Wulfere the Skull-cleaver would be running multinational drug cartels if Howard were writing today about today. And Kane would be hunting them down, not because he was a good guy, but because he had a problem that only had one illusory solution…
This was supposed to be a review of Solomon Kane the movie, which I really wanted to see, and am grateful to Erique for lending it to me. But I have lost the stomach for it. It was not a bad movie, just the same movie that comes out four times a year, every year; about a conflicted reluctant hero saving the world as part of a vaginally inspired quest for redemption. Some scenes from Conan stories were thrown in for spice. It amounted to a fun two hours of mud, blood and fire, with murderous witch-killing Christian Puritans replaced with passive Amish-style pilgrims hunted by medieval mutants and sorcerers running around Elizabethan England with battle axes and slave wagons left over from a Game of Thrones set.
The fact is a Howard story cannot be done through a comic book filter. Because everything that matters in Howard’s style of pulp literature is subsumed by the monolithic tropes and soap opera level back-story demands of the comic industry. Kane was the character that best reflected Howard’s dark view of life, a view that ended with his suicide. He was a prequel of Hunter S. Thompson as a frustrated amateur boxer. His stories matter in that they depict defiant individuals striving selfishly and selflessly in a corrupt world. I am of the opinion that such stories cannot be profitably sold in our world. Rather than wrangle over Howard’s literary corpse as it is scavenged by modern media, I have decided to review his work piece by piece. I do not posses it all, but have enough of his stuff to make you gag. I will review each chronologically, though I will skip from character to character.
A review of his biography by Mark Finn Blood & Thunder and one of his El Borak stories, can be found below on this page.
The Nine Wraith Kings
video reviews
No Humans Allowed
night city
the lesser angels of our nature
the year the world took the z-pill
  Add a new comment below: