Thursday, November 15, 2018

‘Drowned Unearthly Things’

James LaFond's Impressions of Solomon Kane’s Homecoming by Robert E. Howard

A comparison of the two variants published on pages 379-89 of The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane by Ballantine Books 1998

The eleven verses of four couplets each of Solomon Kane’s Homecoming is the third and final poem of the trilogy which present the character of Solomon Kane as a former captain of Queen Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs, who individually, with great heroics, stood against and even dogged the vast Spanish navy around the world.

Howard reveals his deep historical reading of Kane’s period when he paints the stages of Kane’s dissolution—not all encased in the two versions of this poem but some apparent in the Blue Flame of Vengeance novelette:

  • the betrayal of Sir John Hawkins by Drake after Vera Cruz, when he usurped his leader’s position by appealing to the womanly monarch as a more functional tool of state,
  • the execution of a captain in Terra Del Fuego at the order, rather than by the hand, of Drake,
  • the killing of innocent Spanish subjects in Panama.

Finally, the betrayal of the most heroic sea dog, Sir Richard Grenville, who comes to Kane in a dream and helps him fight off African head hunters. Grenville, loyal to Sir Walter Raleigh, was made to sit out the battle of the Spanish Armada with 51 ships so that he would not achieve renown, as he was known as the most courageous of his kind. Later, in mourning his missed chance for national hero status, Grenville took on a fleet of 53 Spanish galleons with a single ship and actually fought with his crew for three days. He was seen—from the decks of the ships which he sent away—being taken prisoner by the Spanish, never to be seen again.

In the poem, Kane is revealed as the spirit of Sir Richard, as he was taken captain and held and tortured by the Spanish as a sinner and then the Turks as a galley slave, very much in the manner of a historical character, Captain John Smith, whose actual a career mirrored Kane’s fictional career. In Howard’s poem, Grenville died on deck, which this reader takes as representing his defeat and Kane’s fictional emergence as the unquenchable spirit of his defiant race. Kane’s extreme celibacy is addressed in the poem, with reference to a woman who loved him who he abandoned, just as Smith abandoned Pocahontas, who like Kane’s abandoned bride, died after his leave-taking. Captain Smith marked the last of the adventurous Spanish-battling sea dogs, reduced to a wanderer and explorer and interface with non-Christian folk. Interestingly, John Smith was castrated when his gunpowder pouch hung before his groin ignited and exploded. This along with his staunch denial that he had sex with the various Indian beauties who attempted to seduce him makes Smith the second historical aspect to the Solomon Kane character, Sir Richard Grenville being the first aspect. Below is one of the eleven verses of the fantastic retrospective poem reviewing the acre of Howard’s most definitive and finite hero, a hero, who never engages in self-examination or soul searching, until he returns to his long-neglected homeland and is finally forced to regard himself in the mirror of his recollecting eye and turns away in a self-shunning departure, putting the avenger to rest in the author’s mind.

Verse 10

"Hands held him hard but the vagrant gleam
In his eyes grew blind and bright,
And Solomon Kane put by the folk
And went into the night.
A wild moon rode in the wild white clouds,
The waves their white crests showed
When Solomon Kane went forth again,
And no man knew his road.”

Solomon Kane, among the pantheon of heroes that sprung from the well of Robert E. Howard’s mind’s eye, might rightly be considered a monster in his own right, a spectral ghost, for certain.

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