Wednesday, December 5, 2018

‘To Ease Various Evil Men of their Lives’

James LaFond's impressions of The Blue Flame of Vengeance by Robert E. Howard

This unpublished story is barely or almost a novelette, the length at which Howard would thrive. The author obviously felt like he had developed Kane into such a powerful character in his unfinished sketches set in mainland Europe, that he completed this pirate story set in England and festooned with no supernatural elements. The story, however, did not sell, even though its core was the vengeance against evil men embodied in the saying unveiled first in the highly successful Red Shadows, “to ease various evil men of their lives.”

The stronger and deeper Howard developed Kane, the more his buying market pushed him to embed the character not only in exotic locales but in a supernatural horror matrix. The character development is had from the vantage of a hard, impetuous man of passionate type, an honorable duelist named Jack Hollinster:

“The man reminded Jack, more than anything else, of one of the great gaunt grey wolves he had seen on the Siberian steppes.”

This is a telling scene in which Howard basically takes the adventure writer Jack London, and makes him an Elizabethan duelist, a man who had traveled the world shocked by Kane’s otherworldly nature. In other stories there are intimations that Kane is himself a supernatural force, a spectral avenger such as Clint Eastwood’s character in the western horror film, High Plains Drifter.

The Blue Flame of Vengeance is the best examination of the Kane character, a tale which even begins with a quote attributed to Kane, and while it is on its face a pirate yarn, it is in fact a horror tale with Kane as the specter:

“The face was rather long, was smooth-shaven [suggesting the knights of a previous age and not the sea dogs of the age the story was set in] and of a strange pallor which together with the somewhat sunken cheeks lent an almost corpse-like appearance…”

Solomon Kane, though, was an animate ghost with eyes that “gleamed vibrant” like ‘ancient ice” invoking the Black Riders he faced in a just-abandoned draft, and the doings of Kane inflicted horrid trials on evil men and simple hard men. The sympathetic character in this story is not so much Jack, who is a bullish hothead, but the pirate captain’s first mate, Allardine, who continually urges moderation upon his two sadistic masters, who ignore him, and attempts to lead the crew from disaster in the face of the folly of those who outrank him, only to be abandoned by the men he advocated for. Allardine is the modern man who sees clearly the folly of the mechanistic class of worldly masters, of the slavishness of the common class, and dimly senses and rightfully fears the extra-human consequences of mechanistic folly represented by Kane.

Kane has some great lines such as, “Are you not a stench in the nostrils of God and a black smirch on the books of men?” brilliantly juxtaposing the aspects of his dual nature.

He also claims, in a drab, corny manner at book’s end to be the avenger of the helpless, and the innocent, even of mistreated animals. In Kane, Howard tapped into the same justification for vengeance that our current media class traffics in, by casting every possible enemy of the mindless collective as child molester or a rapist.

Kane then vanished into shadow.

(c) 2018 James LaFond

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