Howardian Cymbalism

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Solomon Kane’s first words in “The Blue Flame of Vengeance” are a diverting quote-mashup. Jack Holinster is cursing up a storm in the “dim dream of waste lands and waste waters” that his local beach has become to him when he’s interrupted by a “deep vibrant voice”:

“Young man, your words are vain and wordly. They are as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Our steely-nerved Puritan duelist got the first half of that second sentence from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 1.13: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” (That letter-chapter is a hit factory that also offers “For now we see through a glass darkly,” “When I became a man I put away childish things,” and “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity” But Kane appends language from Act Five, Scene Five of Macbeth, wherein life is described (in William Faulkner-inspiring terms) as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Now it might be overthinking matters to attempt to assign date-brackets to “Blue Flame” by deducing from Kane’s borrowed words that he has to have read the King James Bible of 1611 and seen (un-Puritanically) a performance of Macbeth sometime between 1603 (the year the Stuarts took over from the Tudors and Shakespeare was looking to ingratiate himself with James I) and 1606 (allusions to the Gunpowder Plot have been read into the text). Howard might simply have enjoyed the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup-style “two great tastes that taste great together” effect of running the former Saul of Tarsus and the Scottish play together. After all, he pulled the same stunt, only more irreverently and working in even more from Corinthians, in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs (page 112, during a seven-up game with the “boarding house gang”:

“Now abideth high, low, jack and game, and the greatest of these is high,” droned Steve Costigan, leading a king. “Yea, though I speak with the voice of trumps and of jacks, and have queens to move mountains, yet have not high, I am as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, full of kings and aces, signifyin’ game.”

That’s probably the funniest thing Steve says in the whole novel — let’s face it, he’s usually either a mope or a lout. Perhaps Howard began work on “Blue Flame” within a few months of finishing Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, or maybe his mashup just lodged in his memory. But there’s no better example of how he went to the King James Bible and Shakespeare early and often.