“Before Conan, there was Kane, a Puritan swordsman on a restless search for justice.”
That’s the lead-in from Nick Owchar’s, “Man in black: Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane,” published this May 24th in his monthly column for the Los Angeles Times. Owchar, deputy book editor for the LA Times, turns in a quite respectable piece on the Man From Devonshire (and his creator). His column, “The Siren’s Call” (a title I truly dig), was a joy and revelation once I (very recently) discovered it. Dear readers, brethren, kindred and fellow travellers, Ol’ Nick is one of us. Peruse his previous columns (future blog-fodder, for me) and tell me it ain’t so.
In his column, Owchar hits (almost) all the right notes, in my opinion. Aknowledging cinematic predecessors/literary scions like Van Helsing and Hellboy, Nick states that a Solomon Kane film “is long overdue for the screen.” He then apprises those not-in-the-know of the forthcoming Hadida/Berrow production. Owchar goes on to inform the uninitiated of the Puritan’s appearances in The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane and The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard. He neglects to mention the several inclusions of SK yarns and poems in The Best of Robert E. Howard volumes 1 and 2 (Del Rey), but we can’t have everything, can we?
Nick Owchar declares that Solomon Kane is a “superb creation,” and then gives the highlights of Solomon’s career and character, comparing and contrasting him to Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian along the way. After noting the pulp-encouraged (if not required) bootyliciousness featured in “The Moon of Skulls”, he goes on to state (admirably quoting Robert E. Howard) that “justice” was at the core of Solomon’s “obsession, his driving force of life.” Agreeing with former bloggers Finn and Tompkins (and myself), Owchar opines that he would prefer no Follywood-approved “origin story,” and that the ultimate bases for the Puritan’s motivations and actions should remain an “enigma.” Forging on to make, in my opinion, a “Tompkinsian” connection, Nick Owchar then suggests that Solomon Kane is the “good sibling” to McCarthy’s Anton Chigurh. Solomon Kane truly is an Elizabethan”Hit-man For the Lord.” Few things are closer than the two sides of the same coin.
From there, Mr. Owchar cuts Scott Allie’s drag-asstic/poor man’s Le pacte de loups comics adaptation (for Dark Horse Comics) of REH’s “The Castle of the Devil” fragment far more slack than yours truly. The columnist rightly praises Guevara’s atmospheric artwork, but we’ll have to agree to disagree beyond that.
Are y’all getting the idea that Nick Owchar cares about Solomon Kane (and the creator thereof), and has done his homework? Owchar even welcomes “the input of any devotees of Howard,” going so far as to post a link to the Robert E. Howard Foundation site. Bill “Black Indy” Cavalier recently posted about a “2009 Howard Boom.” In my opinion, Owchar’s latest column is yet another good sign of the halcyon days we’re living in.
Owchar winds down his essay by giving a capsule summary of Robert E. Howard’s life. Using Rusty Burke’s biographical sketch from The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane as a basis, Nick paints a picture of a loner in a small, Depression-era, Texan town. Apparently, judging from his column, Mr. Owchar is unaware of Novalyne Price Ellis’ memoir, One Who Walked Alone, or of the feature film, The Whole Wide World. That said, I would argue that Nick’s take on REH and his works is far more sympathetic and balanced than that of Arnie Fenner, a long-time (supposed) Howard “fan and scholar.” As a finale to his column, Owchar provides his readers with several lines from Robert E. Howard’s classic poem, “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming.”
Plaudits for Robert E. Howard’s fiction from columnists in the national media have started to come (relatively) hard and fast in recent years. Nick Owchar could be said to be just the latest of such. Acknowledging that, I’m going on record as saying he is one of the best and brightest of the still rare-and-elusive breed of journalists/literary critics that I like to call “friends of REH.”
Any “devotee of Howard” can send their “input” to Mr. Owchar here.
The blogger would like to thank Pete “Strom” Roncoli from the Official Robert E. Howard Forum for bringing Mr. Owchar’s column to the attention of REH fandom.
*Art by Cassaday and Jones