Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Footfalls Within and the Music of Erich Zann

Last night's horror reading consisted of two classic short stories, one by H.P. Lovecraft, and one by Robert E. Howard. First was Lovecraft's The Music of Erich Zann, the story of a university student who takes a room in a crooked house in a crooked street in the poor section of town in an unnamed city. Late at night he hears the weird, haunting strains of a violin, and his curiosity drives him to meet the musician, Erich Zann. Zann, who is mute, seems overwhelmed with fear when he learns that the young man has heard him playing and begs him to take a room on a lower floor so as to be farther away from the attic where Zann lives and plays. The student agrees, but he can't stay away from the weird melodies, and eventually he is confronted with the terrible secrets of The Music of Erich Zann. This one probably makes it into my top five Lovecraft tales. It's short and packs a nice, creepy punch near the end.
The Footfalls Within concerns Robert E. Howard's Elizabethan era Puritan adventurer Solomon Kane. Kane is in Africa, seeking out evil as he wanders the trackless jungles and plains. He comes across the body of a young native woman who has been mistreated and finally murdered by Moslem Arab slavers. This does not sit well with Kane.

"The kites mark their trail," muttered the tall Englishman. "Destruction goeth before them and death followeth after. Woe unto ye, sons of iniquity, for the wrath of God is upon ye. The cords be loosed on the iron necks of the hounds of hate and the bow of vengeance is strung. Ye are proud-stomached and strong, and the people cry out beneath your feet, but retribution cometh in the blackness of midnight and the redness of dawn."

Translation, You do not mess with Solomon Kane. Kane takes up the trail of the slavers, but lets his rage get away from him and attacks the group of over a hundred bad guys. Being a Howard hero, Kane takes a considerable toll among his enemies before being captured but he eventually ends up a prisoner of the slavers.
Things take a turn into horror territory as one of the slaver's scouts finds an ancient building, made from black stones unlike any in Africa. The greedy leader of the slavers orders his men to break down the door, thinking the weird building the tomb of some king and likely to contain riches. As hammer blows fall on the ancient lock, Solomon Kane alone can hear the pacing footfalls of something lurking within.
Something I noted as I re-read Footfalls was the large amount of continuity that exists in the Solomon Kane tales. Howard's Conan stories rarely reference one another, but in The Footfalls Within Kane reflects on events from previous stories such as The Moon of Skulls, The Hills of the Dead, and Red Shadows. We learn more about the strangely carved, cat-headed, juju staff that Kane carries, a gift from his witch-doctor blood brother N'longa.
Many Howard aficionados think that the Solomon Kane stories are the cream of Howard's work. I'm more fond of Conan as a character, but I have to admit that the dark, moody, adventure of Solomon Kane are very compelling. Anyway, can't beat a night of creepy reading with Howard and Lovecraft.

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