Monday, October 04, 2010
Death's Black Riders
I mentioned in my post about the Robert E. Howard Conan fragment sometimes called The Hand of Nergal that the other Howard Fragment that fascinates me is one featuring Solomon Kane called Death's Black Riders. It's very short, only a few paragraphs, but it seems to have so much potential that I wonder why Howard abandoned it.
The story begins with Kane riding a narrow path through a deep forest. The trees press so close that the sky is blotted out and there is scarcely room for one horse on the path. Then:
"And down this trail, as Solomon Kane halted and drew his pistol, a horseman came flying. A great black horse, incredibly gigantic in the grey light, and on his back, a giant of a rider, crouched close over the bow, a shapeless hat drawn low, a great black cloak flying from his shoulders."
Kane tries to rein aside, but there isn't room. He sees two glowing eyes below the brim of the hat and catches the gleam of a sword. Kane fires point blank into the face of the rider, but it doesn't slow him down and then, as the rider passes over him, Kane feels a blast of icy air and he and his horse go down. Both Kane and horse are up almost instantly and impossibly they are unhurt. The fragment ends right there.
I've never really understood if Howard was trying to say that the rider had no actual tangible form, but that's how I read it, as if the rider passed not over Kane and his horse but through them and that the passing left them numb with the cold from some black and nameless gulf.
Dark Horse comics tried an adaptation of this fragment too, but I can't report on it because I found the artwork so messy and the storytelling so confusing in the first issue that I didn't read the rest of the mini series. Feel free to let me know if it got better. Maybe I'll check out the trade collection.
Roy Thomas adapted the fragment (Though he adds a couple of riders, but hey, the fragment is called Death's Black RIDERS not rider.) as the opening for a two part Savage Sword of Conan story, but the opening has little to do with the rest of the story which involves a team-up between Solomon Kane and Conan. Still, it was nice to see it drawn and the art by Colin MacNeil was pretty sharp. (I'll add a picture later. blogger is acting up.)
I noticed that writer C.J. Henderson has taken a stab at finishing the fragment, but I haven't had a chance to read his version. I used to read Henderson's Jack Hagee private eye books back in the day, and I know Henderson is a big fan of Howard and Lovecraft. I'll check it out when I get time and report back here.
Anyway, Lord of the Rings fans might almost think that Solomon Kane had a run in with a Nazgul. Not that J.R.R. Tolkien could have had any influence on Robert E. Howard, who died a year before the publication of the Hobbit and many years before publication of the Lord of the Rings. Still, some grist for fan fiction there for anyone with the time and energy. Not me.
So yet again, another fascinating fragment to speculate over. What was the rider in black and where was he bound? Perhaps there is a clue in the last words of the poem that REH used to preface the fragment.
The hangman asked of the carrion crow, but the raven made reply:
"Black ride the men who ride with Death beneath the midnight sky,
"And black each steed and grey each skull and strange each deathly eye.
"They have given their breath to grey old Death and yet they cannot die."
Words to ponder.