Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Reflections for the Winter of My Soul

An appropriate title, given we're in the bleak midwinter, and part of the reason I decided to re-read this Kane story by Karl Edward Wagner. Temperatures dipped into the teens last night and a wolfish wind came howling around the windows. It put me in mind of Wagner's creepy winter's tale, so I took down my copy of the Nightshade Press complete stories of Kane and followed Wagner's hero-villain into the teeth of a blizzard.
I only thought I was feeling the cold before. Once Wagner began to describe Kane's arduous trek through a whiteout nightmare I could almost feel the snow brushing against my skin. Reflections picks up some time after the events of the Kane novel Dark Crusade. Kane has taken a horrible vengeance on the prophet of Sataki but the few surviving priests of the order are tracking Kane relentlessly. Kane's flight takes him into the ice wastes where he soon finds himself lost in a snowstorm that he suspects may be of sorcerous origins.
Kane and his exhausted horse stumble upon a castle or manor house in the snow covered forest, where Kane collapses at the front door. He awakens to meet his host, his host's daughter, the host's son, a grouchy physician, a minstrel, and a few other characters. One of these folks thinks he's a werewolf. One of them really is a werewolf.
This is one of my favorite Kane stories, and not surprisingly one that has been optioned for a movie. (Though I think it's stuck in development hell.) The gloomy snow bound setting and the sinister cast, any of whom could be the werewolf, makes for a house party that would have sent Hercule Poirot running into the snow. There's much suspense and quite a bit of action as Kane faces foes human, animal, and supernatural. There's also a lot of the Gothic atmosphere Karl Edward Wagner was so fond of. It's not surprising that dark old castles feature in so many of Wagner's stories, as this is the classic Gothic setting. There's also the sort of virginal heroine who was so beloved of the classic Gothic authors. Well, unless she's the werewolf. Wagner does a good job of keeping the reader guessing the identity of the creature. Just when you think you've got it figured out, Wagner tosses a red herring your way.
Whoever the werewolf is, he or she squares off against Kane in a final battle that's both harrowing and well thought out. Once Kane realizes that he has to take on the werewolf hand to hand, he goes into it with all his skill and his centuries of knowledge. Kane, in case you've forgotten, is the biblical Cain, the first killer and still the best.
I recall thinking, a few years ago, when I first saw the Doctor Who episode Tooth and Claw, with its well realized CGI werewolf, that we finally have the special effects technology to do Reflections justice. In fact I also wondered if the writer of Tooth and Claw might have read Wagner's story. There aren't many similarities, but there are a few. I do think it would make an excellent movie.
Anyway, I was reminded as I reread Reflections For the Winter of My Soul (Great title!) what a good writer Karl Edward Wagner was. The man could not only spin a tale, but he could do so with such vivid imagery that he put you right there in the middle of the action. Just read those first few pages where Kane is fighting his way through the blizzard and I think you'll see what I mean. And then hang around until the werewolf shows up.


Paul R. McNamee said...

That was the first Kane story I read. I haven't been the same since - nor looked at sword-&-sorcery the same since.

Keith said...

I haven't read this one, but I will, and soon, like before the week is out. I've been considering reading all the Kane stories and blogging about them when I get caught up on some of the other things I'm reading.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Doesn't surprise me at all that it would affect you that strongly, Paul. Wagner was a powerful and original writer. My introduction to Kane was the Kane/Elric crossover The Gothic Touch, which sent me hunting down the other Kane stories as fast as I could.

You won't be disappointed, Keith. Wagner is one of those authors I read again and again. Looking forward to your posts once you get started.