Monday, May 9, 2022

Pulp Fantasy Library: The Right Hand of Doom

There can be denying that, during his lifetime, Robert E. Howard was an extremely successful – and popular – writer. Consequently, illustrations depicting his stories appeared on the cover of Weird Tales thirteen times, since the advertisement of a yarn by Howard served as a powerful enticement at the newsstand. Yet, like all writers for the pulps, he regularly encountered disinterest and rejection by his editors, most notably the mercurial editor of the Unique Magazine, Farnsworth Wright. Sometimes, REH would rework these rejected stories for resubmission elsewhere (or even again to Weird Tales). At other times, he simply abandoned these stories and it would not be until decades after his death that anyone even became aware of their existence, let alone had a chance to read them.

Such is the case with "The Right Hand of Doom," a very early story of Puritan adventurer, Solomon Kane. The story was likely written and rejected sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s, but its first publication didn't occur until 1968, when it appeared in Red Shadows, an anthology named after the Kane story of the same name. Produced by Donald M. Grant, Red Shadows was a limited run book, with fewer than 900 copies in its first printing. However, the book sold out quickly, thanks in part to the growing interest in Howard's original texts, unadulterated by the "revisions" of L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. The inclusion of previously unknown tales like "The Right Hand of Doom" no doubt played a role as well.

The story begins in a tavern, where a drunken man with "a high-pitched grating voice" boasts of the fact that a man is to hang out dawn.
"Roger Simeon, the necromancer!" sneered the grating voice. "A dealer in diabolic arts and  worker of black magic! My word, all his foul power could not save him when the king's soldiers surrounded his cave and took him prisoner. He fled when the people began to fling cobble stones at his windows, and thought to hide himself and escape to France. Ho! Ho! His escape shall be at the end of a noose. A good day's work, say I."

But not everyone in the tavern is impressed by the boasts of the man, whose name we learn is John Redly. Seated near the fireplace is "a tall silent man" who was "gaunt, powerful and somberly dressed." 

"I say," said he in a low powerful voice, "that you have this day done a damnable deed. Yon necromancer was worthy of death, belike, but he trusted you, naming you his one friend, and you betrayed him for a few filthy coins. Methinks you will meet him in hell, some day." 

Redly is offended by such an accusation but chooses not to tangle with the man by the fireplace, whom the others in the tavern call "dangerouser than a wolf" – Solomon Kane. Redly likewise thinks little of the vengeance the necromancer swore to take on him. Now that Simeon was in the hands of the authorities, he could enjoy the wages of his betrayal in safety. Naturally, Redly is mistaken in this and, by the morning, he is dead in his bed and Kane is there to determine just how this happened.

"The Right Hand of Doom" is a very short story, just a few pages in length and it wastes few words on unnecessary dialog or description. If I have a complaint about the story, it's that there's very little action in it. Kane is almost passive in the story, which unfolds without his involvement. He is there to witness Simeon's revenge upon the man who betrayed him and then react to it. He rights no wrongs, as he usually does, nor is he ever in any danger. Instead, Kane is simply present, though Howard does a good job, I think, in depicting his resolute demeanor and upright character. 

"The Right Hand of Doom" is thus a very different kind of pulp fantasy. It's essentially a ghost story of a sort, one you might tell around the campfire at night rather than a tale of heroic derring-do in the early 17th century like Howard's more well known stories of Solomon Kane. Perhaps that explains why "The Right Hand of Doom" was never published during Howard's lifetime: it's something of a departure from his usual style and subject matter. Personally, I'm fine with that and think it's a fun little tale of supernatural revenge well worth reading if you can find a copy.


  1. Always liked this one simply because it is such a departure from the norm for a Kane story. As you said, he's just there to provide a witness and moral commentary, the lesson being that committing an evil act (betrayal) to prevent further evil (necromancy) is not justified.

    Also distinctly remember Chill stealing the, ah, element of the story we aren't spoiling for one of their adventures, where it worked quite well. If you're going to steal, steal from the best.

  2. I enjoy the story, but I wanted to mention that that Jeff Jones cover is my favorite image of Solomon Kane.

  3. Red Shadows was by no means unedited. All racial slurs found in the stories that took place in Africa were removed. L. Sprague de Camp used one of these heavily edited Solomon Kane stories in Warlocks and Warriors.