Thanks largely to the kindness of Kevin Elam I finally have all the Kane stories and am able to review them at my leisure. Since all the short stories are reprinted in the Nightshade collection Midnight Sun I will refer specifically to that anthology.

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The Kane Short Stories

As Must Recently Published in the Nightshade Collection Midnight Sun


The Dark Muse  A bit of trivia: Karl, like most other authors of fiction I imagine, chose characters and places from his own experience, sometimes to add a bit of verisimilitude, sometimes just as a matter of personal whimsy. “The Dark Muse” features two establishments that were once on Forest Avenue (a street made famous by another notable Knoxville writer, Pulitizer Prize winner James Agee). The Bad Dog was a strange sort of enterprise by a trio of University of Tennessee college students, an effort to take over an old-fashioned corner store and to make it more student-oriented; the venture only lasted a year or so. The Bad Dog stood diagonally across Forest from the Notorious Toad Hall (mentioned in Bloodstone), and was the source of much of our beer and many a gourmet deli sandwich. The Yardarm was a bar in a one story flatiron building at the intersection of Forest and Grand, the latter evoked in the first sentence of ”Where the Summer Ends.” There hippies and students and rednecks mingled, not always amicably.

Raven’s Eyrie  I was honored to have been represented in two of Karl’s stories, according to Karl himself: Darkness Weaves (Arbas the Assassin) and “Where the Summer Ends” (Jon Mercer). Three of my animals have been likelwise honored: Midnight the Cat (a name that will be familiar to those who once delighted to Buster Brown’s Gang on the radio) in the latter story, Precious, my extraordinarily ugly English Bulldog in “Small Lessons in Gardening,” and Cerberus in this story, with the variant spelling Serberys. I flatter myself that I was not the inspiration for Serberys’ owner here, the personification of Evil.

This story was plainly a homage to the Appalachian tales of Karl’s friend Weird Tales author Manly Wade Wellman. I would be surprised if that fact has not already been acknowledged somewhere by Karl himself, but not only is that clear in the tone Karl chooses for this story, it is made plain by a reference in Kane’s vision of the unholy things that haunt the highlands, a passage I regard as a tour de force of Karl’s dark, descriptive powers. Among other horrors he sees “Lonely, abandoned cabins, inviting a traveler to shelter - that were neither cabins nor abandoned, and their invitation was not for refuge.” This is a deliberate reference to Wellman’s tale based on the Appalachian legend of the Gardinel (a legend inspired, no doubt, by the Venus Flytrap, native to North Carolina).

If any more evidence were needed, there is also a mention of Obray’s Station, a reference to Obray Ramsey, a friend of Karl’s and a very good and old friend of Wellman who, himself, played guitar. It is quite likely that Ramsey was the inspiration for Wellman's series character John the Balladeer. The rock band Southern Comfort did a song “The Ballad of Obray Ramsey,” and the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan and others did covers of Obray’s own ballads. One of Obray’s songs is featured on the album The Roots of the Grateful Dead.


The Sword of Kane  There has been debate of late as to whether Kane carried a certain sword of unreproducible Carsyultal make throughout his stories, or whether his swords came and went in the course of the millenia and he just made a point of seeking out Carsyultal blades for the sake of their superior workmanship whenever possible. I’ve begun watching for clues that might resolve this conundrum. I’m of the latter school of thought. The notion of a hero who relying upon a Magic Sword rather than upon his own wit and strength was anathema to Karl, and pointedly repudiated in “Undertow.” As I re-read the stories I am endeavoring to keep the issue in mind. So, story by story, so far...

In “Sing a Last Song of Valdese” Kane’s sword is described as having a “plain hilt.” In others the sword or swords he carries of Carsyultal make are described as having curiously ornate hilts. It would seem this blade is not of that tradition.

In "Raven's Eyrie" Kane reflects on his sword. "Kane's hand reached over his right shoulder, and the ancient blade of Carsyultal steel silently swung from its scabbard. It was a good weapon, Kane thought with grim pride. This one had been difficult to find - probably few like it still existed. Carsyultal lay buried by sand and sea and time." Kane is described as Carsyultal's last living former citizen.

From this we can infer that Kane did not carry this blade with him from Carsyultal. His flight from that city begins "Two Suns Setting." The sword Kane carries in that tale is given no special attention. Perhaps Kane, having lived in Carsyultal, still takes its masterful sword-smithing for granted. Or perhaps his abrupt departure forced him to settle for a lesser sword. The big question is, what became of the Magic Sword that came into his possession in “Undertow?” We can guess that Kane would not have shared Karl’s contempt for magic swords if they could have given him an advantage. Perhaps its mystic powers were not enough to make it preferable to the finest steel in actual combat.






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