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.
Theme by Nightwish
Recently Published in the Nightshade Collection Midnight
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.