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‘The Emptiness of His Words’
Wings in the Night by Robert E. Howard

Formerly published as ‘Whisper of the Drum-Haunted Breeze’, revised

“The sun had baked his chest and limbs to a deep bronze but his ascetically lean face was impervious to its rays. His complexion was still of that strange dark pallor which gave him an almost corpse-like appearance, belied only by his cold, light eyes.’

Kane stands beneath a giant baobab tree looking at a savaged black corpse impaled in the branches. Kane is being chased and hunted by cannibals, but still takes the time out to examine the injustice done this village of slaughtered black folk.

The most Kane-like character in film is the High Plains Drifter, played by Clint Eastwood in the movie by the same name. One wonders if the screenwriter had come upon inspiration for the Old West horror story of vengeance and retribution in an old Kane pulp.

At length, Kane comes upon the mangled and still living remains of a black man tied to a stake who had been sacrificed by his own people to a tribe of winged humanoids who prey upon them. He is soon attacked by the cannibals and the winged horrors and manages to kill one of both before being dropped into a tree. Recovering at the hands of the beleaguered remnants of an African tribe who are surrounded by cannibals and preyed upon by these horrors from above, he decides to fight on their behalf, frustrated that blacks are so “fatalistic” in the face of “monstrous wills” and trusting to his “savage Anglo-Saxon ferocity” to right another wrong on their behalf.

In the following passage, Kane is exposed as a mythic construct, a vengeful composite of those who have suffered the injustices of slavery, which explains why he is simply wondering around Africa killing human traffickers:

“Kane had rowed, chained to the bench of a Turkish galley, and had toiled in Barbary vineyards; he had battled red Indians in the New Lands and had languished in the dungeons of Spain’s Inquisition.”

Thus far in the Kane canon of 17 stories and poems, Wings in the Night, does the most to describe what the Kane character seemed to be in Howard’s mind, a wrathful specter of a human who knew not that he was actually dead, but retained a passion, not for life, but to live long enough to redress grave wrongs.

“Even as he spoke, Kane was bitterly aware of the emptiness of his words…”

Kane’s hosts are intelligent, good-natured people, who have not seen a white man and think Kane a god, to which he responds that he is “but a man like yourself, albeit my skin be white.”

These are hardly the sentiments of an author that hates blacks, which is the only definition of white-black racism that holds up once the humanity hits the road. By our standards, Howard was certainly a racist, as he proposed that at least some iota of difference could be expected to become apparent between rival races of mankind. However, if and when our current collective delusion fails the test of time, it will be us who are exposed as the society of archaic idiots, crippled morally and practically by a false belief in all of humankind’s unvarying and identical nature.

One day, when some historian of the future, sketches our worldview, he might be regarded as having scandalously engaged in a work of fiction far more fantastic than any pulp yarn spun about an avenging Puritan tramping across Africa in search of unslain biblical monsters upon which to vent his otherworldly fury.

Under the God of Things

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