Blogging Solomon Kane: “The Footfalls Within”

Miskatonic University Press
Weird Tales compendium

“The Footfalls Within” was first published in the September, 1930 issue of Weird Tales.  It’s a pretty straight-forward story, but one that has some depth if you know where to look.  It seems to take place after the previous tale, “Wings in the Night” (reviewed here).  Solomon Kane has continued his eastward trek.

The story opens with Kane coming across the body of a young black woman.  The corpse is fresh, and there are marks where whips and shackles have torn her flesh.  It doesn’t take long for Kane to catch up with the slavers who killed her.  He sees a train of blacks being led away by a group of armed Arabs and other blacks who have allied with them.  They’re taking their captives to a slave market.  They’re also driving them hard, neither giving them rest breaks nor providing them with ample water.

When another young woman collapses and can’t get up, the slavers decide to skin her rather than give her water or put her out of her misery.  It’s more than Kane can stomach, and he shoots the man with the skinning knife.  This brings the rest down on him, but he kills several before they can subdue him.  The leader of the group, Hassim, realizes he can get a great deal of money from Kane after he learns his captive’s identity, so Kane is treated better than the rest of the slaves.  As they march, Kane is approached by an old man named Yusef, who has retrieved Kane’s ju-ju stick from where Hassim had discarded it.

Yusef tells Kane that the stick was once used in worship in ancient Egypt and later another Solomon, king of Israel, had imprisoned the djinn with it.  He chastises Hassim for discarding it.  Hassim merely scoffs.

That night after the caravan has set up camp, one of the men returns from scouting in the jungle babbling about finding a mausoleum.  Most of the slaves and black slavers are agitated by this to such an extent that Hassim agrees to move the camp, but along the way, he wants to stop off at the mausoleum and check it out.  When they get there, he finds an ancient structure with the door still sealed and Hebrew written on the lintel.  Hassim decides to break in.  Everyone else thinks this is a bad idea.  Kane insists he can hear the footfalls of something pacing on the other side of the door.

Of course you know this isn’t going to end well for Hassim.  I’ll let you read the rest of it.

Once again I’m struck by how much sympathy Howard, who has been called a racist, shows for the oppressed blacks through the character of Solomon Kane.  He feels guilty when at the camp, he is given all the water he wants while the slaves are barely given any.  Kane also risks his life to protect them, starting with intervening on behalf of the girl who is about to be flayed.

But Howard’s views on race relations are not really what I want to focus on.  I was more interested in the role the ju-ju stick played in the story, especially its history.  Howard emphasized, using both the words of Yusef and Kane’s thoughts, how otherworldly the stick is.  It’s carved from wood not of this world, and it has a long and illustrious history.  Kane will ultimately use it to defeat the djinn Hassim releases from its prison.  Howard also provides a bit of mystery when he mentions that the head of the stick had been recarved from what it was originally and leaves us wondering what had first been depicted there.

All in all, I really liked “The Footfalls Within”.  I think the title alone portrays an air of menace.  Solomon Kane’s character is well portrayed.  He’s heroic, but he does have flaws, such as his sudden impulse to rescue the girl.  The supporting characters of Hassim and Yusef are well developed.  The dialogue both moves the story along and reveals something about the people speaking.  In short, although there was nothing groundbreaking or particularly innovative about “The Footfalls Within”, it’s a tale well told.

13 thoughts on “Blogging Solomon Kane: “The Footfalls Within”

  1. Woelf Dietrich

    You should consider compiling your reviews and publish them. I think with the current publishing landscape and with people searching for tales of good old fashioned storytelling, having a reference available would be a good thing. Also, given your investment of time in this blog, I really don’t think it a bad idea.

    You can even divide into time periods of awesome, or more maturely titled, by era.

    1. Keith West Post author

      I’ve considered that before. One of the reasons I’ve never gone forward with that idea is that I really can’t see anyone paying money for them. (Rights to images are also a concern. I can post the cover of a book or an author photo in a review under fair usage. I don’t think I can do that in something for profit without forking over more money than I would ever make. But I digress.) Given all the chatter I’ve seen online in the last few months of (for lack of a better term) the pulp resurgence and people reconnecting to “good old fashioned storytelling” as you put it, it might be time to reevaluate the idea. Thank you for suggesting it.

      1. Woelf Dietrich

        Anytime. I understand the copyright concern but there might be a way around it or failing that, a workable solution. In any event, if ever you need assistance, whether for legal research and risk management (my forte) or editing, let me know.

  2. Paul McNamee

    I was talking with someone at the writers coffeehouse this weekend. He’s another REH fan. As we chatted the first story he mentioned was “Hills of the Dead.”

    I was grinning.

  3. deuce

    This was my first exposure to Solomon Kane from REH. It is also the last SK yarn he ever wrote. Howard told HPL he was consciously trying to move in a more “cosmic horror” direction with this tale. Perhaps that is why I rate it so highly in the SK corpus.

    Slaughtering Muslim slave traders is always a bonus as well. I was quite familiar with the idea from Burroughs’ Tarzan novels. REH might have also read about them in ERB’s works.

    1. Keith West Post author

      Yes, I really liked this one. It made me want to go and refamiliarize myself with Solomon. I suspect you’re right about the ERB influence. I would be surprised if Howard wasn’t aware of them from other sources, though.

  4. deuce

    Oh, I know now that there were other sources available. The Mahdi War erupted, as much as anything, because the Sudanese Arabs objected to British efforts to suppress the slave trade. REH even wrote a damn good story about the fall of Khartoum. However, Arab slavers were a fairly constant motif in the Tarzan novels. Hard to miss, and we know that REH read a lot of Burroughs.


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