Customer Reviews: The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane
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on June 29, 2004
"The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane" collects together all the unedited, original stories and poems about the puritan adventurer and fantasy hero Solomon Kane. Author Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) created many classic fantasy heroes in the pulp magazines of the 1920s and 30s, such as Conan the Cimmerian, and Solomon Kane is one of his most unique and intriguing creations for modern readers. Solomon Kane appeared in "Weird Tales" Magazine, and his stories combined swashbuckling adventure with supernatural horrors. Howard describes Kane as a "fanatic," who is called by God to travel the world destroying evil. Kane is compulsive, obsessive, grim, and will NOT be swayed from his quest. He encounters sword-swinging villains, vile black magic, and hideous creatures as his wanders the globe in his ceaseless crusade.
If you haven't heard of Solomon Kane, buy this book immediately and fall into a world of action, horror, history, and the fantastic -- all centered on this vengeful and driven Puritan swordsman of the late 16th/early 17th century. The stories are presented un-edited, which means the inclusion of many racial stereotypes and attitudes prevalent in the 1920s and 1930s.
This paperback is a reprint of an expensive limited-edition hardback. Aside from the stories themselves, it includes all of Howard's unfinished fragments. Earlier editions had author Ramsey Campbell finish these incomplete stories, but I prefer to read them exactly as Howard left them. Fabulous black and white illustrations by Gary Gianni adorn almost every page, scattered around the borders of the text, with an occasional full-page illustration. Gianni has an unerring eye for period detail, and his envisioning of Solomon Kane is dead-on. For the reference of new readers, the editors include two essays on Howard's life. First, a memoriam written by H. P. Lovecraft (who corresponded with Howard for years) on the occasion of Howard's suicide in 1936. Second, scholar Rusty Burke provides a short but information overview of the Howard's life. For the extremist, there is also an appendix of textual notes on the stories.
Here are the stories, fragments, and poems you will find inside...
SKULLS IN THE STARS: Solomon Kane finds a wraith-like monster guarding a lonely road in rural England. A short spooky tale; a good introduction to the character.
THE RIGHT HAND OF DOOM: A condemned wizard seeks revenge on the man who betrayed him. This is very short piece, more like a vignette, and Kane has only a small role in the story.
RED SHADOWS: (Originally published as "Solomon Kane") Kane vows vengeance against a bandit who killed a girl, and chases him into Africa, where he encounters sinister magic and furious swordplay. A real mini-epic, with Howard's word magic at its best.
RATTLE OF BONES: In the Black Forest of Germany, Kane finds a mysterious inn with a hideous secret. A fine, short horror piece.
CASTLE OF THE DEVIL: (Fragment) Solomon Kane decides to investigate a tyrannical baron. Only four pages were completed.
DEATH'S BLACK RIDERS: (Fragment) Kane meets a shadowy ghost rider on the road. Howard completed only a page.
THE MOON OF SKULLS: The longest story -- almost a short novel! To rescue a kidnapped girl, Kane enters a lost city in Africa lorded over by an evil queen.
THE ONE BLACK STAIN: A four-page poem where Solomon Kane meets Sir Francis Drake. Unusual and stirring.
THE BLUE FLAME OF VENGEANCE: (Previously titled "Blades of the Brotherhood") On another vengeance trail, Solomon Kane battles pirates on the English coast. There's no fantasy element -- it's a straightforward historical action tale -- but Howard's fiery writing makes this one of the best stories.
THE HILLS OF THE DEAD: Deep in Africa again, Kane joins forces with a shaman to take on a horde of the walking dead.
HAWK OF BASTI: (Fragment) A good start to a story, but the manuscript stops just as it gets interesting. Kane delves deeper into the jungles to find a tyrannical lost civilization.
THE RETURN OF SIR RICHARD GRENVILLE: Two-page poem, with Kane fighting side by side with a ghost.
WINGS IN THE NIGHT: In the best story of all, Kane battles a race of bloodthirsty winged humanoids on an African plateau. Howard's writing reaches levels of feverish, raw madness, creating an intense experience. A fine example of his passionate style and theme of affirming life through seemingly hopeless struggle.
THE FOOTFALLS WITHIN: Another superb story, which will appeal to fans of horror writer (and Howard pen-pal) H. P. Lovecraft. Slavers capture Solomon Kane, but they have an unpleasant rendezvous with an ancient crypt that imprisons something that should not be disturbed. Howard delves deep into dread and primordial terror in this one.
THE CHILDREN OF ASSHUR: (Fragment) Kane stumbles across a lost city of Assyrians. This is a lengthy fragment, about thirty pages, and might have been a one of the best stories if Howard had finished it.
SOLOMON KANE'S HOMECOMING: (Poem) After years of wandering, our puritan hero comes back to England and remembers some of his adventures. This short poem is the perfect way to end the saga of Solomon Kane, and is reprinted here in two versions.
"The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane" is a volume not to be missed for fans of fantasy, pulp literature, and historical adventure. If you've only read Howard's Conan stories, here's your chance to expand to one of his other brilliant creations in a beautiful volume.
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VINE VOICEon July 2, 2004
Long before Robert Howard conceived of Conan there was Solomon Kane. A Puritan Englishman from the 16th century, Kane wandered the earth with no particular destination in mind but where God should send him. Like all of Howard's characters, Kane is an adventurer, but unusual in that he sees himself as a tool of God's justice. And it is a very Puritanical God indeed that Kane serves. This is not a God of mercy but one who destroys all evil in His path, using Solomon Kane as his tool.
I must confess that I like these stories even more than the Conan tales. Solomon Kane is a driven character with a brooding personality I find more appealing than Conan. This book contains all the published stories about Kane and six previously unpublished manuscripts from the Glenn Lord collection. As with the other Robert Howard books published by Del Rey, this one includes superb illustrations. The frontspiece by Gary Gianni perfectly captures Kane's grim visage.
Anyone who enjoys reading the old pulp adventure tales should get this book. Howard was a true master of the genre. The stories, poetry, and essay on Howard by H.P. Lovecraft are all great reads now just as when they were first published. My favorite pieces are the fragment "Castle of the Devil," "Rattle of Bones," and the poem "The One Black Stain" which places Kane with Sir Francis Drake. But you can hardly go wrong with any part of this book.
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on July 1, 2004
Solomon Kane... pious servant of God, adventurer, death dealer. Evil must perish from this earth, and with a curse an oath to God was sworn. It is his quest and his curse. These aren't your typical good versus evil stories. They contain within them, for those willing to look, the characteristic complexity, and hypocrisy, of human nature that is found throughout Robert E. Howard's body of work. Solomon Kane battles men, monsters, sorcery... and himself.
The Solomon Kane stories broke new, artistic ground on many levels, but perhaps the most significant breakthrough dealt with what Robert E. Howard is most known for in modern times... the father of the literary genre Sword and Sorcery. The Solomon Kane stories were the first modern Sword and Sorcery, and Kane the first Sword and Sorcery character (published in 1928). These stories blended for the first time historical advetnure, fantasy, and supernatural horror in modern prose. Not only excellent stories, but the first of their kind. Highly recommended.
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on October 26, 2004
As the greatest writer of yarns of pure adventure, Howard's stories are excellently paced and never drag. They grab you by your throat upon the first page and don't let go.

Solomon Kane is one of the more likeable characters from Howard's typewriter. Like Conan, he is a praeternaturally strong fighter. There's just enough psychoanalyzing in here to make him interesting. Kane is a "Puritan," but Kane's Puritanism means in essence that he imagines himself the instrument of God's predestined vengeance upon the unworthy and unholy, that he might "ease them from their lives." In the grip of a grim wanderlust, he is the kinsman of the Wandering Jew, or of Melmoth the Wanderer. His determination is not for his own sake. Unlike Conan, he is driven by more than a will to survive; he is doing the Lord's will.

I suspect that Kane is less well known than Conan largely because many of Kane's tales take place in the Africa of pulp fiction, full of witch doctors and violently sensual tribal empresses. This sort of thing makes people in the twenty-first century understandably nervous. The daintily politically correct will not have the stomach for this, and people with a jaundiced eye towards racial politics are sure to find many faults; but then these people are unlikely to get a taste for classic pulp adventure. It isn't as bad as you fear in any case. Kane's righteousness is such that he willingly unsheaths his sword in defence of Black people as White: this redeems Kane from the worst accusations that could be laid at his charge.

The illustrations are nicely done in an appropriately classical style. Howard's prose is presented without serious editing or tinkering, and the apparatus notes any serious variations.
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on August 20, 2004
Robert E. Howard is most famous for his character Conan. However, Howard was writing adventure characters long before Conan. Among the more popular of these is his English Puritan swordsman, Solomon Kane.

Kane is definitely an interesting character. He shares certain traits with Conan, including fighting skill, a love of adventure, and a nefarious past. Unlike Conan, Kane is a far more righteous in his motivations. While Conan was never evil, he was definitely a man who allowed himself to be ruled by his passions. He did what he believed necessary for his survival. If that happened to be the right thing, so much the better. If he engaged in thievery (which he often did), he did so without hesitation. Kane's passions are more submerged, obscured by his hatred of what he believes to be "evil". He hunts murderers, thieves, and demons because he wishes to inflict punishment on them.

The tales found in this volume are all terrific. While some are better than others, not once did I feel like I had wasted my time upon reaching the end of a story, which is always a possibility while reading an anthology. Howard's imagery is vivid, as Kane chases ghosts and fights duels in England, and pursues French bandits, evil kingdoms, and flying monsters in Africa. The stories are by turns funny, exhilarating, chilling, and creepy, and always satisfying. While Howard's prose had its "purple" moments, he never takes the reader out of the story by overwriting.

The only real complaint I have with this volume is aimed at its editors. The first Conan collection included a couple of essays that examined how Howard created Conan, the nature of Conan cycle of stories, and general insights into Howard's state of mind. "Solomon Kane" has no such essays. This is unfortunate, as some of the stories in this volume are unfinished fragments, without any explanation for why Howard never finished them. Some insight into why Howard departed slightly from his more usual "barbarian" approach with the Puritan Kane (although, the "Anglo-Saxon Barbarian" is always just below the surface) would have been nice.

However, this is a minor concern that in no way reduces enjoyment of this volume, or its rating. It is excellent.
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on December 21, 2010
Just a few words about the Kindle edition of this book.

This is - by far - the best kindle edition of any book I have yet bought. Granted, I only have 30 e-books or so, but this one stands out from the bunch:
- It has a complete, accessible index
- Text is well formatted
- Every story seems illustrated, and the (good quality) illustrations seamlessly integrate with the text

A kindle edition the way it should be!
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on June 16, 2006
_The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane_ is a republication of the tales of the swashbuckling Puritan, Solomon Kane, by pulp writer Robert E. Howard. Howard, a native of Texas and best known perhaps for creating the Conan character, was a fascinating adventure author who incorporated much of his love of history, Celtic lore, exotic locales, and Atlantean myth in his stories. Howard was a friend and correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft and together their work forms a unique contribution to pulp literature, much of it being printed in the pulp magazine _Weird Tales_. Solomon Kane was an early creation of Howard's and is quite a unique character. He is at once an English Puritan "fanatic" seeking to do God's work on earth by avenging the righteous and "easing evil men of their lives" and a landless wanderer who roams the earth. Howard describes Kane as "a strange blending of Puritan and Cavalier, with a touch of the ancient philosopher, and more than a touch of the pagan . . . A hunger in his soul drove him on and on, an urge to right all wrongs, protect all weaker things . . . Wayward and restless as the wind, he was consistent in only one respect - he was true to his ideals of justice and right. Such was Solomon Kane." In these stories, Kane seeks to protect the innocents or avenge the lives of dying girls battling monsters and dark forces as well as darker men. Many of the tales take place in the Dark Continent of Africa, where black magic (the power of voodoo and ju-ju) are unleashed upon the land. Kane faces classic villains such as Le Loup (a dastardly French swordsmen who slays a girl who Kane avenges), Queen Nakari (an African vampiress queen), and the Fishhawk and the Brotherhood of pirates. The stories also features a tale of long ago races, including the last of the race of Atlantis. (Indeed, the Atlantean myth was to play a central role throughout Howard's stories.) In some of the later tales, Kane encounters the ju-ju man N'Longa who gives him a special staff with magical powers. This staff which is topped with the head of a cat plays an important role in some of the later stories in this collection. Many have already noted that Howard's tales are certainly not politically correct, although it must be noted that within the tales Kane defends both blacks and whites from monsters and avenges both races equally. Howard's view of Africa was very much a product of his time, and these tales show the conflict between the black and white races. Solomon Kane on the other hand is an individual motivated by the highest traditions of chivalry and honor.

This book includes a brief tribute "In Memoriam" by H. P. Lovecraft written after Howard's tragic suicide. The book also includes the following stories and poems (some of them fragments):

"Skulls in the Stars"

"The Right Hand of Doom"

"Red Shadows"

"Rattle of Bones"

"The Castle of the Devil"

"Death's Black Riders"

"The Moon of Skulls"

"The One Black Stain"

"The Blue Flame of Vengeance"

"The Hills of the Dead"

"Hawk of Basti"

"The Return of Sir Richard Grenville"

"Wings in the Night"

"The Footfalls Within"

"The Children of Asshur"

"Solomon Kane's Homecoming"

"Solomon Kane's Homecoming (Variant)"

The book also includes a brief biography of Robert E. Howard, showing his life as a writer cut short by an all-too-tragic and early death. The book is illustrated by Gary Gianni.

Solomon Kane represents a unique figure in pulp literature, a swashbuckling English Puritan motivated by a desire to see God's justice and vengeance upon the earth. Howard's writing is superb and his historical, geographical, and anthropological knowledge is shown throughout. Howard was widely read in these areas and this book is sure to provide enjoyment to those who enjoy a good tale of swashbuckling adventure set in exotic locations.
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on August 26, 2009
Damon Knight once wrote that Robert E. Howard "had the maniac's advantage of believing everything he wrote" (19), which gave his works a kind of credibility. Knight was writing about Conan, but he could just as easily have been referring to Solomon Kane, a character first invented by Howard when he was in high school. The prose of Howard's stories might be purple, and the plots might be preposterous. But his swashbuckling hero has a life that allows him to sweep through the action and to carry the day.

Captain Solomon Kane, for those not in the know, is a black-robed, slouch-hatted Puritan swordsman living in Elizabethan times. I can't say that I would love to have him for my next-door neighbor. He has no more sense of humor than the proverbial skeleton at the feast. And he has no sense of tact or diplomacy. He never lies. Moreover, he is just the sort of fellow who might decide that he knows what is good for me-- and set about correcting my flaws with a fanatic's zeal. But if I were being plagued with a surfeit of wizards, demons, pirates, or vampire queens... Well, Solomon Kane is a good man to have around. He has a long record of assisting such characters into death with his rapier, his flintlock pistols, or his powerful hands.

It might be tempting to say that Kane never has a milimicrosecond's moment of doubt or temptation from his ideals. But that would not be strictly true. Here he is when an African queen offers him the chance to be king alongside her:

Solomon's brain reeled. Perhaps it was the woman's fierce magnetic personality, the dynamic power she instilled in her fiery words, but at the moment her wild plan seemed not at all wild and impossible. Lurid and chaotic visions flamed through the Puritan's brain-- Europe torn by civil and religious strife, betrayed by her rulers, tottering-- aye, Europe was in desperate straits now, and might prove an easy victim for some strong savage race of conquerors. What man can truthfully say that in his heart there lurks not a yearning for power and conquest? (109)

Howard indicates over and over that there are darker motives for Kane's actions than he is willing to acknowledge. He sometimes has flashes of rage and loses his icy self-control. He sometimes has visions that seem to be primitive racial memories of an earlier time. And sometimes -- as here-- there are moments of temptation. They don't last. But they are there.

I rather like the longish, rambling stories the best-- the ones that have lots of captures and escapes, reversals and counter-reversals, and twists and turns. These are the ones that usually stretch out for a fairly long period of time and which have villains named Le Loup, the Gorilla Killer, Nakari, the Atlantan Priest, and Jonas Hardraker the Fishhawk. Stories of this sort include "Red Shadows," "The Moon of Skulls," "Blue Flames of Vengeance," and "Wings in the Night". Some stories like "Skulls in the Stars" and "Rattle of Bones" are short, tight, and competent-- but much too quickly resolved for my taste. Other stories like "The Right Hand of Doom" are merely short and predictable. "The One Black Stain" is a piece of doggeral about the encounter between Kane and Sir Francis Drake. It is mildly entertaining.

"Castle of the Devil," "Death's Black Riders," and "Hawk of Basti" are fragments. Some paperback collections used versions of these stories that were completed by Ramsey Campbell. Campbell is a good writer, and he did a credible job. But I am something of a purist. I would rather see the fragments alone, for all their limitations. The editors of this book have kept the fragments in their original form.

_The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane_ (1998) is a treat for the reader. It contains the stories, poems, and fragments listed above-- and others as well. It has a generous number of marvelous illustrations by Gary Gianni. It has H.P. Lovecraft's memorial tribute to Howard from _Weird Tales_. It has a good biographical essay by Howard scholar Rusty Burke. It has a generous section of bibliographical notes. You will not find classical literary writing in these pages. But you will find some full-blooded, colorful, imaginative pulp writing. It is great fun.
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on August 1, 2014
Swashbuckling tales of adventure and voodoo. Solomon Kane, the vigilante fanatic driven by demons to journey the world in a relentless and endless quest to destroy as many evil doers as he is physically capable of until he meets his own demise.

First of all, this character is impossible and defies all reason. Solomon Kane is a puritan in puritan garb, but armed with daggers, a sword, pistols, a musket and a voodoo staff. He is not a priest, but an avenger of evil. This character is the reason why people like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger had careers. There is something in the minimalist stroke of these kinds of characters that strikes deep within our souls. They may not be fleshed out or shown in full-color but their limited scenes, dialog and emotions gets across very quickly who they are and what they are all about. They are not flat; they come across by all the mastery of a genius stroke. Robert E. Howard was a master at this, focusing his short-lived but prolific career on powerful characters that stick with you.

Like nearly all of Howard's works, Solomon Kane came alive in the serial magazines through short efforts. Given those parameters, Howard's talent clearly shines. Every story he told, he had to reset the character for new readers without overloading on back story (he does this sometimes in just few sentences!). And yet, the stories do sometimes relate back to each other and the character seems to progress within his own timeline.

At first Solomon Kane tangles with evil men in England and Europe, but as the stories progress he ends up in Africa and the tales range beyond swashbuckling, and into the "weird" spaces where Howard excelled. Here, Kane, befriends various African tribal peoples and eventually is given his famous stave which he uses as both a weapon and ward against black magic. These elements really get fun when the protagonist is beset with demons and the undead. He even gets into Conan and Kull territory when he has to navigate through ancient temples and secret passages.

Yet, Solomon Kane is all his own. He is a lean and cold, efficient avenger of justice. Howard does not bury the story with scripture quotes or biblical conspiracies like many modern authors might be tempted to do, but he does occasionally pepper in elements of religious and secular history. Solomon Kane is also uninhibited by most earthly desires, he has virtually no love interest and has little curiosity in women except a brotherly protectiveness. Again refreshing (in that he doesn't fall into classic romance tropes).

This character clearly has a code and keeps consistent, but he is not without struggles. Chiefly he struggles with some strange and mysterious drive that sets him wandering the world waiting for God to lead him to wrongs that must be righted in an almost Calvinist trajectory. He frequently admits that he is a fanatic and will explode in great, violent, berserker furies. This can cause problems for him when his impulses drive him to save the helpless in a rash and gallant move where a more prudent measure might be better served. He also cares deeply for the innocent and good. And there are interesting scenes of inner turmoil where Kane finds, to his dismay, that even his superior fighting and cunning cannot save all the world; and he must occasionally be satiated only with savage acts of revenge and the satisfaction that he has at least temporarily rid some small plot of land from a long-plagued evil that had resided there.

On the negative side, these stories were written long ago and Howard suffered from old worldviews on race and evolution (and probably sexism). He was very interested in history and makes many references to racial histories, but there are parts that are somewhat cringe worthy if not offensive. That said, and keeping a historical perspective in mind, Solomon Kane's stories have much merit in them, sometimes refreshingly so. Of note, Howard receives his voodoo staff from an African shaman whom he later dubs his "blood-brother" and he is often found coming to the rescue of African tribes being tortured or oppressed. To be sure, Solomon Kane, is intolerant of all evils whomever may perpetrate them and whomever they may be perpetrated against.

Stephen King has made comments to the effect that when Howard hits his stride his writing is charged and electric. This is so true. Howard's words fall into a soulful, blues-groove and speed you along with emotion. You feel the rains beating down and the fury and frustration of Solomon Kane as he screams out against the evil in the world. Like Howard's other characters, it's personal. Which is really amazing, because again this is not a novel and the character spends much of his time hacking and slashing his way through adventures. Still, somehow, someway, and where others have failed--Robert E. Howard always manages to find the right beats and notes to strike a chord in the soul and draw you into his characters. If J.R.R. Tolkien is the "Led Zeppelin" of epic fantasy, then Robert E. Howard is the "Jimmie Hendrix" of heroic fantasy.

This book is a collection of (probably) everything Howard ever wrote about the character including a few poems and unfinished stories (even though others have tried to complete these fragments only Howard's original words are presented here). The book is also illustrated throughout and contains a scholarly appendix, short bio on Howard and a few words from HP Lovecraft on Howard's untimely death. A very great addition for anyone looking to get into Howard.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: "No Deodorant In Outer Space". The podcast is available on iTunes or our website.
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on November 22, 2013
I have never been a giant Robert E. Howard fanboy, but I have long appreciated his stories for what they are - rip-roaring pulp adventures with plenty of bloody action, plenty of old school moral preaching from his characters (some of it perhaps chauvinistic by today's standards) and clear-cut, predictable endings, as well as a good dash of 1930s-era southern racism that the sane modern man or woman can only appreciate ironically.
This is, of course, a collection of short stories revolving around a single character, and therefore the character is the most important part Howard's stoic, tough-guy characters are inevitably cut from the same cloth: It is no wonder that his work has been so often adapted into comics, as his protagonists are generally only one or two steps away from what might be defined as a superhero. Indeed, characters such as Conan, El Borak and Solomon Kane all seem like the same person in character, though each with the distinct ideals of their time and place. Solomon Kane is little different from Conan in many ways, aside from his religious grounding in his conviction that it is his mission to destroy evil wherever he finds it. The situations he faces, however, are darker than those faced by Conan - In these tales Robert E. Howard takes great joy and care in describing horrific monsters that would not be out of place in the stories of his correspondent and contemporary H.P. Lovecraft.
That said, each of these stories, while predictable and pretty clear-cut, is not only written with a gleeful sense of ominous darkness but with a fierceness and brutality that can only come from Robert E. Howard. It is difficult not to relish Howard's blow-by-blow descriptions of fight scenes that resemble a sports commentator giving the details of a boxing match over the radio. It is also difficult not to delight in Howard's tough, masculine, ball-busting prose, or his dramatic proclamations about the evil supernatural forces that populate his character's world.
While certainly in these stories there is no complex exploration of morality (it is reiterated quite a few times that Solomon Kane is good and his enemies evil), nor are there many plot twists that truly come as a surprise. However, that is never what Robert E. Howard was about. Instead, in his work a reader will find pure, raw masculine energy, which in the dour puritan adventurer Solomon Kane is given a slightly darker flavor. It is not complex stuff, but Howard's prose and descriptions, like the pounding thump of tribal drums, bespeak the pounding heartbeat of a warrior.
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