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The King in Yellow – Robert W. Chambers #BookReview

Title:
The King in Yellow and Other Stories

Author:
Robert W. Chambers

Genre:
Horror/Weird Fiction

Book procurement:
Obtained a copy from The Project Gutenberg

Rating:

A pleasant 3 out of 5

Synopsis:

“Every story of The King in Yellow has something riveting about it … so perfectly realized, they became the model for much of twentieth-century horror/fantasy.” — New York Press
One of the most important works of American supernatural fiction since those of Poe, The King in Yellow was among the first attempts to establish the horror of the nameless and the unimaginable. A treasured source used by almost all the significant writers in the American pulp tradition — H. P. Lovecraft, A. Merritt, Robert E. Howard, and many others — it endures as a work of remarkable power and one of the most chillingly original books in the genre.
This collection reprints all the supernatural stories from The King in Yellow, including the grisly “Yellow Sign,” the disquieting “Repairer of Reputations,” the tender “Demoiselle d’Ys,” and others. Robert W. Chambers’ finest stories from other sources have also been added, such as the thrilling “Maker of Moons” and “The Messenger.” In addition, an unusual pleasure awaits those who know Chambers only by his horror stories: three of his finest early biological science-fiction fantasies from In Search of the Unknown appear here as well.

First Thoughts

I’m a Stephen King fan. I’ve read my share of Edgar Allen Poe. Fawned over H.P. Lovecraft. All of them influenced in some way by Robert W. Chambers from Stephen King’s Crimson King in The Dark Tower series to mention of the Yellow Sign in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in the Darkness. Once I learned of these correlations, it is obvious I would read the very man who influenced the writers who influenced me.

So I was expecting something of profound darkness and fear and instead  was greeted by a good dose of weird fiction. The title of this book is also the name of the book appearing in most of the short stories contained within the anthology; a fictional play called The King in Yellow. It reminds me of the “Necronomicon” where madness proceeds those that either read through it or research its contents. The first few stories had me begging for more while the remaining stories moved from the weird and into character development.

This book (the Necronomicon) was also the inspiration for my Wattpad horror novella Faux.

The Story

The Repairer of Reputations

A fascinating story to kick off the weirdness in the collection. A man is drawn towards a recluse whose business is repairing the reputation of those in society. While there is much scorn for this Repairer, out protagonist Constance finds much fascination in the man and the journal he keeps. One that causes deep paranoia and abject egotism in Constance, all of which relate to The King. Yes, that king.

The Mask

The story begins with an excerpt from the play The King in Yellow Act I, Scene 2. From then we delve into the lives of Alec, Boris, and Geneviève where Alex and Boris are artists (sculptors). Boris finds a peculiar substance that can transform live objects into pure, detailed marble works. At the same time there is romance and art revolving around the three. Beautiful and mesmerising.

In The Court of the Dragon

Ah this was one of my favourite stories. A man is in a church and spots a perculiar organist who begins to haunt him. He fears the man is after his soul. You get a sense of fear and paranoia as he seeks to escape what he feels is certain fate.

The Yellow Sign

Another one that prickled my sense of paranoia (are you getting the theme yet?) where an artist (this too) finds himself haunted by vivid dreams and a sinister, bizarre churchyard watchman who resembles a maggot. There is also some romance involved.

The Demoiselle D’YS

Yeah… So I had to translate a lot of words from French to English to understand some of the words being used here but a lot of the story can be read without needing to fully understand the romantic language. The story also contains a lot of references to The King in Yellow although no actual reference to the book is used. Romance builds very quickly in what I can only describe as a ghost story.

The Prophets’ Paradise

Beautifully written short prose pieces that speak of love and death and beauty, all drawn from a quote within the King in Yellow.

The Street of the Four Winds

This was a unique story that did not involve art (but an artist) or romance but a cat. Yes a feline stops at the door of Severn and he seeks to take care of it while looking for its owner. The end takes an interesting morbid twist.

The Street of the First Shell

A poignant tale set in Paris during the Paris Seige of 1870 as bombs drop and a poverty stricken city do what they can to survive. Protagonist Jack cares for his sickly wife who worries dearly about him leaving the house at night while bombs drop from the sky. Nothing weird or horrific in this tale in terms of the supernatural, but only of the horrors of romance.

The Street of Our Lady of the Fields / Rue Barrèe

More sentimental, moving stories of love and romance set in Paris and among artists coming from America to be art students in the city. A story with an assortment of fascinating characters and a bohemian lifestyle. Gorgeous setting and character development.

Writing

Beyond the weird and the paranoia and assortment of artists practicing their art in Paris, the writing itself is vivid and descriptive. Enough to give form to each character you meet and delving into each of their personas with clarity. Allowing you to feel their heartbreaks, their paranoia and all the emotions they experience. Chamber’s writing style flows eloquently and at the same time almost disjointed. Reflecting the very way  people speak and think despite what our contemporaries might deem grammatically incorrect.

Deep reflective writing if I have read any.

Final Thoughts

While the content of the short stories were not exactly what I was expecting, there is no denying the beauty of Chamber’s writing style and ability to create such well detailed characters. As though he himself were observing these very people and writing of them in their presence. I glean some of that Stephen King character development style, understanding the influence may extend beyond the embodiment of evil known as the Crimson King.

I won’t say I enjoyed the book for its horror, but the ideas were unique and wide spread and the writing masterful.


The King in Yellow was published in 1895/1970.

Did you know: Lovecraft borrowed Chambers’ method of only vaguely referring to supernatural events, entities, and places, thereby allowing his readers to imagine the horror for themselves. The play The King in Yellow effectively became another piece of occult literature in the Cthulhu Mythos alongside the Necronomicon and others.

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The King in Yellow #Recommendation

“Every story of The King in Yellow has something riveting about it … so perfectly realized, they became the model for much of twentieth-century horror/fantasy.” — New York Press
One of the most important works of American supernatural fiction since those of Poe, The King in Yellow was among the first attempts to establish the horror of the nameless and the unimaginable. A treasured source used by almost all the significant writers in the American pulp tradition — H. P. Lovecraft, A. Merritt, Robert E. Howard, and many others — it endures as a work of remarkable power and one of the most chillingly original books in the genre.
This collection reprints all the supernatural stories from The King in Yellow, including the grisly “Yellow Sign,” the disquieting “Repairer of Reputations,” the tender “Demoiselle d’Ys,” and others. Robert W. Chambers’ finest stories from other sources have also been added, such as the thrilling “Maker of Moons” and “The Messenger.” In addition, an unusual pleasure awaits those who know Chambers only by his horror stories: three of his finest early biological science-fiction fantasies from In Search of the Unknown appear here as well.


If you read my this past Friday Fiction, The Best Gift, then you know how influential this book became to my writing. I’ll probably do a review for it this Wednesday too. A great read for horror writers and readers.

Robert William Chambers was an American artist and writer. His most famous, and perhaps most meritorious, effort is The King in Yellow, a collection of weird short stories, connected by the theme of the fictitious drama The King in Yellow, which drives those who read it insane.

Chambers returned to the weird genre in his later short story collections The Maker of Moons and The Tree of Heaven, but neither earned him such success as The King in Yellow.

Chambers later turned to writing romantic fiction to earn a living. According to some estimates, Chambers was one of the most successful literary careers of his period, his later novels selling well and a handful achieving best-seller status. Many of his works were also serialized in magazines. After 1924 he devoted himself solely to writing historical fiction.

Chambers died at his home in the village of Broadalbin, New York, on December 16th 1933.

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