“What is it?” I asked.
“The King in Yellow.”
I was dumbfounded. Who had placed it there? I had long ago decided that I should never open that book, and nothing on earth could have persuaded me to buy it. Fearful lest curiosity might tempt me to open it, I had never even looked at it in bookstores. If I ever had had any curiosity to read it, the awful tragedy of young Castaigne, whom I knew, prevented me from exploring its wicked pages. I had always refused to listen to any description of it, and indeed, nobody ever ventured to discuss the second part aloud, so I had absolutely no knowledge of what those leaves might reveal. I stared at the poisonous mottled binding as I would at a snake.
“Don’t touch it...”
Robert William Chambers (1865-1933) was an American illustrator and writer, best known for The King in Yellow, his influential and odd collection of ten macabre and French short stories first published in 1895. The title refers to a fictional play featured in four of the stories, and to a mysterious and malevolent supernatural entity within that play who may very well exist outside of it. It is whispered that the play leaves only insanity and sorrow in its wake; it tempts those who read it, bringing upon them hallucinations and madness . . .
Influencing the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Nic Pizzolato (creator and writer of HBO’s True Detective), and described by critics as a classic in the field of the supernatural, The King in Yellow – with its dashes of fantasy, mystery, mythology, romance, and science fiction – is a staple of the early gothic and Victorian horror genres.
“Very genuine is the strain of horror . . . really achieves notable heights of cosmic fear."
Worth the hassle? Yes, absolutely. The King in Yellow is a fantastic read. Chambers’ “weird” stories really are as great as everyone praises them to be. Even at 122-years-old, they hardly show their age and still manage to induce terror. “The Repairer of Reputations” is exactly the right story with which to begin this book because upon its conclusion, gobsmacked with the realization that at some point recently our unreliable narrator had completely lost his goddamn mind, you’re left trying to pinpoint: when did the madness begin? This question seems to expertly set the stage for routine exploration throughout the other nine stories, no matter that their genres segue from weird to horror to a twinge of sci-fi before settling comfortably into romance, culminating with the melancholic yet understated “Rue Barrée.” A story that seems to get panned far more than it should as one of Chambers’ more tedious Paris romances (certainly not as tedious as “The Street of Our Lady of the Fields”), its placement at the end of this book, I’ve realized, is not without exacting purpose because its final sentence so succinctly (albeit indirectly) answers the lingering question threaded through all the stories: How does madness begin? Chambers ends his masterpiece book having finally arrived at the simple, tragic answer: the heart breaks.
It is my sincere hope that you will enjoy this book at least as much as I have enjoyed reading, designing, and re-reading (and re-reading) it.
“The King in Yellow remains today a masterpiece of its kind, and with the work of Edgar Allen Poe and Ambrose Bierce, shares the distinction of having contributed to the famed Cthulhu mythos of H.P.Lovecraft.” –August Derleth
“The King in Yellow and his legendary city of Carcosa may be the most famous character and setting you’ve never heard of . . . It should not be surprising that Lovecraft incorporated Chambers’ The King in Yellow into his overarching Cthulhu mythos.” –Michael M. Hughes, io9.com
“Chambers’ King in Yellow is the more successful precursor to Lovecraft’s Cthulu. He’s a being who makes the reader shudder not because of how he looks or what he does, but because he inspires such eloquently expressed terror in the characters who encounter him.” –Etelka Lehoczky, NPR
“It is a masterpiece . . . I have read many portions several times, captivated by the unapproachable tints of the painting. None but a genius of the highest order could do such work.” –Edward Ellis
“The most eccentric little volume of its day, The King in Yellow is subtly fascinating, and compels attention for its style, and its wealth of strange imaginative force.” –Times Herald
“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. The horror comes from character, superbly rendered detail, and an uncanny ability to suggest rather than declaim. ‘The Repairer of Reputations’ is one of the finest stories in the English language.” –New York Press
“Authors like Chambers were restrained in defining every detail of the universes they created, while taking pains to suggest that there is just so much more happening beneath the surface . . . It’s the very indirectness of the way he references The King in Yellow, these little drops of the hat, that has caused later writers to be so fascinated by what he explicitly left unsaid.” –S.T. Joshi
“Although The King in Yellow has been an obscure reference indeed for most of the last hundred years, it was truly ahead of its time. It is one of the first fictional meta-books, a literary device that has been used since by authors as diverse as Agatha Christie, Franz Kafka, H.P. Lovecraft, and Vladimir Nabokov . . . It also happens to echo the best principles of great modern design: It’s what isn’t there that makes it so appealing.” –John Brownlee, Fast Co.
Published: December 15, 2017
Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.65 inches
Weight: 11.9 ounces
Cover: Matte Finish
Interior: Black & White on Cream Paper
Pages: 260 (+2 POD)
Annotations: 91 Footnotes
Robert W. Chambers
December 15, 2017