“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."
We’ve used the original 1895 F. Tennyson Neely text for our edition of The King in Yellow, cross-referenced with two additional print editions: 1902 Harper & Brothers and 1962 Ace Books. Various spelling discrepancies between the three editions (chiefly British versus American spellings) were inconsistent and perplexing enough that we opted to go with American spellings throughout the entirety of our text (except a quote or two), with additional nips and tucks for readability, but only if our edits did not forsake the author’s original intention or connotation. I mean, I get that a “lawn-mower” was such a new concept that it needed a hyphen in 1895, but now you trip over thirty just glancing at The Home Depot, so I’m fairly certain that no one, today, will miss that hyphen. Or some of the others.
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.
Robert W. Chambers
December 15, 2017
8.5 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches