The King in Yellow – book review

the king in yellow book

The King in Yellow
Robert W. Chambers

The King in Yellow is a collection of separate stories that all have a unifying thread, which includes several separate items; the script to a play called The King in Yellow, something called, the yellow sign, and the malevolent entity, the King in Yellow, himself. The King never makes an appearance in any of the stories, he is just hinted at as the demise of those seeing the yellow sign. When people read the King in Yellow manuscript, especially the second half, they either go utterly mad or strange things happen in their lives‘. The first four tales are in the subgenre known as weird tales and the rest of the book borders more on drama and romance. In fact the last few stories drop the King in Yellow tie-in and don’t feel the same as the earlier part of the book. Some versions of the book drop some of the later stories and replace it with the story by Ambrose Bierce that influenced, The King in Yellow stories, referencing places and titles, Carcosa, Hastur, and. Cassilda. Indeed Lovecraft took the King’s references even further and wrote about King-in-Yellow-theCarcosa and August Derleth turned Hastur into one of the Great Old Ones. The play, The King in Yellow, is never actually read in its entirety in any of the stories. Only sections and lines are read and delivered by the characters in the tales, keeping an air of mystery regarding the manuscript. The stories are written in turn of the century (1800s to 1900s) style which may be difficult for some today but I tend to enjoy the flamboyant use of words of that era’s authors.

I was not fully engaged with every story as some of the later tales in the book seemed to drag on without purpose to me. My favorite story however is the second tale, The Mask. Alec arrives at the Parisian home of his good friend Boris to see his friend’s break-through in the field of alchemy. He has found a way to chemically transform anything into stone, pure white marble to be precise. While Boris showcased his magic elixir, proving it could even change living things to stone, Alec grew weary and settled into the library. There he begins to read The King in Yellow. Alex soon discovers there’s only one thing more interesting than the alchemic discovery, and the manuscript, Boris’s fiancé Genevieve. He is enamored with her beauty and elegance. He had once courted her but she had turned to Boris as her life’s mate. It turns out she is also the king in yellow bookdelighted with Alex on this visit, more so than in the past, and confesses her interest in him. Taken aback Alec decides he must leave his friend’s home so as not to betray his friend’s honor. He is called to the home some time later when his friend Boris dies, to help catalogue many of the artifacts in the home. To his supreme horror, there is a full-sized marble statue in the garden of Genevieve. Only Alec knows the truth of its origin. The description of the marble statue let’s you know in no uncertain terms that it is indeed Genevieve and not an artist’s sculpt.

The Repairer of Reputations is a story of extreme paranoia hinged upon the reading of the mysterious King in Yellow manuscript. In The Court of the Dragon and The Yellow Sign, both deal with being followed and haunted by a silent malevolent being. Both are creepy tales. In ‘Court…’ a church organist seems to show up in the main characters path no matter where he goes. In ‘The Yellow Sign’ this dark figure haunts a man’s every waking hours and dreams. From what I understand this collection is not the definitive collection, that depending upon the publisher there may be different tales in each publication. The Prophets Paradise and Rue Barrie are stories more in line with the KIY tales and would have been better inclusions for the collection rather than some of the more romance styled stories in the later part of the book. I imagine the current publisher chose this current set of stories to give an overview of Chambers writing through his years of authorship. So, while this collection is a good starting point for the King in Yellow series of tales, there is more to be read and discovered in the theme.


Ghost and Horror Stories of Ambrose Bierce – book review

Ghost and Horror Stories of Ambrose Bierce
Selected and introduced by E.F. Bleiler
Dover Books

Ambrose BierceExactly as the title states, this is a collection of short stories dealing with supernatural horror by Bierce. Although sometimes compared with his contemporaries, Poe and Blackwood, his stories are told in a no-nonsense way for the average man rather than poetically told or stemming from a larger ideology. His tales often spring from the guilt in the minds of his characters, people who often had a hand in wrong-doing. Most would recognize these as traditional ghost stories, perhaps common ideas in this day and age, but most likely unnerving when they were first published in the late 1800’s.

In ‘Beyond the Wall’, a son of a well-to-do family, often chased by women trying to climb the social ladder, mistakes rapping on the wall as a flirtatious message from the young lady in the next room. In the morning he discovers she had died in the room that night and her knocking was actually a call for help. Now, many years later, he confesses his dismissal of her communiqué’ as he also reveals that the knocking has resumed. The clever ending of ‘The Middle Toe on the Right Foot’ foreshadows ‘Twilight Zone’ style endings and the last sentence reveal of many a horror tale to come. ‘A Watcher by the Dead’ displays the intellect of Bierce in a complex story that needs to be unraveled to its end in order to understand what had transpired. These, along with ‘The Spook House’, ’The Moonlit Road’ and  ‘The Damned Thing’ are my favorites in the collection.

Some stories, only a few pages long read like classic ‘campfire’ ghost stories, great for telling on a Halloween night. Whether long or short, all of Bierce’s stories are told from his cynical point of view, where no one is free of blame either directly or indirectly. Bierce is also famous for his Civil War accounts for which he served in the Ninth Indiana Volunteers and became a successful field officer. In addition he was an active journalist on the West Coast effectively exposing political scams, favoritism, and wrong-doings in his newspaper columns. If you like classic ghost stories, there are some great tales to be read in this collection.