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The King in Yellow (Classic Robert W. Chambers) Paperback – February 8, 2014


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Product Details

  • Series: Classic Robert W. Chambers
  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (February 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1495472108
  • ISBN-13: 978-1495472107
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,307,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

From the Editor's Introduction:

To the extent that Robert W. Chambers (1865-1933) is remembered at all today, it is for "The King in Yellow", an odd collection of supernatural and "French" stories first published in 1895. It was followed by a few science-fiction comedies which are still reprinted from time to time, and then by dozens of popular historical romances and "society" novels, now long out of print and apparently unlamented. That he was originally an artist and friend of the famous Charles Dana Gibson is now mostly forgotten; knowing this, the reader can guess that Chambers was an art student in the Latin Quarter and attended the schools mentioned in his stories.

For his weird tales, Chambers took some names from Ambrose Bierce, and his own stories were later mined by H. P. Lovecraft and the pulp magazine writers of his circle. Such usage has kept "The King in Yellow", if not alive, then at least in the awareness of readers of the fantasy and horror genre. For all I know, the references have now spread to board games, rock music albums and cult television programs.

Like other readers of such literature, when I was young I enjoyed the supernatural stories in the first half of the book, but tended to skip over the tales of the artists' life in Paris in the second half. Indeed, several editions have omitted these stories entirely, substituting others more likely to appeal to the fantasy reader. However, as I grow older, the French stories appeal to me more and more. I am grateful for even a small glimpse into the author's youth in another time and place, now long gone. As an aside: the characters of these stories first appeared in Chambers' first book, "In the Quarter", which appeared in 1894.

What is "The King in Yellow" about? ("There are so many things which are impossible to explain"). The title refers to a book within our book, actually to a play in two acts, and to a supernatural character within that play who we suspect also exists outside of it. We know very little of the contents of the play, but discover that it drives the reader insane and damns his soul. Yet the book is said to be beautiful, expressing the "supreme note of art". As such, the device is a perfect one for the Decadent time in which it was created, suggesting the flowers of evil, the admixture of life and decay, beauty and malevolence.

As we move into the French stories, the supernatural elements fade away. We still have the themes of the danger of too much knowledge, and of innocence threatened and protected. The stories are loosely connected but not presented in any sort of chronological order. In fact, the first, "The Repairer of Reputations", is set in the future of 1920, and one of the later stories, "The Street of the First Shell", is a realistic account of the siege of Paris in 1870. Did Chambers have a reason for arranging the book in this way? Perhaps he wanted to introduce some distance from the locus of horror, showing how evil ripples out from a center, never entirely vanishing, but diminishing and being conquered by love. As dark as his vision may be, hope and love are never absent.

A reader is allowed his favorites. I have two: "The Mask" features a striking combination of hope and the intimation of transcendence, set against the sinister background of Chambers' mythology. It is the most Catholic of his stories, a strain that runs through many of them. And, at six pages, "The Street of the Four Winds" is one of the most perfect short stories I know. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Robert William Chambers, May 26, 1865 – December 16, 1933, was an American artist and fiction writer, best known for his masterpiece, a book of short stories entitled The King In Yellow, published in 1895. The King in Yellow (1895) – short stories.

Customer Reviews

Great horror fiction from well before the genre was around.
Alton L. McCormick
This is a book I wish I had read earlier, so I could now read it again.
D. Mosier
And the endings, they didn't even really end, so much as just stop.
Daniel J. Henk

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 91 people found the following review helpful By john.kilby@cableol.co.uk on June 13, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Robert W. Chambers' "The King in Yellow" is a book within a book. Or, more properly, it's a collection of macabre short stories with a common theme; a fictional two-act play that brings decadence, hallucinations, and madness to any reader.
The stories within this collection, published in 1895, are set in a fictional militaristic 1920s in both the USA and Europe. The tales stand free of each other, and are told from a number of different perspectives, by socialites, soldiers, and artists. Each tells how the lives of the narrator and colleagues have been affected by reading "The King in Yellow", a controversial play that has been denounced by the church and suppressed by governments. After coming into contact with it, their lives are tragically affected. Some find themselves hounded by shadowy agents, while others become confused and delusional. Others are driven to act out the play's sad and decadent events, while some simply go insane.
The substance of the play itself is only alluded to, or hinted at in brief extracts. It is clearly a tragedy, but the motivations and actions of its central characters, including the mysterious King in Yellow himself, are not clear. Like many authors of macabre tales, Chambers was content for our imaginations to do the work, and this book is more powerful for it.
(And by the way, if the central theme of a forbidden book that induces insanity is familiar to you, you've probably read some of the Mythos tales of H.P.Lovecraft. In fact, I doubt that too many people come to read "The King in Yellow" by any other route; Chambers' book is clearly stated as a strong influence on Lovecraft's work.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Preston Halcomb on July 8, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This collection of stories by Robert Chambers is an excellent companion to anyone who enjoys the Cthulhu Mythos and wants to delve into some of the inspiration for Lovecraft's fiction. Reading these stories was very much like stepping through a doorway into another dimension. The characters were well written and the plot was filled with madness and lurking horror. I would highly recommend this book to anyone.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By J. Whelan on December 15, 2013
Format: Paperback
Robert W. Chambers wrote a lot of books, but his first, published in 1895, is the only one remembered - mainly by fans of weird horror, and mainly for its first half. The best material tends to come first; so a bored reader can probably safely skip whatever follows his loss of interest. My own suggestion would be to read not much further than "The Street of the Four Winds". The volume is divided into roughly 3 sections:

[I] THE KING IN YELLOW: A set of 5 inter-connected tales of the weird, prefaced by the poem "Cassilda's Song". They revolve around a handful of mysterious references, to such things as "The Lake of Hali", "Carcossa", "Hastur" (these drawn from earlier tales by Ambrose Bierce) and a play entitled "The King in Yellow", which is said to drive mad those who read it. These stories tap into fear of unknown mainly by making little or no sense -- at least, I could make little sense of them; and if anyone else has succeeded better than I, I have never seen their explanations. Still, I somewhat enjoyed the riddle, along with the creepy atmosphere. The stories are

- [1] "The Repairer of Reputations": A madman in a future New York plans to become King, with the aid of a deranged blackmailer, and a mysterious cult.
- [2] "The Mask": A sculptor finds a means of transforming living objects into stone.
- [3] "In the Court of the Dragon": After attending church, a man finds himself stalked by a sinister organist.
- [4] "The Yellow Sign": An artist & his model are vaguely menaced by a repulsive gravedigger.
- [5] "The Demoiselle D'Ys": A man falls asleep on a French moor & wakes to find himself in a mythic past.

The tales that come closest to standing on their own as horror are numbers [1], [3] and [4] above.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By orvuus on June 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
Most of the other reviews here rightly criticize
the syrupy romance of Chambers and the thin
character development in this book. They also
entirely miss the point. This book was published
in 1895, and between Poe and Ambrose Bierce the
literature of fantasy and the macabre had not
developed greatly. This book should simply be
enjoyed for what it is -- a flawed book with
some rather sinister and chilling stories.
A better purchase would be "The King In Yellow And
Other Stories," which collect this and other works.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By larryloc@ioc.net on August 29, 1997
Format: Hardcover
The King in Yellow is a group of thinly connected short stories all dealing with the effect of a two act play titled "The King in Yellow". The play will show up in the lives and libraries of the victums as if it has a dark soul and will of its own.

All that find this work are blasted in a horrific cosmic game of tag that is some of the darkest fiction in weird literature.

Published in 1895 by a young art student who wrote most of it while living in Paris, the King in Yellow and the early work of Robert W. Chambers were an influence on the work H. P. Lovecraft. Some feel that The King in Yellow is the source of the Necronomicon.

For more information on the work of Robert W. Chambers see: [...]

Larry Loc
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