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The King in Yellow [Kindle Edition]

Robert W. (Robert William) Chambers
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)

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Book Description

This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.


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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.


Product Details

  • File Size: 308 KB
  • Print Length: 203 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1463705034
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00847UYWA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,968 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
While True Detective sent many people to this book, this is not a book written in a contemporary style. Much like A Brief History of Time, this will be a book many people own and few have read. I doubt most people make it through one story.
It's an okay book, filled with atmosphere, foreboding and unease. The influences of Poe and Bierce are easy to see, as is the influencing of Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and The Arkham House authors and the trickle down to modern horror writers.
Like Lovecraft, the prose is melodramatic, bombastic, bordering on hysterical highs of existential terror, and filled with non-resolutions and hints of humanity's minimal awareness of the horrors of the universe. Unlike Lovecraft, it is mostly boring.
It is the literary equivalent of Citizen Kane: one can see the amazing effects it has had on all following authors, without necessarily being enjoyable in and of itself. Blasphemy, I know, but Kane bores me to tears. The difference between Kane and the new critical darling, Vertigo, is the difference between watching paint dry and being involved in a paint ball match. So too with The King in Yellow: it's a slog to read for enjoyment but a treasure trove for readers who want to play find-the-reference (for True Detective fans) or find-the-author-that-borrowed for readers of fantasy, Science Fiction and horror.
Of note, the last several stories in the collection would be difficult to categorize as genre fiction, and wind up being full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
If you want to read for enjoyment, I would look instead to Ambrose Bierce, who created Carcosa, but who has a contemporary feel or Lovecraft or his imitators.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's about the Oscar Wilde affair September 27, 2012
By Phebe
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This series of stories is an early science-fiction/horror work first published in 1895. It was recommended by Stephen King in his history of horror, "Danse Macabre." Despite its early date, the series is certainly science fiction: the first story projects the setting to 1920, and reviews the "history" till then, getting it all wrong, of course, but interestingly so. The second story posits the invention of a way to create sculpture instantly from life forms, much as photography had usurped realistic painting in that day, and reminds one of the 3-D printers just showing up now.
"The King in Yellow" is also certainly horror fiction. The first stories are framed by account of a morally appalling play of that name, which drives everyone mad who reads it. The play has widely been banned and criticized from pulpits and boards of review everywhere. The key to this book is that 1895 was the date of Oscar Wilde's trial for perversion, and "the King in Yellow" is surely a reference to Wilde's play "Salome," which was also widely banned and criticized for its moral decadence. The principals in these stories all know each other and are all artists or writers, like Wilde and his friends. A gravely deformed man, apparently deformed by the exigiencies of law, is a mad character in the lead story named Wilde, and he has a cat that alternately attacks him and lounges on his lap purring: the reference is presumably to Wilde's unstable lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, who was responsible for most of Wilde's problems and his eventual imprisonment and death not long after release. (See the excellent modern biography of this remarkable character, "Bosie" by Douglas Murray.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Charming March 28, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a book far ahead of its time. Written and published in the 19th century, it combines fantasy, science fiction and narrative devices such as misdirection, unreliable narrators and the like, even what we would now call "metafiction." In addition to being fascinating as an historical document it's a great book on it's own. It is not a novel, exactly, but a series of interrelated stories, though the tone is such that it reads somewhat like a unitary work. To repeat myself, it's fascinating, on many levels. Highly recommended.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Beginning, Superfluous End November 26, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The King in Yellow is one of the most brilliant--and one of the most disappointing--collections of short stories I have ever read. The first five stories were tremendous, transcendent, stunning. I could not look away. The last few stories were woefully disappointing. It is clear to me that they were added solely to fill out a word count. It's disappointing, but it does not diminish the power of those five stories. Pick the book up and read those stories. You will not be disappointed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The King In Yellow March 22, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A fascinating group of short stories. The stories directly related to the title enmesh the reader in a world of surrealism that reminded me a bit of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Well worth the read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful collection of disturbingly strange tales March 20, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I had read several of these stories in my youth but together they are a wonderful collection of disturbingly strange tales rounded off with a few stories of student romance in Paris which though not weird were interesting in their own right and would have been considered racy and decadent when the book was published. Read and admired by Lovecraft and Howard it clearly influenced their own great works.

The King in Yellow is currently Book of the Month at The Mortuary
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read, although the stories shift from "spooky" to ...
A good read, although the stories shift from "spooky" to romantic about half way through. If you're a fan of Lovecraft you'll likely enjoy the first half; if you like... Read more
Published 3 days ago by Malcolm West
3.0 out of 5 stars Read the first couple, then put the book away
Read the second half at your own risk. The latter group of stories will be tedious for most modern day readers. The first few are enjoyable.
Published 4 days ago by pmarich
4.0 out of 5 stars probably like so many
I read this, probably like so many, because I watched True Detective. Very enjoyable and twisted for the time period in which it was written.
Published 10 days ago by Amy Jesionowski
3.0 out of 5 stars It's okay
The horror-ish stories were good. The French romance stuff, less so.
Published 12 days ago by B. A. Rondeau
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a mish-mash
The first five stories are fantastic, but the rest have nothing to do with The King in Yellow or the Yellow Myth. They're not even Horror. Read more
Published 20 days ago by GB76
3.0 out of 5 stars Not much to say...
While I liked the title story, and a few of the earlier ones in the book, the last two nearly killed me. I finally had to put it out of its misery and call it done. Read more
Published 20 days ago by gjsx51
5.0 out of 5 stars More than just for "True Detective" fanboys. Very good. Spooky,...
Much cooler than I originally thought it would be... Picked this up due to it's relation with HBO's "True Detective" and it is definitely a 'must have' for all those... Read more
Published 21 days ago by R. Ingle
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth a read, especially for True Detective fans!
I downloaded this book to my kindle a few years back and only got around to reading it after I watched True Detective. Read more
Published 23 days ago by WGC
3.0 out of 5 stars First Part is the Best, Second Half is Almost as Maddening as the...
First half of the book is the more interesting read, with the second half devolving into romantic stories and less of the weird fiction that makes the first half a stronger read. Read more
Published 28 days ago by Poet & Reader
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't read the book this book is about!
Somewhat uneven series of short stories whose only common thing was the titled book, supposedly a book whose second and subsequent chapters could craze the reader. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
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