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The King in Yellow Paperback – April 1, 2002

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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.

About the Author

Robert W. Chambers (1865-1933) was an American author as well as an artist. His best known work is the collection The King in Yellow. His work ranged from fantasy, horror, and science fiction to romance and historical fiction. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 212 pages
  • Publisher: Sattre Pr (April 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0971830509
  • ISBN-13: 978-0971830509
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (143 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,910,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

88 of 94 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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32 of 32 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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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful By J. W. Kennedy on December 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
HP Lovecraft was heavily inspired by Chambers' wierd tales from _The King in Yellow_. (He stole the name and vague concept of Hastur from it.) The frustrating thing about RW Chambers is that he COULD write very well, but for some reason he usually didn't. At his best he could weave an atmosphere of terrifying hallucinatory brilliance. At his worst he was hokey, sentimental, sappy, and tiresome. Half of his original _The King in Yellow_ consists of dopey romance stories that will infuriate the wierd fiction fan. Not so here. This Dover collection has only the best tales from _The King in Yellow_, as well as a number of other chilling morsels picked from Chambers' large body of later (mostly forgettable) work.

You should get hold of this collection just for "The Repairer of Reputations," which ranks as a superior masterpiece of surreal paranoid delirium. It's one of the top 5 wierd stories of all time, and actually BETTER than anything by Lovecraft.
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33 of 35 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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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Larry Dugan on September 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
Any collection of Robert W Chambers's "King in Yellow" stories is a rare and welcome gift, and the best of those stories--"The Yellow Sign," "The Repairer of Reputations," and "In the Court of the Dragon"--are included in this volume. Curiously, however, others are omitted in favor of tales that, though quite good, simply don't seem to be part of the KIY cycle. The missing stories, in this reviewer's opinion, are as follows: "The Prophet's Paradise," "The Street of the Four Winds," "The Street of the First Shell," "The Street of Our Lady of the Fields," and "Rue Barree." Had the current volume included these tales, I would have given it the highest possible marks. Still, it is an excellent collection that I highly recommend to anyone interested in the work of the inestimable and terribly underrated Robert W. Chambers.
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