on November 13, 2013
"The King In Yellow" is the sort of horror meme that sadly has been forgotten by most horror fans. Created by Robert Chambers in 1895, for the novel of the same name, the play was a blasphemous but largely unseen work that was the basis of four stories Chamber's ten story collection.
The play itself is a mystery: only two dialogue exerpts are featured in the novel, and three characters (Cassilda, the Stranger, and Camilla) clearly defined, along with a slew of additional names and places, who are tossed into the mix with little to no explaination as to what or who they are. The details were intentionally vague but for Chambers, what he was really interested in, was the impact: the play was a blasphemous piece that caused madness, despair, horror, and death in it's wake. Those who read it's first act, were driven insane with the brutal second act and it's truths and revelations. Revelations that Chamber left to the imagination of the readers to figure out.
For decades, horror fans have tried their best to try and define the people, places, and things of the infamous play. But while Chambers was overshadowed by HP Lovecraft (who was heavily inspired by the story and who's heir apparent, August Derleth, retrofitted into the Lovecraft canon by revealing the play to be nothing more than an elaborate summoning spell for the Lovecraft Elder God Hastur), the meme has inspired several writers over the years to try their hand at creating a defining version of the play.
Thom Ryng's version of the play, which was professionally staged in 1999, has been reissued and expanded with a new introduction that attempts to explain the story and it's shock value in more or less the climate of the day. Sidestepping James Blish and Lin Carter, who came up with the idea that the play was shocking simply because it was created for a predominantly all black cast, Ryng opines the play to be the earliest example of a surealist and post-modernist literature. Long before such genres of art came to being, Ryng creates an incarnation of the play that addressess a wide number of concerns and existential themes such as torture, execution of the innocent, filicide, and political corruption alongside the declaration that truth is a phantom that we would soon as kill than listen to, along with the belief that oblivion at the hands of an uncaring and apathetic universe, is preferable to a stagnant life of pleasure and ignorance.
In the isolated city of Yhtill, a royal family is in decline as the evil Prince Aldones schemes to turn his nephews nieces against each other in order to take the throne from his dying sister, Queen Cassilda. Cassilda desperately seeks an heir for the throne, but her best pick is Thale, who has fallen under the influence of the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign. Twelve generations prior, Thale's namesake murdered the leader of the cult and now the members swell in ranks as they wait for the return of the lost city of Carcosa and the "yellow sign", which will mark the arrival of the "last king", the dreaded King In Yellow.
As Prince Aldones schemes to kill off youngest child Utoh and frame the dim-witted Princess Camilla for the crime, a mysterious faceless stranger arrives wearing "the phallid mask". Wearing a robe which bears the "yellow symbol" and wearing the accursed mask, the stranger, who claims to be the embodiment of the concept of truth itself, will trigger a series of events that will lead to the return of the dreaded King In Yellow, who will make everyone's wishes come true in the worst possible way imaginable.....
Ryng's play works well as an existential play about the death of truth in dark times, and the horrible fate of the stranger, offers a foreshadow-filled commentary on the post-9/11 torture scandals several years before they actually happened. The story itself is tame (an a bit trite; the ending has a completely off-stage zombie apocalypse) and some of the established character beats fall flat (Camilla's descent into insanity after finding out the truth about the Stranger's face is pretty much non-existent and her downward descent into insanity no-where near as nightmarish compared to Aldone and Thale's breakdowns). But it holds up well with the context of Ryng creating a period piece which would fit within the context of what would be shocking in the 1880s, in terms of a bleak play where everyone dies and the world is ended and one of the last remaining survivors has been picked to live explicity in order to make her suffer living long after her children are dead.
on March 7, 2014
Like the Blish and Carter versions of Chambers’ King in Yellow play that came before it, this version has its interesting moments (and a few very dull ones), but ultimately Ryng’s version is a failure, as no complete version of the play could plunge a reader into madness. Chambers and Karl Edward Wagner (“The River of Night’s Dreaming”) knew the true power of the play was best presented in small, incomplete offerings.
on September 5, 2010
This is a must-have for all H.P. Lovecraft and R.W. Chambers' original "The King in Yellow" fans.
Its main and only flaw is the language it is written in: sometimes far too "modern" if compared to the original 19th century's English and mood (that's why I'm giving only 4 out of 5 stars).
But finally, after more than one century, we have a complete King in Yellow play!
Combining it to James Blish's and L. Carter's versions is even better.
on February 26, 2014
So someone decided to take a known mysterious play, steal that concept from Chambers, and just...write a cursed play? Seriously? THE Cursed play. I don't even have to read a single page. Someone thought up the idea to steal a literary concept and make some money off of it. Wow that's lame.