Customer Reviews: The King in Yellow (Classic Robert W. Chambers)
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on June 13, 1998
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.)
To be honest, I was shocked to find myself reading a book that was over a HUNDRED years old, an activity I had assumed was reserved for crusty academics and lovers of classical literature. But, more pointedly, I was surprised to find that "The King in Yellow" is a highly readable volume, full of entertaining, colourful and disturbi! ng tales with a very modern feel to them.
The only downside I found was that the final few stories lose the central theme. I found myself wondering if these thinner, romantic tales, were more representative of Chambers' other work, and were, in effect, "fillers". But perhaps I missed the point? It is only this that stops me from awarding five stars to this impressive book.
Overall, if you've had a bellyful of today's crop of relentless gore and explicit sexuality, take a literary Alka Seltzer by checking out the "King in Yellow".
It's a classic, and I'm not talking Jane Austen.
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on December 25, 2004
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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on July 8, 2011
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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on December 15, 2013
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. I still recommend reading all five, since they form a unit.

[II] THE PROPHET'S PARADISE: An interlude of brief poems, neatly dividing the book's 2 main sections. I got nothing out of them, but they are short and painless. If there is any connection to the preceding or succeeding tales, I could not discern it.

[III] STREET STORIES: A set of 4 romantic tales set in Paris. If you read this for horror, then you probably can skip them all, except possibly the first. If there is any connection to THE KING IN YELLOW set, then I could not discern it. Each tale gets successively duller (and longer). The stories are:

- [1] "The Street of the Four Winds": On a street of the damned, where the 4 winds blow all wicked things, a stray cat summons a morbid artist to a rendezvous with his dead lover. The only one of the last 4 with a substantial horror element.
- [2] "The Street of the First Shell": Set in wartime Paris.
- [3] "The Street of Our Lady of the Fields": Artists in Paris.
- [4] "Rue Barrée": More artists in Paris. The title means "barred street" in French, but is also the name of the female love interest.
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on September 7, 2010
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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on June 20, 2002
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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on February 13, 2014
This is a fascinating book. I see why Lovecraft called Chambers a "titan", but I also see why Lovecraft found him frustrating at times too.

In brief, my reactions were that the opening 5 stories related to the King In Yellow were transcendent and marvelous works of horror and the uncanny, and probably ought to be placed among the highest achievements of American weird fiction written during the reconstruction era. I found the experimental poems in this book likewise remarkable and enchanting. But--alas!--the final sequence of stories set during the seige of Paris read like second-rate O. Henry or DeMaupassant tales. I found them frustrating and wondered if I was missing something.

This is an important book that will rightly live forever in the canon of weird fiction and horror fiction. Like most story collections, there are good and bad tales to be found within. However, in the case of the King in Yellow, the good doesn't just outweigh the bad. It utterly obliterates it.
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on February 24, 2014
Just as a warning, CreateSpace is a print-on-demand company. This is not a professionally printed book and there are many typos. The Wordsworth Edition cost a few cents more but the quality is significantly greater.
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on August 29, 1997
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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Human beings are fascinated by that which causes madness in us. Why would the Internet have pretty much memeified Cthulhu if we weren't?

And one of the most tantalizing bringers of horror and madness is "The King in Yellow," a collection of Robert Chambers' short stories that are loosely tied together by a mysterious play of exquisite horror. The horror stories compiled here are some of the best classic horror that can be found, full of the tattered decay of the unseen and the spellbinding magic that mere words can only hint at... and the problem is that the second half of the collection is just not as interesting.

The first four stories are all tied together by "The King In Yellow," a play whose story and characters are never really explored beyond a few snatches of song and some descriptions of the world where it takes place ("... twin suns sink into the lake of Hali... I saw the towers of Carcosa behind the moon"). It speaks of horrors ("the Pallid Mask") that are hinted at more than explained, and the mysterious King In Yellow, a mysterious personage in "scolloped tatters." And it is written with exquisite beauty and horror -- one character laments: "Oh the sin of writing such words,--words which are clear as crystal, limpid and musical as bubbling springs, words which sparkle and glow like the poisoned diamonds of the Medicis!"

The brilliance of this conceit is that Chambers leaves almost everything to the reader's imagination. He plants a few hauntingly beautiful, unnerving images in the reader's mind ("Carcosa where black stars hang in the heavens"), and lets us imagine something so exquisite yet nightmarish that it could drive someone mad.

These four stories include:
*When young Hildred Castaigne is recovering from a severe head injury, he reads "The King In Yellow." As his sanity spirals out of control, he encounters a similarly crazy "Repairer of Reputations," and begins to believe he is the last scion of the Imperial Dynasty of America.
*Alec visits his old friend Boris (who is married to the woman Alec loves), who has discovered a mysterious liquid that can turn anything organic into a beautiful marble.
*A religious young man is pursued by a mysterious stalker, and haunted by the horrors he has seen in "The King In Yellow."
*An artist struggles with his affections for his lovely model and the pursuit of a grotesque watchman, only for the infamous play -- which he has on his bookshelf for some reason -- to seep into their minds and poison them.

These stories are absolute perfection, both horrifying and lyrically exquisite, especially since merely reading it can cause reactions from nightmares and illness to outright craziness (down to declaring oneself to be king of America). The problem is... well, the remaining stories do not have that quality. They're still good and often beautifully written ("The name of Sylvia troubles me like perfume from dead flowers"), but after Chambers horrified and mesmerized us, it's kind of a letdown to encounter stories that don't really do either.

These stories include a guy who falls in love with a beautiful young Breton noblewoman, little realizing why their love is impossible; a series of interconnected drabbles with personified abstracts like Love and Truth; an artist has some conversations with a scrawny cat, and eventually tries to take her back to her mistress, Sylvia Elven; a tale in the Franco-Prussian War, where an artist's life is wrecked by the impending German attack; and a pair of romances among young artists in Paris.

Chambers' writing is still sublimely lovely in these stories, and they do have some overarching themes that run through almost every story -- many of the protagonists are artists or close to artists, and there is a lot of yellow, a lot of flowers, and some names that keep recurring in different places (Sylvia, Hastur). But somehow the last two romantic stories just fall kind of flat, especially when death and horror aren't brought into them -- the prose is pretty, but a little too commonplace ("Her face was expressionless, yet the lips at times trembled almost imperceptibly").

Eerie, beautiful and ghastly, "The King In Yellow" collects stories that hint at beauty and horrors that the human mind can't even grasp -- and if he had filled the entire book with these, it would have been perfection. As it is, the first half is sublime, the second is merely okay.
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