The King in Yellow

By Robert W. Chambers

Thomas and I both really enjoyed “True Detective” on HBO this spring, though Thomas’ philosophy background gave him more insight than I had. Very mild spoiler for the television show: I recently read on io9, a site I very much recommend for all your geek culture news, a very interesting argument that the story was in fact supernatural, the author’s primary proof being the many illusions to “The King in Yellow.”

The King in Yellow is an early collection of horror/fantasy short stories, published in 1895. The common element through the stories is the existence of a play titled “The King in Yellow,” set in Carcosa, which will drive mad anyone who reads past the first act. The stories are mostly about various readers, and while there are occasional excerpts, the play itself is never written out in a comprehensive whole.

The book is available for free on Kindle, and I’ve been reading it on my commute. The writing is surprisingly fresh, not feeling dated much at all, and the author does a particularly good job with an unreliable narrator, I thought.

Some of the stories are certainly grotesque, but also fairly tame by today’s standards, and I found the general tone of quiet gloom to be soothing. In fact, this gets a little spoilery, so I’m putting it after the cut: a number of the stories have relatively happy endings. I was continually surprised as, over and over again, characters came through okay in the end.

Actually, the stories get gradually less gloomy in tone, as well. The last several had nothing to do with the play or any supernatural beings and focused primarily on the society of English and American artists studying in Paris. The author is very clearly a great admirer of art and artists, and finds the bohemian lifestyle, and the way it can cut through class boundaries, fascinating.


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