“The King in Yellow” is a weird collection of short stories by American author Robert W Chambers. It was published in 1895 and had a profound impact on the later work of author H.P. Lovecraft. “The King in Yellow” is the title of a play that is referenced repeatedly throughout the short stories within the book, especially in the first 4 tales. There are only small snippets of text from the 1st Act of the play sprinkled throughout the stories, reading Act 2 drives people people within the universe of this collection completely insane. After the first 4 stories the rest of the book barely mentions the cursed play or its effects on people at all. I get the impression the publisher included these later stories in the book simply for the sake of increasing the word count.
The king in yellow is a shady figure who expresses its power not only through the cursed play but also by a magical yellow sign. He holds control over and can interfere with anyone who has read the play or encountered the sign. The impression I got from the work is that the king in yellow is an Eldritch horror that uses words like a virus, infecting host after host to bring them under his will. Apparently in the Cthulu Mythos he is known as “Hastur” and is brother to Cthulu.
My favorite story was “The Repairer Of Reputations”, in this tale a man has gone completely nutters after reading “The King In Yellow” too many times. He has become convinced that he must turn America into the kingdom of Carcosa from the play and instill himself as emporer. He ends up killing his psychiatrist and getting dragged off to a loony bin. There’s something so delightful about tales told from the perspective of an unreliable narrator, several hints are given throughout the narrative that things are not what they seem and I’ve always enjoyed narrative puzzles.
I think the main point of the narrative of “The King In Yellow” is that there is a certain magick in the placement of words. Be mindful of your work because you might be inviting all manner of horrors into this world if your writing isn’t done with care. -Zwahk (Image from goodreads.com)