The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers

Title: The King in Yellow.
Writer(s): Robert W. Chambers.
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Limited.
Format: Paperback.
Release Date: 2010.
Original Release Date: 1895.
Pages: 179.
Genre(s): Horror.
ISBN13: .
My Overall Rating:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.


Before legendary writer H.P. Lovecraft, there was American writer Robert W. Chambers who unleashed a malevolent and occult force into the fictional world. Where one would believe that tangible entities are the most frightening, others would argue that an unknown and invisible force is just as if not even more of a destructive blitzkrieg on humankind’s psyche. After all, what can one even do when confronted with impulses and desires that are beyond their control other than obey and find themselves vacuumed into an abyss of despair and mayhem or defy and suffer psychological torment until their soul is disintegrated and not their own anymore? In this collection of short stories, writer Robert W. Chambers introduces the universe to a novel form of cosmic horror, fiction that influenced some of the most important supernatural writers today.

What is The King in Yellow about? This collection contains an introduction by David Stuart Davies and several stories belonging to weird fiction: The Repairer of Reputations, The Mask, In the Court of the Dragon, The Yellow Sign, The Demoiselle D’Ys, 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 Barrée. The first four stories are loosely linked together by the existence of a forbidden play called The King in Yellow, which sends its readers down a spiral of madness and despair. The rest of the stories are void of its mention and rather venture into the realm of romantic fiction with a Parisian setting and peculiar characters.

“Ah! I see it now! You have seized the throne and the empire. Woe! woe to you who are crowned with the crown of the King in Yellow!”

Robert W. Chambers

There’s incredible potential when it comes to the first four and only stories linked to The King in Yellow. The bizarre characters and their unreliable nature sets the tone for these occult tales dominated by an incomprehensible force draining away the little sanity left in whoever dared read this mysterious play. The hysteria, madness, despair, and abstract weirdness of the events that unfold make for a fascinating ride into this familiar world. As forewarned, these stories never delve into the details around this supernatural entity and rather leave the reader to conjure through their own imagination a clearer picture of this chaos. Although earnest in his endeavour to create a weird and unruly atmosphere, writer Robert W. Chambers does put more energy into describing the setting and his character than properly capturing the sheer terror that this infamous play inspires.

Unfortunately, readers will have to be aware that the rest of the short stories included in this collection have nothing to do with the darkness-infused play of The King in Yellow. In what seemed like experimental writing projects to explore characters and settings in a vividly descriptive writing style, these stories effortlessly shift the collection’s focus and distract the reader from its horror elements. almost to the extent that they are doomed to care about the cultural impact behind the creation of The King in Yellow. With a weird obsession over Paris and its more artistic niche of individuals, it won’t take long before a much more sinister desire to skim through these stories arises within readers. However, it is worth mentioning that his writing style showcases an admirable skill with words and emotions.

The King in Yellow is an interesting yet lackluster introduction to cosmic horror through stories of madness and mayhem diluted by the addition of irrelevant romantic tales.



21 thoughts on “The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers

  1. I completely agree with you, Lashaan. I was intrigued by the first four stories, and the remainder were just fine, but not particularly intriguing.

    I know I’ve mentioned the podcast Malevolent before. It’s based on some Lovecraftian elements, and some from The King in Yellow. It’s an incredible bit of work, voiced entirely by one person, Harlan Guthrie, and I highly recommend it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If it weren’t for other authors today writing in the KiY universe, nobody would remember the King in Yellow because Chambers himself buried the stories with that other crap. Chambers wasn’t that interested in KiY and thus after the few stories, he was done with the idea and wanted to write other stuff. What a shame.

    Thankfully, we do have other authors who have taken up the torch, and for better or worse, have kept the flame alive. One problem is even trying to track down a bloody list of the books dealing with the King in Yellow. Wikipedia is useless and the WikiFan page is also useless. I’ve had to google and dig through almost a 100 pages just to find the 9 that I am aware of. And I’m pretty sure that there are at least 1 or 2 more short stories or novellas that I haven’t found out about yet.

    There is a The King in Yellow wordpress page, but the guy who owns it has abandoned it and after a brief back and forth, won’t even consider me being a contributor so I can get a list of all the KiY books and stories in one place. I’ll have to see if that address is free on Blogspot or not.

    Good luck if you decide to follow down this path. I fully understand if you choose not too though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s quite a shame indeed. Sometimes there are things people create that they never know how much of an impact they’ll have until way past their death…

      I do dislike the idea of hunting down super short stories spread out into the virtual world like that. I wish it was much simpler to track down physical copies of an anthology of some sort. Sucks the dude’s WordPress page couldn’t be more useful. Maybe you could start your own page on your blog or just a post?

      I do want to keep going but I think I’ll concentrate my efforts now on reading other cosmic horror classics until I pick up a KiY-influenced story in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This one is completely new to me. I’m familiar with Lovecraft, and a little bit with Algernon Blackwood and Clark Ashton Smith, but I’d not heard of Robert Chambers. I found an audiobook version of this on LibriVox so perhaps I’ll try it that way, at least the initial King in Yellow stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think that is often the case with short story collections, they can vary a lot in quality. I guess you should have stopped after the first four stories. These actually sounded quite intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a great month to read horror stories Lashaan! The first four stories seem very intriguing but it sounds a bit odd to have other completely unrelated short stories in the same book… I wanted to read something a bit more “horror-like” this month so maybe I should look into short stories instead of whole novels!

    Liked by 1 person

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