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The King in Yellow and Other Horror Stories

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"Every story of The King in Yellow has something riveting about it … so perfectly realized, they became the model for much of twentieth-century horror/fantasy." — New York Press
One of the most important works of American supernatural fiction since those of Poe, The King in Yellow was among the first attempts to establish the horror of the nameless and the unimaginable. A treasured source used by almost all the significant writers in the American pulp tradition — H. P. Lovecraft, A. Merritt, Robert E. Howard, and many others — it endures as a work of remarkable power and one of the most chillingly original books in the genre.
This collection reprints all the supernatural stories from The King in Yellow , including the grisly "Yellow Sign," the disquieting "Repairer of Reputations," the tender "Demoiselle d'Ys," and others. Robert W. Chambers' finest stories from other sources have also been added, such as the thrilling "Maker of Moons" and "The Messenger." In addition, an unusual pleasure awaits those who know Chambers only by his horror three of his finest early biological science-fiction fantasies from In Search of the Unknown appear here as well.

287 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1970

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About the author

Robert W. Chambers

632 books428 followers
Robert William Chambers was an American artist and writer.

Chambers was first educated at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute,and then entered the Art Students' League at around the age of twenty, where the artist Charles Dana Gibson was his fellow student. Chambers studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, and at Académie Julian, in Paris from 1886 to 1893, and his work was displayed at the Salon as early as 1889. On his return to New York, he succeeded in selling his illustrations to Life, Truth, and Vogue magazines. Then, for reasons unclear, he devoted his time to writing, producing his first novel, In the Quarter (written in 1887 in Munich). His most famous, and perhaps most meritorious, effort is The King in Yellow, a collection of weird short stories, connected by the theme of the fictitious drama The King in Yellow, which drives those who read it insane.

Chambers returned to the weird genre in his later short story collections The Maker of Moons and The Tree of Heaven, but neither earned him such success as The King in Yellow.

Chambers later turned to writing romantic fiction to earn a living. According to some estimates, Chambers was one of the most successful literary careers of his period, his later novels selling well and a handful achieving best-seller status. Many of his works were also serialized in magazines.

After 1924 he devoted himself solely to writing historical fiction.

Chambers for several years made Broadalbin his summer home. Some of his novels touch upon colonial life in Broadalbin and Johnstown.

On July 12, 1898, he married Elsa Vaughn Moller (1882-1939). They had a son, Robert Edward Stuart Chambers (later calling himself Robert Husted Chambers) who also gained some fame as an author.

Chambers died at his home in the village of Broadalbin, New York, on December 16th 1933.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 625 reviews
Profile Image for Sr3yas.
223 reviews997 followers
May 8, 2018
3.5 Stars

Back in 2014 when I was still in college, My friends and I sat down and decided to watch a brand new detective TV show airing on HBO. There were two detectives and ritual murders, two timelines and unknown mysteries. By the time I finished watching a few episodes, I knew I was witnessing one of the best damn TV show ever produced.

True detective Season 1.

One thing I did not understand while watching the show was the constant reference to the Yellow King and the mysterious lands of Carcosa. Later on, I found out that the show was referencing to this collection of ten stories published in 1895, by the author Robert W. Chambers. I read the collection, and here we are!

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.

What makes this collection important in horror literature history is the introduction of elements like the enigmatic Yellow King, the yellow sign, and the fictitious horror play named "The King in Yellow". Chambers also used the mysterious Carcosa, an other-worldly city created by author Ambrose Bierce in his short story An Inhabitant of Carcosa (1886), to deepen the daunting quality of the Yellow King mythology.

While the Yellow King mythology itself is truly iconic horror invention which fueled even Lovecraft's imagination, the stories that use this mythology in this collection are not too iconic. Out of ten stories presented here, only four mentions The King of Yellow, and out of four, only two are true horror.

To be honest, The King in Yellow and other horror stories is a misleading title. It should be The Horrors of King in Yellow and other Romantic stories. Yes, along with horrifying deaths and macabre, this one got romance, love, roses, kisses, Paris, and artists!

But here is the weird part, Chambers writes romance much better than he writes horror. His short stories like The Street of the First Shell, The Street of Our Lady of The Fields, and Rue Barrée have not a single ounce of horror in it, but the charm of Paris, lovely prose and romance makes the stories beautiful... which was not what I expected when I picked up a HORROR book.

On the horror side of the business, The Repairer of Reputations and In the Court of the Dragon shines. Stories like The Mask, the yellow sign, and The Demoiselle d'Ys try to combine romance and horror, with only The Mask succeeding for me.

Even though Chambers tricked me into reading romance, the collection of stories are good, just not iconic.

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!

Profile Image for Char.
1,634 reviews1,487 followers
February 23, 2014
I finished reading The King In Yellow and I'm feeling pretty good about myself. I feel satisfied that I've finally read this horror classic and I feel somewhat enlightened about the HBO show True Detective.

The KiY consists of a total of 8 stories. 4 horror, 1 ghost, 1 war and two romance-y type tales. The horror tales were my favorites of the collection, most especially "The Repairer of Reputations". These shorts were loosely connected by a play in book form titled The King in Yellow. Anyone who reads this book/play risks madness and some of these tales are narrated by the very character that did the reading,- resulting in the fact that the reader is unsure if the events playing out are real or are actually the madness. I enjoyed the ambiguous nature of these tales and my rating of this book is almost entirely based on these 4 stories.

I did love the the ghost story, but I won't mention the title of that tale, so as not to ruin it for future readers. To be honest, I did not love the war short but it was okay, and I didn't care for the romance tales at all.

All in all, I enjoyed this collection and will no longer be wondering what is being talked about when the word "Carcosa" or the phrase "The Yellow Sign" appears. I won't hide the fact that I was a little disappointed in the last few stories, but that's okay, not every collection is perfect and this is no exception. I think it's worth the time to read it and think about how many horror stories and movies were based on these types of concepts and what kind of mind could have imagined them in the first place.

Recommended for fans of classic horror!
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68.1k followers
June 15, 2019
Dangerous Reading

Alternating between fin de siècle New York and Paris, many (but not the majority) of these stories allude to another manuscript which is not present, the eponymous The King in Yellow. The experience is one of reading the second half of Cervantes’s Don Quixote but knowing the first half only through the second.

The King in Yellow is a play, fragments of which are strewn throughout the stories. It is referred to as a the “the supreme work of art.” However, it has been banned in several countries, whether because of obscenity or subversiveness is unclear. What is clear is that those who read it are frequently driven mad and die. Even mere proximity to a copy of the book generates disturbing dreams and illusions.

If there were some sort of resolution of the situation, for example a denouement of the threads in some intellectual or social conclusion about the adverse power of literature, the stories might be satisfying. As they stand, though, they are vapid individually and incoherent collectively.

Chambers‘s talent in describing an alternative Gilded Age world, in which New York City is transformed into a provincial capital of the late Holy Roman Empire and Paris into a finishing school for young American artists, is impressive. So is his ear for accents. And his skill in symbolic manipulation is considerable. But none of this talent seems to serve a purpose. There is no development, just fragments thrown down like bread crumbs that lead nowhere.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,964 followers
October 23, 2020
Re-read 10/23/20:

I'm not going to write a normal review for these stories, even as a re-read. Instead, I'll just mention how they've already put themselves in our lives.

Ideas have a life of their own. Little hints and vague mutterings can grow into huge monstrosities. From Ambrose Bierce, the author of The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary, Carcosa is breathed to life, with idyllic scenes twisted into horrific nightmares, but Robert W. Chambers, enamored with Bierce, runs with Carcosa and the King in Yellow, writing story after story with the thread of cosmic terror, artworks that, upon reading, turns people into madmen.

The stories are interconnected and unique, uncanny, and merely brush the deeper sense of the madness that lies beneath the upper-crust and/or the bohemian/artistic lifestyles. They're all a piece of their time, too, and I get the impression that the horror is quite universal and would express itself in an infinite number of guises.

And indeed, just as Chambers ran with Bierce's idea, Lovecraft himself ran with Chambers.

The idea burrows inside our heads, too. Carcosa and the tattered King in Yellow are still alive and reaching for us from between the cracks in reality.

And after Lovecraft, us.

We are living the logical progression of these widening gyres of madness. Just pick up the paper. Check Twitter. It's all there. The song. From humble, or perhaps ancient beginnings, they're playing to us...

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.

Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.

Original review:

I never realized until recently that Lovecraft admired and tried to emulate a few of this author's horror feel, that his stories are the godfather of the Cthulhu mythos. Strangely enough, the prose is fluid and compelling in a way that Lovecraft couldn't match. Of course, it isn't Lovecraftian prose, but the weight of the mythos that draws so many fans, but it was a pure delight to see a spark that lit the fire for generations of horror fans around the world.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
May 18, 2015
- The Repairer of Reputations
A re-read.
This story is wonderfully weird - and disturbing on several levels.
Set in a future 1920, the world has made several steps toward peace and stability. (I'm not sure I like them, and I'm also not so sure the author does, either.) The introductory segment drags on a bit, reminding me a bit in style of Edward Bellamy's 'Looking Backward' (1888). Then, the story really starts...
Our narrator lets us know that after a fall from a horse, he was unjustly confined to a mental institution for some time, until his doctor realized that it was all a mistake, and released him. However, he still seems to have a strong desire for vengeance against this doctor. He also seems to harbor ambiguous feelings toward his brother, and his brother's vibrant young fiancee.
He enjoys spending time with a grotesque and mysterious man who claims to make his living 'adjusting' reputations - dealing with scandals - through a network of informers. Everyone else seems to think this man is insane. Is he? And our narrator himself? It's true that he admits to having read 'The King in Yellow' - the enigmatic work that is reputed to drive every reader mad...

-The Mask
In the first story, a passing mention is made of a sculpture called 'The Fates,' crafted by a brilliant sculptor who died tragically young.
Here, we learn the sad and romantic tale of his death.
Not only is the young man a sculptor, but a chemist/inventor, it seems. He has come up with a solution which will turn whatever is placed in it to stone. At first, his experiments create 'stone' lilies and goldfish... but when we discover that he's filled up his home's pool with the solution, it's not hard for the reader to foresee that trouble is soon to come.
On top of that, the narrator is, admittedly, in love with the sculptor's wife. Yep. Trouble.

-In the Court of the Dragon
In the midst of church services, a man suddenly is troubled by the perception of great malice. A malevolent force that no one else can perceive seems to be directed at him. Is it real, or all in his mind? (He has been reading 'The King in Yellow'...) This story works well as part of 'The King in Yellow' collection, but as a stand-alone, I felt like it would leave the reader wanting a bit more development of the ideas...

-The Yellow Sign
Very similar in theme to 'In the Court of the Dragon.' Here, a bohemian artist senses malevolence from the figure of the night watchman of the churchyard outside his window. It seems to him, the man looks almost like a corpse himself. He attempts to dismiss his irrational fears, but they only seem to be compounded with the strange and morbid dreams his favorite model has been having, and disturbing tales from neighbors...
An ill-advised gift hints of doom; and when the artist and his model are oddly compelled to sit down and read 'The King in Yellow,' their fate is sealed.

-The Demoiselle d'Ys
A hunter, lost on the moors, encounters a strangely old-fashioned young woman out hunting with her falcon, who offers him shelter at her manor. Is she just a lonely and isolated girl or is something uncanny at play?
A beautifully eerie and romantic horror tale.

-The Prophets' Paradise
A series of theatrical-feeling vignettes or tableaux. This one didn't really come together for me...

-The Street of the Four Winds
A starving artist in a garret encounters a mangy, possibly-stray cat, which he treats with great kindness and affection, which is returned by the grateful creature. (Really, this is one for the cat-lovers... the scene is so very true and touching.) But when he attempts to find the possible-mistress of the cat, the story takes a sharp turn into the uncanny.

-The Street of the First Shell
This one is arguably not a horror story - except in the sense that war is truly horrific. This piece introduces us to a circle of struggling artists and friends in Paris, and shows how the raging Franco-Prussian war affects their lives, in 1870.

-The Street of Our Lady of the Fields
[In which I learned that the electric doorbell was invented much earlier than I realized... in 1831!]
OK, this story really has nothing to do with doorbells. And again, it's not a horror story at all. It's a poignant, bittersweet piece about the role of women in society, and cultural expectations.
A young American student, newly arrived in Paris, assumes (not so strangely, to a modern, American reader) that the young women his new friends associate with are their female counterparts: students, artists, reasonably upper class. Soon, he develops feelings for one of these girls, and does not understand why she responds so strangely.
In actuality, the girls are lower-class... basically whores, and the girl who's the recipient of the crush is desperate to grab this one small chance at an innocent happiness, begging the other boys not to tell 'what she really is'...
I'm guessing that this piece may be semi-autobiographical, as Chambers himself was an American art student in Paris from 1886 to 1893.

-Rue Barrée
Another one that might be semi-autobiographical.
A group of art students tend to be womanizers, working their way through the available working-class girls of Paris' Latin Quarter.
However, one girl, a pianist, who has made herself markedly unavailable, has particularly captured their imaginations due to her cool inaccessibility. (Or, at least, that's how the boys perceive it - from her perspective, it's a necessary self-preservation.)

This collection is Chambers' most famous - but he was a popular and prolific author whose output spanned decades. I liked these well enough to pick up a few more of Chambers' books (all free at archive.org and Project Gutenberg!)

Profile Image for Trish.
1,921 reviews3,402 followers
October 22, 2020
This is a book collecting the short stories that inspired such big literary figures as H.P. Lovecraft. Yes, the stories are old(er) - the author lived from 1865 until 1933 - and thus present a different kind than most modern audiences are used to. That, however, doesn't mean they can't creep you out, quite the contrary. There is a reason this author is called one of the pillars of American literature (though considering that, I think he's not well-known enough*).

The following is to give you a taste of the writing, which I found utterly gorgeous:
Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.

Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.

Cassilda's Song in "The King in Yellow," Act i, Scene 2.

It's from a fictional play in one of these stories and was my favourite element in the book.

The protagonists are always different and not always, but sometimes, connected to the protagonists of previous or later short stories. We get young female models of painters as well as the artists themselves, we get aristocrats, cripples and other people shunned by society, rich and poor people, beautiful and ugly people ... in short: a little bit of everything.

Some stories tell of people losing their minds after reading a book with the title of this collection. Other stories are about slightly different, and yet just as devastating, encounters.
What really connects them is the underlying terror. It's subtle but there. A feeling creeping up your spine, nagging you, something that you can't quite put in words but you know it's there.

I have to say that while I take the age of the stories into account and the fact that modern-day people are far too much used to action-laden horror stories with splatter elements, I DID miss the actual creep-factor. The nagging feeling just wasn't always there for me and I wasn't as creeped out as I had been hoping for.
Still, what I missed in actual horror (interestingly also a feature of Stephen King's in some books), the writing more than made up for. It's not just brilliant regarding the plot(s) but also utterly gorgeous (as can be seen in the example above).

Some stories are shorter than short but still very poignant; others are longer and thus have more worldbuilding. Read back-to-back in this collection, they form a tapestry. One that looks a bit like this:

Apparently, this author inspired just as many people (if not more) as H.P. Lovecraft, believe it or not. It was thus a shock to me to find references even in works as modern as A Song of Ice and Fire. Which means that the King in Yellow (the one from the story, not this book itself) is actually spreading like a disease, infecting the minds of people ... just like in the story. How is THAT for creepy, huh?

* Which is why I'm rounding up from 4.5 to 5 stars.
Profile Image for William Gwynne.
355 reviews1,462 followers
August 4, 2022
I now have a YouTube channel that I run with my brother, called 'The Brothers Gwynne'. Check it out - The Brothers Gwynne

“Strange is the night where black stars rise,
and strange moons circle through the skies,
but stranger still is
lost Carcosa.”

The King in Yellow is a collection of supernatural fiction short stories written by Robert W. Chambers. The first four loosely link in the sense that all mention a play called The King in Yellow, which is known to send people mad once they read it. I thoroughly enjoyed all of these, and thought that they were original and fantastically crafted.

The remaining stories after that I did not enjoy as much. Some supernatural elements are present, but they were more romantic tales, which did not grip me as much.

“Let the red dawn surmise What we shall do, When this blue starlight dies And all is through."

Chambers displays a brilliant understanding of language, which is shown so clearly in the first story, The Yellow Sign. Within a few paragraphs, there was already a great sense of tone and atmosphere, along with character. It was built subtly, with us following a character through a normal day, but this sense of foreboding lingering on the pages. Whilst each of his stories are very different, this expertise is carried across all of them.

Another strength is the culminations. Chambers builds tension very well, and utilises gothic motifs ands the supernatural really well in what is of course a limited page count in a short story.

“The people faded away, the arches, the vaulted roof vanished. I raised my seared eyes to the fathomless glare; and I saw the black stars hanging in the heavens: and the wet winds from the Lake of Hali chilled my face.”

The King in Yellow is a short story collection I would recommend to those who enjoy gothic tales, as well as fans of fantasy. It is said to be a landmark in supernatural fiction between Poe and Lovecraft, and I can see why this collection is so respected, especially the first four stories. Whilst I did not collect with the last few, the first half of the collection was fantastic.

Profile Image for mark monday.
1,643 reviews5,092 followers
July 8, 2020

5 Stars for the wonderful opening story "The Repairer of Reputations".

although i wonder if 'wonderful' is the correct word. after all, this is a story that opens with a bizarre, sometimes dire alterna-history leading up to a 1920s America where on-lookers gather to contemplate terminally dispirited disportment within suicide-abetting "Lethal Chambers." and after this bit of surprising strangeness, the reader is plunged right into the mind of a classic Unreliable Narrator (the poor lad struck his head after a fall from a horse and was never quite the same again), complete with insanely grandiose ambitions and malicious thoughts of revenge and devious yet doltish plans for his enemies - who are everywhere, simply everywhere! with the added bonuses of various books of ill repute, some surreal shenanigans starring a peculiarly malevolent cat, and the creepy Repairer himself. all in all, it is a bracing and imaginative bit of darkness on the page. and, to me at least, quite wonderful. the style is so breezy, the pacing so brisk, the imagination so fertile and so oddly modern, the experience was pure pleasure. it is hard to believe that this story was written over a 100 years ago.

i also enjoyed the three tales of weird horror that followed, chock-full of dread and formless despair. good stories. interesting and off-kilter and pleasingly sinister. the big take-away is the idea of a monstrous play ("The King in Yellow") that horribly impacts anyone who dares read it, and which is a key element in each of the first four stories.

here's an excerpt from said monstrous play (please don't kill yourself or anyone else after reading):
Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.
Stranger: Indeed?
Cassilda: Indeed it's time. We have all laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!
if you are at all familiar with this author or classic Weird Fiction in general, then you know the drill. those first four stories (along with Ambrose Bierce's "An Inhabitant of Carcosa") set the template for much Weird Fiction to come, from H.P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith to Karl Edward Wagner and beyond. the names, the places, the idea of fell books of unhealthy influence, creeping dread, hysterical romanticism, humans viewed as repulsive insects... this story-cycle's place at the beginning of it all is well-known.

it is also a well-known disappointment. only those first four could be classified as Weird Fiction. a fifth, "The Demoiselle d'Ys", is an elegant, wispy ghost story/romance - and is also quite traditional. following that is "The Prophet's Paradise" - a collection of bits of ambiguous prose poetry, or impenetrable fable, or snatches from a larger tapestry never completed, or something.

the remaining four tales (each fancifully titled after certain streets) have barely a whiff of horror about them and so have met a chilly reception over the years from Weird Fiction enthusiasts. they are all about living the lifestyle of a bohemian art student abroad in bohemian Paris' bohemian Latin Quarter. think Trilby minus Svengali. they are about romance, art, naive americans, lack of money, enticing but sometimes tragic whores, some bloodshed (at least in one story), a sad and lonely ending (in another story), some unbearable lightness of being... what it feels like to be young and artistic and ready to enjoy life in a bustling and sometimes violent big city. these stories were slim, rather quaint, rather witty, and quite vibrant. i particularly enjoyed "The Street of the First Shell", which plunges the reader into a you-are-there-now account of the milieu itself and then what it feels like to suddenly find yourself in the middle of a bloody, confusing battle full of heretofore-unexperienced chaos, terror, and death.

overall this is an unusual and surprisingly quirky collection of stories. all of them were interesting and a couple really sang.
Profile Image for Jen - The Tolkien Gal.
458 reviews4,418 followers
September 5, 2021
The first four stories were flowing pieces of cosmic horror adrift in a futuristic 1920s. If not for the latter half of the book becoming more of a drama, I would have given this five stars.

I might write a short review for each of the stories I enjoyed the most. But time exists, unfortunately.

ArtStation - The King in Yellow, Aria Wang
Profile Image for Ademption.
249 reviews97 followers
August 10, 2016
Just read Ambrose Bierce's "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" instead. Really. Read it. It is brief, timeless, and creepy; three things Robert Chambers tries too hard for in The King in Yellow. The King is Yellow is gimmicky copycat weirdness.

The King in Yellow is a sub-collection of the first five stories of this book. The five short stories have a mythology and structure taken from Bierce's short story. Chambers' stories also share slight interconnections beyond the concepts of Carcosa, Hali, and the King in Yellow. The structure of four of the stories is exactly the same. I would recommend "The Repairer of Reputations" as an antiquated but still prescient sci-fi horror story. "The Mask" is also worth a read since structurally it slightly departs from the rest.

The introduction by B.F. Beiler is amusingly critical. Beiler relates that Robert Chambers was the Dan Brown of his day, and that Chambers will be obscure in future because so many copies were lying around that book store owners and librarians tossed them once demand subsided. Beiler summarizes Chambers' novels and stories, and on the balance finds very little worth reading besides The King in Yellow.

I am inclined to disagree, and find that even The King in Yellow could be skipped in favour of Bierce's An Inhabitant of Carcosa. Seriously, read that last one.
Profile Image for Mark McLaughlin.
Author 144 books246 followers
June 13, 2015
The stories in THE KING IN YELLOW are beautiful and wicked, and are required reading for true horror enthusiasts. THE KING IN YELLOW is also the title of a book within this book: in these stories, anyone who reads the fictional book of the same name goes mad. This concept is what inspired H.P. Lovecraft to come up with the concept of the NECRONOMICON -- a book that drives the reader insane.

The stories are in this collection are told in a somewhat leisurely fashion, but stick with them. They're truly marvelous, and you'll find yourself thinking about them long after you've finished the book.

(Personal footnote: I love this book so much, I once wrote a story for an anthology based on THE KING IN YELLOW. That story, "Glove," is reprinted in my collection, BEACH BLANKET ZOMBIE.)
Profile Image for Joseph.
681 reviews86 followers
June 19, 2014
There's something ... disquieting about reading a science fiction story written in the late 1890s and set in the fabulous future of 1920.

This was a bit of an odd one -- a short story collection, but the stories themselves were two disparate halves kind of welded together. The stories in the first section (for which the book is best known) were fabulous (in the literal sense of the word), to one degree or another, including the aforementioned SF story ("The Repairer of Reputations"), "The Yellow Sign", "The Demoiselle d'Ys" and a few others -- not necessarily horror stories per se, although a few trended in that direction, but vaguely disturbing and decadent. The linking thread between the first few stories is "The King in Yellow", a fictional verse play, the mere reading of which can drive one mad. (Fans of H.P. Lovecraft or of True Detective will recognize the play; or at least some of the names and imagery.)

The second half is a series of tenuously-linked stories set in Paris, mostly about young Americans who've come there to paint nekkid ladies and who find themselves falling in love, to better or worse effect. I felt that to properly appreciate them I really should've been drinking cheap wine and smoking filthy cigarettes.

Especially considering its vintage, it's still quite a readable book, although I thought the first half much stronger than the second.
Profile Image for Printable Tire.
745 reviews79 followers
January 7, 2011
This is one of many books I've purchased because the cover is cool and I've never heard of it or the author before. I read it concurrently with The Sketchbook of Washington Irving, which turned out to be a very appropriate pairing. From the Introduction (which I would recommend reading afterwards, as the stuffy though astute editor might turn you off from the ensuing book) I gleam that Chambers was one of a million forgettable, forgotten writers of copious crap in an olden age nobody really knows or cares anything about anymore. "The King in Yellow" stories are an anomaly of an otherwise mediocre literary career. What is baffling is that they are very awesome exceptions. I must agree with everyone, from fellow reviewers here to the gentleman in the introduction, that Chamber's greatest works are "The King in Yellow" stories from which everything else he wrote pales in comparison.

"The Yellow Sign" is the first and best example of how these stories operate. A cynical, unreliable narrator is going about his business (heeding romance, fearful visions) when he randomly picks up a copy of "The King in Yellow" and goes totally insane. It is the randomness of the inclusion of this play in the stories that makes them so frightening. There seems to be no design to the play being there, but instead of coming off as a half-assed plot point (as probably indeed it was), the ramifications are so abrupt and shocking they become truly chilling. Next to "The Yellow Sign," "The Repairer of Reputations" is another great example. It contains all sorts of neat stuff: a crazy jerk of a narrator, a strange deformed man with an angry cat, secret societies, and it all takes place randomly in a future 1920s where people go to suicide machines. The suicide machines really add nothing to the plot, nor does the story gain anything by taking place in the future: and yet, somehow all these random pieces, like the best Philip Dick story, work together.

"The Mask" is another story with a similar twisted, meandering edge to it, though here Chambers is shifting to his more comfortable romantic topics, a conceit which will befuddle or amuse you in the following stories in the collection, depending on your tastes. Nonetheless it is still a good story, and worth reading.

Too often, Chambers other stories fall into the "delusional dream" scenario- they are fine to widdle away the time, but disappointing after the stories that preceded them. What they lack is the great risk-taking and adventurous delving into unanswerable delirium that the best stories have up the wazoo. They can also, as is the case with "A Pleasant Evening," seem more like the pastoral narratives of a, well, pleasant evening walk around New York City, with a supernatural element thrown in to make it all a bit more enticing.

I did, however, much enjoy two "lesser" works in this collection: "The Maker of Moons" and "The Messenger." Both read like swell old horror movies you might catch on the tube at 2 am on a Saturday night, rife with cardboard heroes, occult agents and ancient curses. They are really fun adventure stories to read. I am really into stuff that reminds me of The Shadow, Fu Manchu, secret occult societies, crime, mad monks and wizards and etcetera. Stories where any ancient supernatural phenomena can be taken out with one good blast from a very modern shotgun. In other words, good pulpy goodness.

Oddly, this collection ends with three stories that are much more lighthearted than anything that came before, and center on a young pup working for a Zoological society and all the wacky misadventures he goes on discovering "extinct" animals and his various botched romantic conquests. They are reasonably entertaining, and yet they were still very slow going for me- the only thing of interest I gleamed from them was that Darwin's journals are used to support the existence of many crazy animals. If these journals are real, I guess Darwin (like Freud, a supposed symbol of scientific rationalism) had his wacky side I never knew about.

The last story of these three was entirely too silly for me, and leaves an odd taste of bad comedy wafting around a book that when first opened exhumed such chilly vapors. I was happy to read all of it, but I might for once recommend reading only the first several or so stories in this collection if you want to get poorly departed and forgotten Chambers' bestest stuff.
Profile Image for Mattia Ravasi.
Author 5 books3,506 followers
June 27, 2015
(I'm guessing this is the same collection I've read)

The Restorer of Reputations (or whatever) is a great and fascinating horror story with a nice twist and a good amount of atmosphere to it, but the rest of it is far from horror. That said it's all fairly amazing, except for a severe lack of good and snappy endings, but it doesn't reach the levels of other masters of the genre (HP above all of course). The best stories are actually the love ones, with the very last one being particuarly touching.
Profile Image for Mike.
511 reviews131 followers
July 26, 2013

The King in Yellow and Other Horror Stories is a collection drawn from four books of short stories: The King in Yellow (1895), The Maker of Moons (1896), The Mystery of Choice (1897), and In Search of the Unknown (1904). These twelve stories are certainly dated and might not be counted among the best short fiction ever written, but they all have their moments. There is an excellent Introduction which tells the reader about Robert Chambers and each of the tales.

While there may be flaws in the stories, I have to give the author credit for projecting forward 5, 10, or 25 years and creating a background to serve a story. He seems to do this most for the five stories that were part of the original “The King in Yellow”.

As the Editor writes in his Introduction, Chambers borrowed liberally from the work of Ambrose Bierce using the short story “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” as a backdrop for many of these stories. Later, H. P. Lovecraft borrowed from (and expended on) the concepts in the story to construct the Cthulhu Mythos in many of his own stories. Such “borrowings” were not uncommon; I had always known that Bierce and Lovecraft had borrowed from each other over many years.

Horror is a funny thing. What serves one generation as the most terrifying of imagery may seem tame to another. In some of these stories there seems to be little of it, but the fantastic does enter into all of them. In many of the stories the protagonist is a young man who may not end up as well-rewarded or as happy as he desires to be. Chambers applies irony and sarcasm in several of the later stories to discomfort the protagonist.

The final three tales were all originally chapters with the one book. The Editor has given them their titles. In one way or another they all involve Professor Farrago of the Bronx Zoo. While the Professor himself does not sally forth (unlike Doyle’s Professor Challenger), his young associate does. He invariably falls under the sway of any good-looking lass within two or three lines. I found the last two of these tales to be the most humorous.

While there is undoubtedly historical importance with these stories (the Editor says that all of the emerging pulp writers seem to have known the book), my modern standards they are not exceptional or even very good. But, they are interesting even if only for the contrast and passage of time. As collected, it’s more than a Two (2.0), but probably less than a Three (3.0) for most people. To be fair, if the book consisted of only the stories I found most satisfying I’d be giving it a solid Three (3.0) or even a half-star more (3.5). Two and One-Half (2.5) Stars rounded up to Three (3.0).

Note: E. F. Bleiler was a scholar of detective, fantasy, and science fiction. As an editor and bibliographer he was responsible for many well-regarded collections of genres and even single authors (like this one). In addition, he wrote two novels both published in 2006.

The Yellow Sign

A painter and his beautiful (and younger) model get caught up in the supernatural. Each has dreams about the other and a mysterious figure from the nearby churchyard. Once it is discovered that they have the Yellow Sign, their fate is sealed, but they will leave an enduring mystery to those who find them.

The Repairer of Reputations

This story uses the device of the sane madman to provide our point of view. But is our protagonist sane or mad? He is certainly unreliable. Here lies fantasy, deception, jealousy, and madness. As a story that tries to evoke terror, it is possibly my favorite in this collection. It is also one where the author has invented one of his more interesting “future histories”. Is there greatness within you?

The Demoiselle d’Ys

A sentimental tale that supposes the ability to step not into a land that has elements from the past, but the past itself. A little slice of Eden that suffers a similar fate. Perhaps a bit too gushy, but sweet.

The Mask

Like many contemporary stories, this one has an amazing scientific breakthrough which is explained only obliquely. This plus the trio of youthful artists serves to create a story of loss and pain. The final “horror” comes from the realization that the properties of the science were so misunderstood.

In The Court of the Dragon

A man goes to church and finds that what once seemed good is now harsh, bad, and twisted. He cannot bear the changes and flees only to discover that he is pursued across all of Paris by evil. When he awakes in the church he believes that he has only fallen asleep and had a bad dream. Instead he has seen a foreshadowing of his future….

(All five stories are from the “The King in Yellow”.)

The Maker of Moons

This was another of my favorite “horror” stories in this collection. Two well-off young gentlemen help a Secret Service agent locate and defeat evil in the woods of upstate New York. The editor mentions that this has long been regarded as one of Chambers’ best-liked stories and that many of the elements (black magic, government agents, Oriental evil/threats) were re-used to great effect by Sax Rohmer in his Fu Manchu novels. Of course the story can’t be so straightforward: the protagonist meets a girl who is thought to be the daughter of the agent (who once lived in China, which is how he knows of this ancient evil). If you like a bit of the Byzantine in your plots, then this will appeal to you.

A Pleasant Evening

A sketch-artist is called on to create illustrations of the animals in the Central Park Zoo before they get relocated to the Bronx Zoo. While sketching he also captures an intriguing and beautiful woman. Later he is told by the Art editor to make a sketch of a woman’s corpse to verify that her ring is of a different design than that of a missing heiress. The artist is then caught up in a supernatural solution to a betrayal and a tragedy. Cross-hatching required.

(Both of these stories are from the collection, “The Maker of Moons”.)

The Messenger

This is one of the more inventive tales (at least as regards creating a local mythos) in the collection. There are references to “The Purple Emperor” which was another story in the original collection, but that doesn’t detract from the story too much. This is also one of the more overtly violent stories with a massive blood trail and mass grave. Having more than one “Black Priest” made it necessary to concentrate in order to keep track of which one was being discussed.

The Key to Grief

A man survives being caught and “noosed” only to escape across an impassable stretch of ocean to reach the Island of Grief. There he finds a woman who speaks her own language and is as carefree as she is beautiful. Months later a child is born who casts a white shadow (the device of the white shadow is use din several stories). From this point, the story moves from happiness to despair to grief, indeed.

(Both of these stories are from the collection, “The Mystery of Choice”.)

The Harbor-Master

This time the young assistant is sent to investigate (and purchase if real) two living examples of the great auk. The owner lives in a remote cove along with his live-in nurse. Well, it turns out that the owner is an invalid who is hot-tempered and quarrelsome, whereas the nurse is a beautiful slip of a thing who bears the brunt of his voice and attitude. The auks are real and the protagonist arranges for their transport while staying with the owner. When all is ready the entire household moves on to the cargo boat and set out to reach the mining settlement. But all their plans go astray when the “Harbor-Master” overturns the vessel. It seems that a dunk in seawater can do wonders for an older man’s constitution.

In Quest of the Dingue

Now the young man is Secretary to the Zoological Gardens at the Bronx Zoo, but Professor Farrago has resigned his post, leaving it to be filled by Professor Smawl of Barnard College. The self-same stony-faced spinster and her youthful (and pretty) associate Professor Van Twiller join the secretary and his guide on an expedition beyond the Hudson Mountains to find living examples of the Dingue and the Mammoth. While woo is being pitched, there is a fierce battle for primacy in making these discoveries. But one should always be care of what one wishes for…

I’m fairly certain that I have read this story before, as the passage, “…that the wealthy and eminent specialist who attended her insisted on taking her to the Riviera and marrying her”, is familiar to me.

Is the Ux Extinct?

We meet up again with the same young man who is now from both the Bronx Zoo and the Smithsonian. (He is the same fellow as someone identifies him as the discoverer of the great auk and the mammoth.) He stakes a seemingly reckless stand defending the right of a pretty (and young) Countess to speak before a major International Assembly on the existence of the Ux. He himself has a monster feather that is supposed to be from the bird and he learns that the lady has her own “proofs” that shall overcome all doubters.

The story draws on the historically accurate fact that the Prince of Monaco was a serious biologist. Like the other stories from the original volume, there is a zany humor at work in this story. And, while the Countess is revealed to have a Count, the women of Java are found to be frolicsome and hospitable.

(All three tales are from the collection “In Search of the Unknown”.)

Profile Image for Theo Logos.
632 reviews101 followers
October 23, 2022
The King In Yellow has haunted my to read list for four decades. During that time it received quite a build up. It was influenced by Poe. It was inspiration for H.P. Lovecraft. It’s the most maddeningly terrifying collection of weird stories ever set to paper. Big, big build up.

Unsurprisingly, the book did not live up to its inflated reputation. Mostly, it missed on that hype about being maddeningly terrifying. It wasn’t. First of all, only half of the ten stories could be accurately described as weird or supernatural tales. Of those, only four are directly connected to The King In Yellow theme. If you are looking for blow your mind eldritch terror, keep on moving.

Yet, despite this, these stories are surprising good, just not what I expected. Poe’s influence is definitely evident. Some of these tales feel like a subtle blending of Poe and Lord Dunsany. It’s also clear that Lovecraft did draw inspiration here, particularly the idea of a book (in this case, a play — The King In Yellow) that can drive men mad and unlock forbidden realms.

It’s the other stories, not the weird tales, but the romances of artists in Paris, where this collection truly shines. The Street of the First Shell, a long story about the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, has no weird or supernatural elements, but is the gem of the collection. So despite not living up to its terrifying reputation, The King In Yellow is well worth your time.

1. The Repairer of Reputations

One hell of an opening story! An alternative history of the United States, an unreliable narrator, his deeply creepy, gnomish mentor, a fierce, Poe-esque murderous cat, notes on the secret, royal succession of America, and the introduction of The King In Yellow, a play that drives men mad!
4 stars

2. The Mask

The snippet from The King In Yellow that precedes this story is eerie and disturbing, but doesn’t have much connection to it that I can see. The tale is a bit of a gothic romance, with a doomed love triangle of young artists. The odd element in the tale is the alchemy process that turns living tissue to marble, which gives the story its eerie twist.
3 stars

3. In the Court of the Dragon

Our narrator visits services at a bright little church, but the organ music sound maddeningly dissident to him alone, and the spectral organist stalks him through the city, through his dreams, even unto the black stars of Carcosa.
4 stars

4. The Yellow Sign

An artist and his young model are haunted by disturbing dreams of a hearse driven by the repugnant, corpse-like church night watchman. Anxiety turns to horror after they read The King In Yellow.
4 stars

5. The Demoiselle d’Ys

An American hunter lost on mysterious French moors is rescued by a beautiful young falconer. A romance literally lost in time.
3 stars

6. The Prophets’ Paradise

A series of prose poems. A little bit eerie, a little bit meh
2 stars

7. The Street of the Four Winds

Artists in Paris, wandering cats, lost love, so sad
3 stars

8. The Street of the First Shell

A longer story about the 1870 Siege of Paris. Told from the perspective of American artists in the city.
4 stars

9. The Street of Our Lady of the Fields

A naive, sheltered young American joins a colony of bohemian American artist in Paris. His innocence of the ways of the Latin Quarter become a sensation.
3 stars

10. Rue Barrée

Another longish tale of young bohemian Americans in Paris (including several of the same characters from the previous story). The story includes details that subtly link it with In The Court Of The Dragon.
3 stars

Profile Image for Andy .
447 reviews69 followers
February 5, 2015
Personally I would not recommend this book to someone unless they are a big fan of horror, and want to get some context for where many writers have gathered influence. I personally love three of the stories here and feel that despite their age they generate an atmosphere which is quite idiosyncratic and memorable which unsettles on a subtle, but deep level. However, there's a lot of chaff to separate from the wheat here, and many modern readers lack the time or patience.

First I'm going to review the original 1895 edition of the King in Yellow with the following stories:

The Repairer Of Reputations
The Mask
In The Court Of The Dragon
The Yellow Sign
The Demoiselle D'ys
The Prophets' Paradise
The Street Of The Four Winds
The Street Of The First Shell
The Street Of Our Lady Of The Fields
Rue Barrée

I will review the edition edited by E. F. Bleiler below as well. That edition removes the last five stories and replaces them with more appropriate, horror-themed tales...BUT being the completist I am, I wanted to read the whole book.

The Repairer of Reputations is a real classic, a very unsettling story of madness from a totally unreliable narrator. It's a very coherent, tight story without a lot of fat on it. A man who has suffered a head injury and was deeply troubled after reading The King in Yellow gets involved with a strange man who is running a blackmail operation, using various other troubled people to achieve power.

The Mask mixes horror, romance and decadence. It is certainly good, emotional writing, but the horrific is mostly at the edges here. A sculptor creates a solution which turns things to marble, this leads to tragic results when combined with a unrequited love.

In the Court of the Dragon is the most befuddling story in the collection, the end is rather vague, but does hit on something cosmically horrific which is laudable for something written in 1895. I think it is trying to convey a general sense of menace and dread above all else, and this it does well. A man goes to a church for solace after reading The King in Yellow, but finds none when he is pursued by an organist who seems to hate him deeply.

The Yellow Sign is second only to "The Repairer of Reputations." It's pretty tight, but does lag a little at one point for some romance. The end comes on rather suddenly with a great sense of doom about it that is quite memorable. An artist and his model are plagued by dreams of him being drawn in a hearse, by a watchman with a face like a puffy coffin-worm they see outside their window.

"The Demoiselle D'ys" is a somewhat standard ghost story, but it's still worth reading. As a horror story it is rather mild compared with the others. A man lost on a French moor encounters a very strange, very beautiful woman out falconing who allows him to sleep in her chateau, but she's not at all what she seems.

This is where most people stop reading. The remaining five stories are nothing like the previous five and make no sense being in the same book together. The only one with a sense of the macabre is "The Street Of The Four Winds," a dark, muted piece about a cat entering a poor artists studio, when he tries to return it to it's owner he finds a surprise indeed. "The Street Of The First Shell" is a rousing, fast-paced tale of people under siege in Paris. It held my interest and has lots of detail about the squalor and filth of the Paris streets during war, and the extremes people will go to survive. "The Prophets' Paradise" is a series of uninteresting, vague prose poems, some of them follow a palindrome form. The last two stories are melodramas about a group of Parisian Bohemian artists, their loves and exploits. These have their moments, but I had to force myself through them.


E. F. Bleiler's edition of "The King in Yellow and Other Horror Stories" has removed the last five stories from the original "King in Yellow" collection and added seven others. It's implied in the introduction to this book that Chambers' work as a whole doesn't stand up very well anymore. If the last handful of the stories are a representation of his "lesser work" by comparison with the "King in Yellow" stories then I believe it's completely true.

You can tell some brilliance for horror is present in the first three additions here, but too often these stories feel like they were written for a non-horror audience. Chambers' tendency to get lost in romance mars these tales. The last two and "The Key to Grief" I certainly can't recommend.

"The Maker of Moons" is by far the best story added here, it's superior to several of the original "King in Yellow" stories. The end doesn't make a lot of sense, but it doesn't matter. Very pulpy, yellow peril type story, but with a nice setting and enough mysterious elements to keep one guessing. The sections where they talk about how "impenetrable" China is are laughable, as usual these stories are plagued by a romantic side story which slows the action. Three men enter the Cardinal Woods to hunt, but one of them is a secret agent after something far more important -- a group of Chinese sorcerers who are manufacturing gold, and horrible crab/spider creatures.

"A Pleasant Evening" is a very, very weird story that effectively blends the real and unreal, reality and dream, that makes us question everything, that leaves things unresolved, but not a confused muddle. A sketch artist for a newspaper meets a strange young woman who asks him to take letters to someone -- later when he reads the letters to a man it causes his suicide, and he discovers she may have been a ghost.

"The Messenger" is a story I liked the more I thought about it later. Its far from being among the best in the collection, but it has some interesting elements which more-or-less come together with some coherency. Despite a great setup however, most of the creepiness is kept to the edges. In France an Englishman and his wife are menaced by a long-dead evil priest after his remains are disturbed at an excavation site.

"The Key to Grief" is another story bogged down in Chamber's romanticism. It's a weird, dream-like affair, frankly doesn't make a lot of sense to me, a lot of pretty imagery, has a theme of the suspension of time. Recalls Bierce's "An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge." A man makes a get-away on a canoe to The Key of Grief after escaping from a lynching party. There he meets a strange native girl.

"The Harbor-Master" is surprisingly Lovecraftian (pre-dating HPL of course) and one of the better "extra" stories here. It doesn't take itself TOO seriously, but it's still intriguing, not scary exactly, but eerie. A scientist is sent by a zoo to see a cantankerous old man who claims to have an extinct species of bird, but it's what is living in the depths of the ocean by his house which is even more intriguing, and threatening.

"In Quest of the Dingue" is a weird story, it has a neat set-up, then not a lot happens in the middle despite promise, then the end is just a confusing deus ex machina. We don't really get much of a pay-off I thought. Disappointing. After a man claims to have seen a passage to an unexplored arctic region cleared by an earthquake which he says is inhabited by some extinct creatures, and something so horrifying he refuses to speak of it in detail, a party is dispatched to explore the place.

"Is the Ux Extinct?" is a humorous, mostly uninteresting story. If this is a horror story, "Requiem for a Dream" is a romantic comedy. A scientist takes sides with a young countess who claims she can prove the existence of the Ux bird, despite everyone believing it's a hoax.
Profile Image for Icebrand.
5 reviews
September 3, 2014
Had this been only the first four or five stories (out of the ten), I would have rated this four stars easily, and I feel like my two-star rating is a bit punitive. I might come back and re-score it a 3 or even a 4 when I don't feel as deceived.

The first four stories are horror stories concerning a book called "The King in Yellow," a play which has an effect on its readers, causing strange visions and erratic behavior. They contain some really interesting imagery and tantalizing glimpses into the book-within-a-book that made me wonder about the context and want to read more. The fifth story completely avoids the King In Yellow story but is a fairly interesting romance story with its own spooky flavor.

After this point, the other stories are neither about "The King in Yellow," nor horror stories. They're obnoxious, pining romances between a bunch of interchangeable libertine French painters and their characterless objects of affection. If I had known this before reading the book, I likely would have stopped after "The Mademoiselle d'Ys" and been satisfied. I would still recommend other people do so. But I don't feel like I can justify giving a higher rating to a book whose title was a lie. I would, personally, have gone with "The King in Yellow, Another Horror Story, And Unrelated Garbage".

The spooky bits were pretty neat though. In fact I feel I should give extra credit to the fact that the book wasn't oversaturated with them; by the end I still wanted to read more about black stars hanging in the sky and strangers wearing no mask.
Profile Image for Kimberly.
1,698 reviews2 followers
June 3, 2016
THE KING IN YELLOW and OTHER HORROR STORIES is a collection of stories based upon the book "The King in Yellow", and then some stories at the end that--quite frankly--didn't seem to have anything in common with the earlier ones. I have to admit that the horror stories were my absolute favorites--to the extant that even though I didn't care at all for some of the later ones, I'm still giving this collection a solid four stars based on the strength of the tales I DID like.

The "horror" tales are are loosely woven around the idea that anyone reading the book, "The King in Yellow", is led to madness or some horrific event. The really beauty of this, in my opinion, is that the references to the book itself are so obscure, that the reader really doesn't know exactly what the book is about! This just added to the mystery and atmosphere of psychological horror, leaving you to ponder what exactly these people are reading.......

As I stated earlier, there were some stories in here that I really didn't like much at all, but this collection was worthwhile solely for the ones focusing on the King. Those stories are ones that I will definitely be re-reading in the future.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jerry Jose.
360 reviews61 followers
May 26, 2017
The King in Yellow is a medieval play infamous for inducing madness and despair among its readers, a monstrosity denunciated by pulpit and press, the one its author shot himself for bringing forth.
It is fictional.

This book contains concatenated weird macabre(and amazing) short stories, built around the above-mentioned infamous and forbidden play.
They are fictional too.

It would be probably safe to tag above collection as proto-lovecraftian since passing references to the Yellow King, Hastur and Lake of Hali often find their place in Cthulhu mythos, and further 'fear of the unknown' stories it inspired (including True Detective).
Fictional again.

Book in a book in a book.
Bookception :)
Profile Image for Quentin Wallace.
Author 33 books155 followers
April 8, 2022
3.5 Stars

I'm not sure why it took me so long to finally read this one. It was interesting. I will say for something written in 1895 it was written very colloquially and wasn't as hard to get through as, say, Poe or Lovecraft. The stories were very different. A book called "The King In Yellow" links the stories together, which is one of those fabled books that cause madness to any who read it. I'm assuming this was the precursor to Lovecraft's Necronomicon. In some stories the book plays a big part, in others the reference is vague enough to be missed.

The stories are a mixture. The horror stories are good, and I wish the entire collection had been horror. The other stories are a little different, including a few that read like romance written by Oscar Wilde or a similar author.

I think this was ahead of its time, and that's part of it's allure. It's certainly good, but I don't know how famous it would be if it had been written 50 years later. I suppose you can say that about a great many books, however.

If this is one you've been wanting to read, you should take the time now and read it.
Profile Image for Kyell Gold.
Author 67 books495 followers
February 10, 2015
I've heard about this book for twenty-some years now, ever since reading James Blish's short story "More Light" (in the out of print collection "Alchemy and Academe"). Finally I got my hands on it and had a chance to read through the origin of the "King in Yellow" mythos.

The introduction to this volume, by E.F. Bleiler, is worth reading, as it sets the expectations well for what you're about to read. Bleiler is no fan of most of Chambers' work and makes no secret of it (I was surprised to learn that Chambers was a very popular novelist in his day), but he has chosen the stories that he feels are a cut above the rest, that are worth reading and preserving. I also referred back to the intro when reading some of the later stories for reasons I will mention again below.

One of the expectations I had when starting this book was that I would find stories similar to H.P. Lovecraft's; Chambers is cited as an influence on Lovecraft, and they'd become linked in my mind because of the similar notions of hapless humans living in a world ruled by horrible great powers. The book starts very strongly with the story "The Yellow Sign," probably the closest story to fulfilling that expectation in the whole volume. As you move along through time with the stories, the horror element diminishes. Often you will read characters exclaiming on the horror and the terror of something they've seen--a familiar device to anyone who knows Lovecraft's work, but Chambers is usually unable to follow through as Lovecraft was. The reveals fall flat and at the end of many stories, I was left unsatisfied--not only for the lack of a Lovecraftian italicized horrific reveal, but also because Chambers' story construction is often weak, leaving me wondering what the point of the story was at all.

Returning to the intro, I saw Bleiler's note that he included some of the stories not because of their overall quality necessarily, but because they held some strongly-written scenes that he quite liked. He emphasized Chambers' skill with description, and when I went back and read the stories in this light, I appreciated them much more. The two strong points of this collection are the human relationships and the descriptions. "On the silver shoal the waves washed and washed, breaking like crushed opals where the sands sang with the humming froth." That's from a random page I opened to in the collection. This kind of stuff is all through his stories, and if you grow impatient with the stories themselves, just stop and marvel at the words.

The last three stories are taken from a chaptered novel about a biologist encountering strange and wonderful and sometimes extinct creatures, and are meant to be more humorous than horrible. His narrator in these stories is a very strong character and when I stopped expecting horror from his stories, I enjoyed them quite a bit.

There's a lot to like here, and I think the key to appreciating it is to let go of any expectations you have upon picking up the book. Chambers is very good at some things and not so good at others, and if you can appreciate the good and chuckle away the bad, you will enjoy this collection quite a bit.
Profile Image for Sesana.
5,181 reviews345 followers
October 21, 2019
A classic of weird horror, The King in Yellow is a collection of short stories. Well, the first four stories are weird horror classics. Related only by the existence and influence of the play The King in Yellow, the second act of which will inevitably drive mad any who read it, they're a set of nicely atmospheric set. What will really linger in your mind is the concept of the play, which we never get more than brief glimpses of. I'd say this is probably what makes the reputation of the book.

These are followed by a wistful, traditional ghost (or, perhaps, time travel) story, and an odd bit of prose that might be an allegory that only the author had a key to, or fragments of a larger work, or a bit of inspired nonsense, but is absorbing nevertheless.

The last four stories are completely and entirely different. Instead of horror, they're a fairly realistic look at the lives of American art students in late 19th century Paris's Latin Quarter. One of the stories is set during the 1870 siege of Paris, but there's no action aside from that. And honestly? They're right up my alley. If I had known these stories were in here, I would have been even more eager to read the book as a whole. But if you aren't interested in the lives of 19th century Parisian students? You might want to stop after The Prophet's Paradise.
Profile Image for Kevin.
336 reviews38 followers
October 10, 2011
The first four short stories? Fantastic. The third one of four - 'In the Court of the Dragon' - was probably my favorite piece of late-19th century horror fiction, well served and set up by the two stories that came before.

After the four short stories came some very quick ... vignettes? Ultra-short stories? Only a few lines each, but effective and interesting. An example:


The Clown turned his powdered face to the mirror.
"If to be fair is to be beautiful," he said, "who can compare with me in my white mask?"
"Who can compare with him in his white mask?" I asked of Death beside me.
"Who can compare with me?" said Death, "for I am paler still."
"You are very beautiful," sighed the Clown, turning his powdered face from the mirror.

After these shorts are a series of stories that I found so dreadfully boring that I skipped the last quarter of the book ... and still I'm more than happy to give it four stars. It came from Project Gutenberg, it's free, and it has some amazing stuff at the beginning, so I can't fault it.
Profile Image for Catherine McCarthy.
Author 26 books221 followers
February 17, 2023
If I'm totally honest I didn't really enjoy this collection. In fact it became a chore, and I have to admit I skimmed the last two stories. Yes it's a classic, and I appreciate it for that but I wasn't the right audience, I guess. I loved one of the stories called The Yellow Sign, but for me the rest were too similar, too focused on falling in love at the drop of a hat, a theme I'm never keen on. Read it and judge for yourself.
Profile Image for Denise.
40 reviews10 followers
January 8, 2008
(Read via Project Gutenberg, not this edition.)

Chambers, along with Lovecraft, is one of the grandpappies of the contemporary horror genre, and these are his masterwork: a series of connected short stories and novellas about a mysterious play (also called The King In Yellow) that drives a reader mad. The play itself is never more than vaguely described; the stories are about the effects it has on the minds of those who read it, and their subsequent actions.

This is precisely the type of horror I love -- there's no lovingly-described Big Scary Monster, and the horror comes from the slowly-dawning realization that one's own mind and perceptions can't be trusted anymore. Though the language takes a bit of time to truly immerse oneself into, it's still fabulous, both on the readerly level and on the meta-level of observing and analyzing just how Chambers managed to pull it off.
Profile Image for Steve.
555 reviews18 followers
February 27, 2014
What a disappointing book. The first four or five stories in the book are very effective horror stories that sort or revolve around a play called "The King in Yellow." To read this, in several of the stories, drives the reader mad. Those stores kind of relate to one another, in tone and in the way the horror works out, and I thought I was in for a real treat. But the stories that comprise the second half of the book don't relate to or mention the King in Yellow or the yellow sign, and are instead kind of late Victorian romance about Bohemians in Paris.. The stories don't go anywhere and don't have any effect on you except in contrast to the great stories that begin the book.

So I highly recommend the first four or five stories; I really enjoyed them. Then when you notice that you're not interested anymore, the good stuff is past, and just put the book down. I stayed with it, alas.
Profile Image for Still.
573 reviews81 followers
February 1, 2015
Inspired by the HBO series True Detective I broke down & read this in the last half of October 2014.

It was almost Halloween and I always read H. P. Lovecraft & his spawn when the leaves on the trees start changing colors. Lovecraft was allegedly a Chambers devotee, so ...I felt it incumbent upon me to give it a try.
Made it through "King..." and a couple of others but finally gave it all up.
Also read a few tales by Ambrose Bierce before going back to Lovecraft to wrap up the scary season.

To sum it up:
I did not have a good time.
The band sucked.
The booze was doctored.
I woke up with a hangover.
Profile Image for Alexander Draganov.
Author 28 books132 followers
June 6, 2014
I liked the stories, connected with the Yellow King very much, as well as those with mystical feel, but the last three were kind of boring to me, so between four stars in the first half of the book and two in the second one my average and final rating is three stars.
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