Originally published in 1895, Robert W. Chambers' The King in Yellow is a marvel of supernatural fiction that has influenced a number of writers in the genre, most notably H. P. Lovecraft. Its powerful combination of horror and lyrical prose has made it a classic, a masterpiece of weird fiction that endures to this day.
There is a book that is shrouded in mystery. Some even say it's a myth. Within its pages is a play - one that brings madness and despair to all who read it. It is the play of the King in Yellow, and it will haunt you for the rest of your days.
The King in Yellow is a collection of stories interwoven loosely by the elements of the play, including the central figure himself.
Public Domain (P)2014 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Painter, musician, bibliophile...
"True Detective" is the only telly I've watched all year, and I only finished it over Thanksgiving. (Nothing against watching telly, I'm just a workaholic). Before watching the series, I'd never heard of this author, far less of this book. But I am a huge Ambrose Bierce fan, so when they referenced "Carcosa," I was intrigued.
After I finished watching, I went back to my well-worn Bierce and found his short story, "An Inhabitant of Carcosa," the penultimate tale in his 1893 collection "Can Such Things Be?"
The story is told through the medium Bayrolles, a form he uses more than once. The deceased soul tells the medium of how he came from "the ancient city of Carcosa" to find his own grave and then the ruins of his former dwelling place. It's a haunting, time-twisting, dark, breathtakingly brief story so typical of Bierce: "I called aloud the names of my wives and sons, reached out my hands in search of theirs, even as I walked among the crumbling stones and the withered grass..."
Then I checked out "The King in Yellow," and found in its first chapter, "The Repairer of Reputations" a brief reference that points to the Bierce story, including mention of "the lake of Hali," and "Carcosa, where the black stars hang in the heavens."
I listened on, becoming ever more disappointed in the book. Far from being a Bierce-inspired story or pointing to anything much in "True Detective," it's an overwrought, fevered, disorganized mess. It seems to be a pale shadow of the French Decadent and Symbolist writers. The first part is really a long story, with several short stories with only the most tenuous connection to the original premise.
If you like the character of Rust, Bierce's work is full of complicated, dark, tormented, wonderfully wild men with pasts. Many times the characters are "here but not here" and seem to have one foot in this world and the other in the next. I highly recommend his work to any reader. And Bierce is classic for a reason: his work has held up over time. Chambers' work has not.
Perhaps in 1895 when it was published, "The King in Yellow" was more relevant. It might even be possible that the murderers in "True Detective" could have built their dark Mardi Gras rites around it's themes. But for today's reader, I'm not sure it has much value, and for "True Detective" fans, it's not going to help much. Look to the original master, Bierce. Time with him is always well spent.
The complete shift of story type in the second half. The first half of the book is a series of macabre short stories in the vein of Poe, but then the second half turns into a series of pointless romantic blathering about American artists in Paris' Latin Quarter at the close of the 19th century. I kept waiting for the stories to take a turn but they just continued to prattle on about pots of pansies and the inane interactions between the artists and their various crushes.
Rudnicki's monotone performance with little distinction between characters means I am unlikely to listen to something by him again. Gabrielle de Cuir only performed the occasional snippet of poetry at the beginning of a story. Basically a non-entity.
Disappointment. The actual stories around the fictional play of the King in Yellow were intriguing, but the rest was a waste of time
I've listened twice and probably will again. Each story is so bizarre and sometimes confusing that I love trying to figure it out each time.
I have no idea.
Stefan Rudnicki's voice is absolutely wonderful to listen to. In an almost punny way, his voice brings a great depth to the stories.
I think I most enjoyed the character, who's name I unfortunately have forgotten, who gets lost in the moor and is saved by the young girl with the bird.
"Fizzles out early on"
Somebody who was around at the time it came out.
I once read that a classic is a work that has stood the test of time. Based on that, The King in Yellow is not a classic.
To be fair it wasn't really his fault. He wrote a series of short stories that presumably worked at the time, and which influenced the likes of Lovecraft.
Then again, the fact that he completely dropped the King in Yellow thread less than halfway through the book of that title meant we were left with a handful of vaguely similar stories about American artists slumming it in Paris.
That was not their purpose. He read the stories; she read the poems that preceded each story. They were okay but nothing special.
Initially I was intrigued by the hints about the titular king, but of course it never went anywhere, and so I got bored. A shame, as I'd read the relevant Ambrose Bierce fiction to enable me to immerse myself in the whole thing.
The American bohemians in the last half spend their time having squabbles and falling in love with young women in a way that I think is supposed to elicit our disapproval, but which is in fact incredibly tame in comparison with the social and sexual mores of today. The stories are unfocused - it is often unclear whom we are supposed to care about - so that they are not even interesting in a "so that's how things were in 1895" sort of way.
Now, I'm relieved I've got it out the way. I can probably buy and enjoy True Detective, feeling I'm "in the know".
The Repairer of Reputations seems to get a lot of praise. I found it a very dull opener, and I had to listen twice because I thought I'd missed something. I don't think I did. I was amused that this future America (1920!) had something similar to the suicide booths in Futurama.
The Mask is my favourite - a straight SF/fantasy story based on a neat idea.
In The Court of the Dragon. A nebulous supernatural story, the second in the collection that I had to relisten to.
The Yellow Sign. Quite effectively creepy.
The Demoiselle d'Ys. A pleasant enough time travel story, but I've already mostly forgotten it.
The Prophets' Paradise. If you went to art college and spent a few days writing pretentious poems, you'll be familiar with this.
The Street of the Four Winds. Well written, but the sort of thing you might find in a small press magazine.
The Street of the First Shell. Again, this one gets a lot of praise, but I found it hard to keep track of who was who and why I should care. This is another I listened to twice.
The Street of Our Lady of the Fields. Inconsequential flirtations, I think. I can't remember now - it's been nearly a week. Some of the same characters appear in the equally forgettable Rue Barree.
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