The King in Yellow and Other Horror Stories (Dover Mystery, Detective, & Other Fiction)
By Robert W. Chambers
Had a pretty good day today, except that the moment I came home, I dropped something on my nose (yeah…I’ve got mad skills like that) and ever since then, the area around my nose and up through my forehead has been throbbing off and on.
Cannot wait to get to sleep, and that precludes me writing a new post…so please, have a review that I wrote back in March(ish).
Selection: The King in Yellow
By Robert W. Chambers
Edited by E.F. Bleiler
Robert W. Chambers wrote much romantic and historical fiction, and was very popular in the early 1900s, but when he is remembered today, it’s usually in connection with the mysterious King in Yellow.
The King in Yellow is considered the best out of the few weird tales that Chambers wrote, before he gave up those sorts of stories in order to pursue greater commercial opportunities in the romantic genre. In this collection, E.F. Bleiler has brought together the best of Chambers’ surviving weird tales, and some of his stories about an intrepid zoologist who frequently encounters monsters and extinct animal species.
I feel like any time an editor promises you a collection of horror stories, and then admits in the foreword that half the stories in the book are from a different genre, you are probably in for a disappointment. So it was with this book.
Now, that’s not to say there was nothing good in here…I was just severely disappointed with the way that the book’s contents didn’t match up with the jacket description.
And the editor…man…I don’t get why this person even bothered putting the collection together, since the foreword seemed to be all about Chambers’ failings as a writer. Why on earth would you make the effort to collect an author’s work when you think that overall, he was worthless? Baffling, I tell you.
Anyway, there were three stories that seemed particularly worth reading, and I will give brief summaries of them.
The Yellow Sign:
A painter and his model are talking about dreams that they’ve had, and the girl tells him that she’s been having dreams that something awful will happen to him. The painter laughs it off, but soon finds out there is more to her dream and to the pasty-faced man who’s been lurking in the streets. And when the mysterious sign of the King in Yellow appears, it brings doom upon all three of them.
I felt like the sense of foreboding was developed really well in this story. The voice of the painter is lively enough that the story doesn’t take on a melodramatic tone…but the events in the story are built up in such a way that the effect is still creepy. As far as the plot: I admit I’m still puzzled by the end. I don’t understand exactly what the role of the play The King in Yellow was—if it was the means by which the characters were doomed, or if it was what let them in on the fact that they were doomed, or what exactly it was. The man in the courtyard is also a bit of a mystery, since I am not sure if he is an agent of this doom or another victim. I has questions, but on the whole, I liked the feel of this story.
A sculptor has discovered a way to create perfect sculptures of living things. All you have to do is dip a bouquet of flowers in a peculiar solution he’s invented, and you have a perfectly sculpted bouquet. Or drop in a twisting, turning koi fish and you have a perfectly sculpted fish. The results are the same whether you submerge a frightened rabbit…or if give your friend’s head a playful dunk in the basin. And when the sculptor’s fiancée falls into a fevered delirium and lets slip she has secretly been in love with his best friend all along, well—a dunk in the deadly solution might just be in order.
I wasn’t keen on the way the ending played out in this story—it was FAR too rosy for the rest of the story—but I did like the way Chambers was able to add the weird element into a narrative that seemed tragic and even relatable. I didn’t feel like The King in Yellow had any business being referenced in this story, though, since the narrator neither died nor went mad after reading the play, but that’s just me. I suspect that I may just be a failure at understanding Chambers’ stories, since there is again a scene that confuses me…at one point, Genevieve falls in the smoking room, and the fall seems significant, as well as the detail that she tripped over the snarling head of a wolfskin rug…but I feel like these details never get fully developed..
You can read it here if you like.
The Harbor Master:
A young zoologist in New York gets an opportunity to collect a pair of supposedly extinct Great Auks for his institution. He has serious doubts about this excursion, but when he reaches the grouchy old man who owns the birds, he finds that the birds do exist, and even have a brood of fluffy chicks. But he also encounters the Harbor Master, a humanoid amphibian creature that has no intention of letting anyone leave the area.
This was a goofy story from the zoological series, although it did at least involve a monster and might still count as a weird tale. It wasn’t terrible, but my goodness!—the reason that’s eventually given for why the creature is hunting them seems like a plot for the worst B monster film imaginable. It was so bad that the story wound up being more funny than scary, and for that reason, it’s worth a read if you ever come across it. The narrator was also engaging, which always helps when a plot takes a ridiculous turn like this one did.