Romance, mystery, dread and terror–Robert Chambers’ The King in Yellow has them all in spades. It’s a collection of stories that has influenced countless horror writers over the past century, including H.P. Lovecraft himself.
Four of the stories in the book reference a play called The King in Yellow, a play so infamous it was banned because simply reading it causes people to go insane. We as readers of the short stories never get to see more than a snippet or two from the actual play, lending to mystery of it. The titular character in the play is a terrifying, god-like being who wears tattered yellow robes. And if just reading a play about him can cause madness, what could meeting him actually do?
You might be thinking “The King in Yellow…didn’t that show True Detective mention something about him?” Why yes it did, and I am forever grateful for that, as it led many people to actually seek out Chambers’ masterpiece, which still does not get the love it deserves from horror fandom as a whole.
Many people still have never read The King in Yellow, which is one of the reasons I wanted to post about it this week. The book is now in the public domain, so you can read it for free online, and there are several paperback versions currently in print as well.
As for Chambers’ influence on my own writing, it’s huge. My Parted Veil series of horror novels is heavily influenced by both Chambers and Lovecraft, and the first book–Courting the King in Yellow–features a very direct connection to the character himself.