Last month, I wrote a story that combined art and my love of ballet with the stories of the King in Yellow. This was after finally reading the stories earlier this year, which was after hearing about them and their titular subject for a few years. Recently, I edited that story and then submitted it to a publication that I think will like it. And after doing so, I just wanted to write a blog post about the King in Yellow, and see how many of the Followers of Fear are familiar with the character.

So, for those of you who don’t know, The King in Yellow is a collection of short stories published in 1895 by Robert Chambers. The first four stories revolve around the titular character. Or to be more precise, around a fictional play revolving around the titular character. This play has the uncanny ability to make those who read/see it lose their hold on reality. Or, in another sense, to put them under the sway of the King in Yellow.

If you would like a more in-depth analysis of the character, the play, and stories than I can give here, you can watch this video which goes in depth on the collection and the stories in question.

Not bad, huh? I find the Tale Foundry channel puts out some incredible work on all things writing and literature.

Anyway, The King in Yellow–the book, the play, and the character–have had quite an effect on horror literature. HP Lovecraft was actually heavily influenced by the book, and some of the themes in the book could be considered proto-Lovecraftian. Some writers have even included the King in the Cthulhu Mythos under the name of Hastur, a name from the original collection, as well as the half-brother of Cthulhu. And plenty of other writers have played in the sandbox of The King in Yellow, both in and out of the Cthulhu Mythos. He’s appeared in tabletop games, video games, all sorts of stories, and even was heavily referenced in the TV show True Detective.

Question is, why? What is it about these four stories and the King that has caused them to endure and slowly germinate into our popular culture?

Well, that’s the thing: it does germinate. Or the play does, anyway.

If you’ve read the stories or watched the video, you might have noticed that the King himself only appears once. Even then, you can’t be sure this isn’t the hallucination of a madman. Really, what we see in the stories is the effect of the play. It’s power to corrupt people, as well as the public outcry against it, has ensured that if someone hasn’t read it, they at least know of it and have seen the damage it’s caused.

Sounds like Twilight, but better and horrifying in the right ways, if you think about it. And it’s a great metaphor for how stories can spread through a populace and change people and culture, for better or worse. Not just fictional texts, like Harry Potter or Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but non-fiction tomes like The Travels of Marco Polo and Herodotus’s Histories, and religious texts like the Bible. All of these had huge effects on the societies they spread through, changing cultures, beliefs, and minds in so many ways.

The metaphor is even more apt if you think of the play as a religious text for those who worship the King in Yellow.

Just one edition of the King in Yellow collection. There are as many as there are ways to tell a story with the character.

Add in that the stories are psychological works where a lot is left to the imagination, combined with some decent and eerie storytelling, as well as ideas that resonate with writers the way Lovecraft’s world would years later, and it’s no wonder people began playing with and adding to the concept of the King in Yellow. And this was happening even before the stories entered the public domain.

Is it any wonder the King has been partially absorbed into the Cthulhu Mythos now?

And like the Cthulhu Mythos, the King in Yellow is becoming more well-known and mainstream, albeit slower than the Mythos. Still, the fact that it showed up in True Detective says a lot. And I hope, should the story I wrote be published, that it’s considered a nice addition to the King’s legacy, as well as helps to spread awareness of the original stories.

Speaking of which, I highly recommend checking out the original King in Yellow short story collection. They’re really eerie and you probably won’t regret checking them out. At the very least, you’ll be able to see how another classic work of horror has influenced the genre as a whole.

Just don’t read beyond the first four stories. The ones afterward don’t really connect to the stories about the play and aren’t as good, making you wonder why Chambers included those stories. I heard that if you read the book in reverse, it reveals something, but I can think of a lot of other stuff I would rather do with my time.

Have you read The King in Yellow or come across works inspired by it? What do you think of the stories? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to make dinner, read a story a friend sent to me for feedback, and imagine putting together a King in Yellow costume. Until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and beware the Yellow Sign.


One more thing: the crowdfunding campaign for That Which Cannot Be Undone is at 29% funded! And we’ve added a whole bunch of new perks to the campaign, as well as a new author to the anthology!

If you’re unaware, I’m part of a small publishing press and we’re crowdfunding our first anthology, That Which Cannot Be Undone, which will highlight Ohio writers. It’s an exciting new venture, and we’re very excited for you to read the stories that will be included. I’ve already written one story that will be in the anthology, so I hope you’ll support us in making this anthology a reality.

If you’re interested, you can click on the link below and learn more about the anthology. I hope you’ll lend us your support! Thanks, and have a good night!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/crackedskullproject1/that-which-cannot-be-undone-an-ohio-horror-anthology

Comments
  1. I have not read this classic collection. I think it ought to be a regular in college classes, don’t you?

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