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The King in Yellow

Published Date: July 20, 2010

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Robert W. Chambers (1865-1933) was an American writer known for his influential early weird tales. He studied art at the École des Beaux-Arts and Académie Julian in Paris, but switched his focus to writing upon his return to the United States. After The King in Yellow and the subsequent collections The Maker of Moons and The Tree of Heaven, Chambers devoted himself exclusively to historical fiction never returning to the weird genre.

The central cycle of macabre stories, set in a then-future 1920’s Paris and America, center on a fictitious play “The King in Yellow” the reading of which drives one mad. The color yellow was an evocative element of the decadent movement—typified by the notorious literary journal The Yellow Book and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Chambers work bridges the gap between the decadent literature of the 19th century and the fantastic pulp fiction of the twentieth.

Chambers can be viewed as a direct pre-cursor to H.P. Lovecraft and his particular style of fantastic horror. Lovecraft first read The King in Yellow in the late 1920’s. The stories were highly influential on the younger writer—later incorporating references to them in his own works such as “The Call of Cthulhu” and his “History of the Necronomicon.”

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