Robert W.. Chambers, THE KING IN YELLOW

Even the influential have their influences, and horror legend H.P. Lovecraft cited Robert W. Chambers as one of his.  Chambers' short story collection The King in Yellow: Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural certainly has some elements that carried over into Lovecraft's work; the collection also demonstrates why Chambers isn't better known today.

The first four stories in The King in Yellow are interconnected by a story element that would become common in Lovecraft's work: cursed writing.  In Chambers' case, that would be a banned play, The King in Yellow, that leads everyone who reads it to death or madness.  This work, featured in snippets through the stories, introduces the terrible King in Yellow and the shores of Carcossa.  The opening story, "The Repairer of Reputations," also has the narrator who may be living in a strange future (with racially segregated country and public suicide booths) or who may just be stark raving mad.Chambers' horror stories also end with a breathless final sentence (though with the italics that are omnipresent in Lovecraft's finales).

Unfortunately, Chambers' writing is a bit formal and lacks the madness and scares this sort of horror should inspire in the reader.  And it's not all horror.  Some of the stories take a romantic route, some look at live in bohemian Paris, and one is set during the fog of war.  While it's not terrible writing, it lacks the focus one could and should expect from "tales of mystery and the supernatural."

Chambers' cursed play and masked yellow king continue to pop up now and then in Lovecraftain horror, but The King in Yellow is an uneven collection of themes and talent.

Overall grade: C
Reviewed by James Lynch

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