The King in Yellow is a book of short stories by Robert W. Chambers, first published by F. Tennyson Neely in 1895. The book is named after a fictional play with the same title which recurs as a motif through some of the stories. The first half of the book features highly esteemed weird stories, and the book is described by S.T. Joshi as a classic in the field of the supernatural. There are 10 stories, the first four of which, "The Repairer of Reputations", "The Mask", "In the Court of the Dragon" and "The Yellow Sign", mention The King in Yellow, a forbidden play which induces despair or madness in those who read it. "The Yellow Sign" inspired a film of the same name released in 2001.
A milestone of American supernatural fiction, The King in Yellow created a sensation upon its 1895 publication. Since then, it has markedly influenced writers in the genre, most famously, H. P. Lovecraft. Author Robert W. Chambers has been hailed as a writer of remarkable imaginative powers and the historic link between Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King.
The day following was a disastrous one for me. While moving a framed canvas from one easel to another my foot slipped on the polished floor, and I fell heavily on both wrists. They were so badly sprained that it was useless to attempt to hold a brush, and I was obliged to wander about the studio, glaring at unfinished drawings and sketches, until despair seized me and I sat down to smoke and twiddle my thumbs with rage. The rain blew against the windows and rattled on the roof of the church, driving me into a nervous fit with its interminable patter. Tessie sat sewing by the window, and every now and then raised her head and looked at me with such innocent compassion that I began to feel ashamed of my irritation and looked about for something to occupy me. I had read all the papers and all the books in the library, but for the sake of something to do I went to the bookcases and shoved them open with my elbow. I knew every volume by its colour and examined them all, passing slowly around the library and whistling to keep up my spirits. I was turning to go into the dining-room when my eye fell upon a book bound in serpent skin, standing in a corner of the top shelf of the last bookcase. I did not remember it, and from the floor could not decipher the pale lettering on the back, so I went to the smoking-room and called Tessie. She came in from the studio and climbed up to reach the book.
"What is it?" I asked.
"The King in Yellow."
I was dumfounded. Who had placed it there? How came it in my rooms? I had long ago decided that I should never open that book, and nothing on earth could have persuaded me to buy it. Fearful lest curiosity might tempt me to open it, I had never even looked at it in book-stores. If I ever had had any curiosity to read it, the awful tragedy of young Castaigne, whom I knew, prevented me from exploring its wicked pages. I had always refused to listen to any description of it, and indeed, nobody ever ventured to discuss the second part aloud, so I had absolutely no knowledge of what those leaves might reveal. I stared at the poisonous mottled binding as I would at a snake.
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About the Author
He was born in Brooklyn, New York, to William P. Chambers (1827-1911), a famous lawyer, and Caroline (Boughton) Chambers, a direct descendant of Roger Williams, the founder of Providence, Rhode Island. Robert's brother was Walter Boughton Chambers, the world famous architect.
Chambers studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, and at Académie Julian, in Paris from 1886 to 1893, and his work was displayed at the Salon as early as 1889. Then, for reasons unclear, he devoted his time to writing, producing his first novel, In the Quarter (written in 1887 in Munich). His most famous, and perhaps most meritorious, effort is The King in Yellow, a collection of Art Nouveau short stories published in 1895. This included several famous weird short stories which are connected by the theme of a fictitious drama, The King in Yellow, which drives those who read it insane. E. F. Bleiler described The King in Yellow as one of the most important works of American supernatural fiction. It was also strongly admired by H.P. Lovecraft and his circle.
Chambers returned to the weird genre in his later short story collections The Maker of Moons, The Mystery of Choice and The Tree of Heaven, but none earned him as much success as The King in Yellow. Some of Chambers's work contains elements of science fiction, such as In Search of the Unknown and Police!!!, about a zoologist who encounters monsters.
Chambers later turned to writing romantic fiction to earn a living. According to some estimates, Chambers had one of the most successful literary careers of his period, his later novels selling well and a handful achieving best-seller status. Many of his works were also serialized in magazines.
During World War I he wrote war adventure novels, and war stories, some of which showed a strong return to his old weird style, such as "Marooned" in Barbarians (1917). After 1924 he devoted himself solely to writing historical fiction.
Chambers for several years made Broadalbin, New York, his summer home. Some of his novels touch upon colonial life in Broadalbin and Johnstown.
On July 12, 1898, he married Elsa Vaughn Moller (1882-1939). They had a son, Robert Edward Stuart Chambers (who sometimes used the name Robert Husted Chambers).
Robert W. Chambers died on December 16, 1933, after having undergone intestinal surgery three days earlier.