In the Court of the Yellow King – edited by Glynn Owen Barass
I found the book The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers through H.P. Lovecraft’s essay Supernatural Horror in Literature.
The King in Yellow is a collection by Robert Chambers in which the first four stories are loosely connected in the same world and they all mention a banned play titled , you guessed it, The King in Yellow. In the mythology of the stories it was banned because it would drive people mad when reading it.
Each story has a tidbit of the play at the beginning, giving a vague idea of the play and some of the characters involved. The stories, in order, are: The Repairer of Reputations, The Mask, The Yellow Sign and In the Court of the Dragon. My particular favorites are The Yellow Sign followed closely by The Mask and The Repairer of Reputations.
The rest of the stories are what Lovecraft dismisses as ‘shopgirl romances’. Even if they aren’t weird tales or horror they’re not too bad. Just very different.
Anywho, The King in Yellow has been becoming more well known and widely read lately and more and more writers have been writing stories set in Chambers’ world. I’ve found quite a few anthologies bearing the mark of the Yellow Sign so I thought I’d check them out. Especially, I have to confess, because I have a weakness for books, music, plays and movies that drive their creators and perusers mad.
First up, if you haven’t guessed, is In the Court of the Yellow King edited by Glynn Owen Barass.
I was a little disappointed in it, to be honest. There were some good stories but there were also some I did not like at all and a few that were just middle-ground. Neither here nor there.
- These Harpies of Carcosa – W.H. Pugmire: Not too bad but no real plot. Just scenes and some dialogue but no real story. 2/6
- The Viking in Yellow – Christine Morgan: One of the better stories. The atmosphere is oppressive and I like the play on the title (no pun intended). 5/6
- Who Killed the King of Rock and Roll – Edward Morris: I didn’t care for this one too much. It makes a play on Elvis’ nickname The King (as told through the fictional eyes of Alan Freed). Once it finally gets to the point it gets better but it takes a long time to get there and you have to wade through a wandering mess. 1/6
- Masque of the Queen – Stephen Mark: One of the few stories to reference the play itself. Very creepy with a decent ending. 5/6
- Grand Theft Hovercar – Jeffrey Thomas: A futuristic spin on Grand Theft Auto. A virtual reality world that slowly sucks in the players. The reference to The King in Yellow felt pretty tacked on. Like the story had been written and then they put in an element here and there to match the anthology. There’s also organic sex organs. You got me. 1/6
- The Girl with the Star-Stained Soul – Lucy A. Snyder: Apparently this same character, Penny, is in the Shadows Over Main Street anthology. I have it in my TBR pile so I’m looking forward to reading it even more now. This story covers a bit of what happened in that story, enough to get the gist of it. This story seems to involve Penny disrupting a ritual with her power and being thrown into Carcosa. It’s well-written and very interesting. I’m looking forward to reading more by the author. 6/6
- The Penumbra of Exquisite Foulness – Tim Curran: I could not get into this one at all. It’s rambly and wordy and convoluted. I don’t really care for that style much but someone else might like it better. also *Spoiler* I don’t much care for the infanticide in it. i don’t like that in horror much. Adults, fine, but I read to enjoy myself and the death of children is not exactly enjoyable reading. If I want realism I’ll read the news. *End Spoiler*. Also, the author beats the word ‘penumbra’ to death. 1/6
- Yield – CJ Henderson: Maybe it’s just me being dense but I didn’t get this one at all. It just didn’t seem to have a point or plot or story at all. I’m not a big fan of the ‘rambling madness’ type of story. They seem to me to be a bit of a cheat, really. Throw a bunch of random sentences on the page, a few keywords and bam, story. 1/6
- Homeopathy – Greg Stolze: A strange little story about a psychiatrist using the play as a homeopathic treatment for childhood trauma. 3/6
- Bedlam in Yellow – William Meikle: A Carnacki story with his investigations taking him to Bedlam and the King in Yellow. I haven’t read much by Meikle except for a short story, Bunny Sneaks. I wasn’t too crazy about that one but I really liked Bedlam in Yellow. I think he did very well with the Carnacki character. Carnacki happens to be a favorite of mine and I’ve had William Meikle’s book Carnacki: Heaven and Hell on my TBR list for a while and I’m going to bump it to the top now. 6/6
- A Jaundiced Light at the End – Brian M. Sammons: Told from the perspective of a suicide hotline operator, a rash of suicides seemingly caused by the King in Yellow. It’s pretty bleak and I thought it a great metaphor for depression. Whether it was intended that way or not I have no idea but it seemed to fit for me. 4/6
- the Yellow Film – Gary McMahon: I was really into this one at first but the ending let me down some. 3/6
- Lights Fade – Laurel Halbany: Besides the Carnacki story this has got to be my favorite story in the book. It is focused on a small acting troupe putting on the play, as translated by a famous playwright. It has a great atmosphere of building dread and the progression of suspense leading up to the climax are very well done. 6/6
- Future Imperfect – Glynn Owen Barass: A very good story. Seems to take place slightly in the future (or now, it’s not quite clear) where trade of a sort has been established with alternate dimensional beings, the Carcosans. Trading convicts for various Carcosan objects. I’m only giving it 5/6 however because of the ending. It’s a bit of a downer but that is not the reason *Spoiler Alert* In the story one of the elite soldiers gets his partner taken from him, presumably by the Carcosans. Having received a flash drive that seems to be from the future he decides to break orders and protocol to save his partner, but he is caught in the act and delivered as one of the trades (sacrifices) to the Carcosans. However, the Carcosan that comes to claim him is wearing his partner’s face. Now, my problem was that there were three different theories to explain it but it’s never said. A: his partner was a Carcosan spy all along and the whole thing was a set-up, B: His partner was taken and turned into a Carcosan and C: She was taken, skinned and they were playing dress-up. *End Spoiler* Any of them could be possible and it kind of bugs me that it’s left so vague. 5/6
- The Mask of the Yellow Death – Robert M. Price: An updated version of The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe. Except instead of a Prince it’s a porn magnate, obviously modeled on Hugh Heffner. It includes an orgy for the sole purpose of giving the old man a last erection and a little blackmail. However, the party is crashed by a very unwelcome and unexpected visitor. The story wasn’t too bad but definitely expect sexually explicit material and if feces gross you out, I’d skip it. It was an interesting blending of three different stories and styles. I thought it was on the crude side but that’s just me. At least it wasn’t described in excruciating detail and it had a point within the story. 3/6
- The Sepia Prints – Pete Rawlik: One of the others that really drew me in. There’s something inherently creepy (to me) about old sepia-toned pictures and I love stories about them. Plus, the crazier passages are mixed in well with the overall story. 5/6
- Nigredo – Cody Goodfellow: Pretty good story but the ending becomes a little unclear. What exactly is the Elixer? What is the ultimate goal of the cult? And it’s a little vague how the play fits in at all with it.
- MonoChrome – T.E. Grau: A pretty good story, even if the ‘drunk ex-cop’ has been cliched to death. This one is kind of a King’s Army is moving in sort of thing.
Well, that’s about it for the book. Some of the stories I rated low were more of a style preference so others might enjoy them. Overall I’d give the book a 4/6. The next book I’ll be reading in the King in Yellow universe is New Tales of the Yellow Sign by Robin D. Laws. I’ve actually read it before but it’s been a year or two so I wanted to give it a fresh look.
That’s really all for now. In a day or two I will do an updated list on which books I’ve read for the Horror Challenge. I’m hoping to do 150 this year but I’m already woefully behind.
So, goodbye for now. Please be patient with the blog. I’m trying out different themes and so on. I’m trying to find something that fits well. I would appreciate any feedback on what works better. On Twitter I’m also still doing #Mp3A-Z, going through my playlist. I’m up to the L’s now and moving right along. If you’d like to see some good lyrics from some great bands, stop on by!