Robert W. Chambers’ fiction can be hypnotic and transformative for both his characters and readers, but it also evokes a great sense of loss and mourning. One need only look to the year of his birth, which coincided with the end of the American Civil War. Like any other great artist who fashions enlightenment out of tragedy, Chambers embraced the black shroud that surrounded his inception. And with it he brought a probing, questioning nature that tormented his characters and continues to perplex his readers to this day.
Much of this exploration can be found in his most well-known and regarded work, The King in Yellow, a suite of stories loosely connected by a play that, when read or viewed, induces manic bouts of hysteria. Within these stories Chambers’ characters fall prey to their own curiosity, seeking entertainment from a seemingly innocuous tome to fill their void. “The Mask,” “In the Court of Dragon,” and “The Yellow Sign” feature the play in book form, almost as a backdrop to their plot, tempting us to wonder of its significance. And then the narrators oblige, leaving us with endless possibilities in their wake and even more to ponder.
The experimental poem, “The Prophet’s Paradise,” is the one slice of acquiescence that Chambers offers as a taste of what lies beneath the hidden madness at the heart of the play. However, it’s the exquisite “Repairer of Reputations” that acts as the magnum opus of his suite. It’s a winding, slow-burn of a tale through a dreamscape New York where suicide booths are all the rage and “The King in Yellow” is more than just a book to read at your leisure. Hildred Castaigne has experienced a bit of “head trauma,” but he won’t let that or his cousin get in the way of his kingly aspirations. In fact, his actions give credence to the phrase, “delusions of grandeur.”
Chambers’ stories outside The King in Yellow can be just as lucid, steeped in the mysteries of human desire, which mankind has unsuccessfully grappled with for all its existence. Brimming with sublime prose, “The Key to Grief” features a murderer on the lam who finds refuge on a desolate island where solace, natural beauty, and wonder abound. But love and life are always finite, and those who defy it will find that grief is inevitable. Equally majestic is “The Maker of Moons,” a visionary tale of alchemy, Chinese mythology, and a secret vendetta that will not go unfulfilled or unpunished.
Cryptic, beguiling, and insidious, Chambers’ work demonstrates the frailty and inherent moral dilemma of the human condition. Through supernatural horror and even decadent literary prose, his work catapults the reader into what Lovecraft once described as “…notable heights of cosmic fear.” But if you wish to enter this dimension, first know that reading just one page is enough to seal your fate with the sibylline king in yellow.
This collection is enclosed in a handsome slipcase with ribbon marker and illustrations by Santiago Caruso. The complete contents are shown below.
The edition is limited to 400 signed and numbered sets, with around 40 unsigned sets.