The King in Yellow (Anglais) Broché – 5 mai 2010
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This Wordsworth Edition includes an exclusive Introduction by David Stuart Davies.
‘… I read it and reread it, and wept and laughed and trembled with horror which at all times assails me yet.’
With its strange, imaginative blend of horror, science fiction, romance and lyrical prose, Robert W. Chambers' The King in Yellow is a classic masterpiece of weird fiction. This series of vaguely connected stories is linked by the presence of a monstrous and suppressed book which brings fright, madness and spectral tragedy to all those who read it. An air of futility and doom pervade these pages like a sweet insidious poison. Dare you read it?
This collection has been called the most important book in American supernatural fiction between Poe and the moderns. H. P. Lovecraft, creator of the famed Cthulu mythos, whose own fiction was greatly influenced by this book stated that The King in Yellow ‘achieves notable heights of cosmic fear’.
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The stories within this collection, published in 1895, are set in a fictional militaristic 1920s in both the USA and Europe. The tales stand free of each other, and are told from a number of different perspectives, by socialites, soldiers, and artists. Each tells how the lives of the narrator and colleagues have been affected by reading "The King in Yellow", a controversial play that has been denounced by the church and suppressed by governments. After coming into contact with it, their lives are tragically affected. Some find themselves hounded by shadowy agents, while others become confused and delusional. Others are driven to act out the play's sad and decadent events, while some simply go insane.
The substance of the play itself is only alluded to, or hinted at in brief extracts. It is clearly a tragedy, but the motivations and actions of its central characters, including the mysterious King in Yellow himself, are not clear. Like many authors of macabre tales, Chambers was content for our imaginations to do the work, and this book is more powerful for it.
(And by the way, if the central theme of a forbidden book that induces insanity is familiar to you, you've probably read some of the Mythos tales of H.P.Lovecraft. In fact, I doubt that too many people come to read "The King in Yellow" by any other route; Chambers' book is clearly stated as a strong influence on Lovecraft's work.)
To be honest, I was shocked to find myself reading a book that was over a HUNDRED years old, an activity I had assumed was reserved for crusty academics and lovers of classical literature. But, more pointedly, I was surprised to find that "The King in Yellow" is a highly readable volume, full of entertaining, colourful and disturbi! ng tales with a very modern feel to them.
The only downside I found was that the final few stories lose the central theme. I found myself wondering if these thinner, romantic tales, were more representative of Chambers' other work, and were, in effect, "fillers". But perhaps I missed the point? It is only this that stops me from awarding five stars to this impressive book.
Overall, if you've had a bellyful of today's crop of relentless gore and explicit sexuality, take a literary Alka Seltzer by checking out the "King in Yellow".
It's a classic, and I'm not talking Jane Austen.
You should get hold of this collection just for "The Repairer of Reputations," which ranks as a superior masterpiece of surreal paranoid delirium. It's one of the top 5 wierd stories of all time, and actually BETTER than anything by Lovecraft.
[I] THE KING IN YELLOW: A set of 5 inter-connected tales of the weird, prefaced by the poem "Cassilda's Song". They revolve around a handful of mysterious references, to such things as "The Lake of Hali", "Carcossa", "Hastur" (these drawn from earlier tales by Ambrose Bierce) and a play entitled "The King in Yellow", which is said to drive mad those who read it. These stories tap into fear of unknown mainly by making little or no sense -- at least, I could make little sense of them; and if anyone else has succeeded better than I, I have never seen their explanations. Still, I somewhat enjoyed the riddle, along with the creepy atmosphere. The stories are
-  "The Repairer of Reputations": A madman in a future New York plans to become King, with the aid of a deranged blackmailer, and a mysterious cult.
-  "The Mask": A sculptor finds a means of transforming living objects into stone.
-  "In the Court of the Dragon": After attending church, a man finds himself stalked by a sinister organist.
-  "The Yellow Sign": An artist & his model are vaguely menaced by a repulsive gravedigger.
-  "The Demoiselle D'Ys": A man falls asleep on a French moor & wakes to find himself in a mythic past.
The tales that come closest to standing on their own as horror are numbers ,  and  above. I still recommend reading all five, since they form a unit.
[II] THE PROPHET'S PARADISE: An interlude of brief poems, neatly dividing the book's 2 main sections. I got nothing out of them, but they are short and painless. If there is any connection to the preceding or succeeding tales, I could not discern it.
[III] STREET STORIES: A set of 4 romantic tales set in Paris. If you read this for horror, then you probably can skip them all, except possibly the first. If there is any connection to THE KING IN YELLOW set, then I could not discern it. Each tale gets successively duller (and longer). The stories are:
-  "The Street of the Four Winds": On a street of the damned, where the 4 winds blow all wicked things, a stray cat summons a morbid artist to a rendezvous with his dead lover. The only one of the last 4 with a substantial horror element.
-  "The Street of the First Shell": Set in wartime Paris.
-  "The Street of Our Lady of the Fields": Artists in Paris.
-  "Rue Barrée": More artists in Paris. The title means "barred street" in French, but is also the name of the female love interest.