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32
3.6 out of 5 stars
The King in Yellow (Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural)
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 16 June 2006
After hearing so much about this book, I finally tracked down a copy. Sadly, it is not what I expected. Out of ten stories, only five have links to 'The King In Yellow' and only one story is, I think, essential reading. Some of it is almost unreadable. Shall I break it down?

1. 'The Repairer of Reputations' - My rating (5/5) - The book starts off fantastically strong with this story, which mixes horror, madness, intrigue and sci-fi. Chambers sets his story 25 years in the future (for him, 1920). He gives a fascinating quick history of world events, of the appearance and suppression of the horrifying book known as 'The King In Yellow' and the story then begins on the day that the first Government Lethal Chamber is being unveiled in New York (Suicide has just been declared legal). Society is rather more utopian, world conflicts have been resolved and it is against this backdrop that we start to see the creeping evil that the book can bring. This is an amazing story, and everyone who's a Lovecraft, or horror fan, should check it out. It's also snappily written, and full of quirky detail.

2. 'The Mask' - My rating (4/5) - An interesting story which, again, involves the book, and also a strange scientific discovery.

3. 'The Court Of The Dragon' (3/5) - This story of a man stalked by a mysterious figure is good, but not as innovative as the first two tales.

4. 'The Yellow Sign' (3/5) - One of the most famous stories in the book. 'The King In Yellow' features prominently here. This is a good story, and my rating is more about personal taste - I like Lovecraft for his science-based horror, and dislike Poe for his more traditional graveyard-Gothic style. This is more Poe than Lovecraft.

5. 'The Demoiselle D'Ys' (1/5) - Sadly, this is the last story in the book with any reference to 'The King in Yellow' and the reference here is very tenuous. Also, this story starts to bring in Chambers' very sappy, over-the-top romantic style. It's also full of archaic French falconcry terms(?), and has a very standard ending. I found myself quite sickened by it.

6. 'The Prophets' Paradise' (3/5) - Very strange. This short piece is closer to poetry than prose. It's a series of linked scenes that are weird, atmospheric and very visual. I have no idea what it's about, but it's strangely intriguing.

(The next four stories are all set in Paris, are all about art students and there is no further mention of 'The King In Yellow.')

7. 'The Street Of The Four Winds' (3/5) - A short tale about a scrawny cat and a lonely artist. This is a good story that is notable for its excellent, affectionate descriptions of the cat's behaviour. Also, while it's not really horror, the ending is strangely creepy. I'm sure Lovecraft enjoyed this one.

8. 'The Street Of The First Shell' (4/5) - This is actually a really good story that gives a great feeling of living in a city which is under siege, and where shells whistle overhead constantly. Chambers gives us atmosphere, action and shows that he is capable of excellent writing. At the same time, there are some annoying lulls into inconsequential 'comedy' and there are some astoundingly clumsy paragraphs mixed in with the good stuff.

9 & 10 - 'The Street of Our Lady Of The Fields' & 'Rue Barree' (both 1/5) - The book ends with two incredibly tedious, annoying 'romantic' stories that I had to force myself to wade through. Page after page is filled with vomit-inducing dialogue and endless descriptions of chirping sparrows. I'm guessing this is indicative of a lot of Chambers' other output. Believe me when I say, it's very hard to read.

Summary: I'm confused as to how this was a best-seller for so many years, as it is such a mixed bag, swinging from atmospheric horror to the sappiest of romance fiction. It's hard to imagine that any reader would have enjoyed everything in this book. Also, after such a strong opening, where Chambers goes to the trouble of extrapolating a near-future setting and giving a history of 'The King In Yellow,' I do not understand why he so quickly gave up on the idea, and filled this volume out with a miscellaneous bunch of tales that had nothing to do with the reviled tome. Chambers is a mystery. Regardless, if you're a horror fan, seek out 'The Repairer Of Reputations,' maybe some of the other stories, if you feel like it. Leave the romance fiction well alone.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 18 May 2000
Robert W. Chambers' "The King in Yellow" is a book within a book. Or, more properly, it's a collection of macabre short stories with a common theme; a fictional two-act play that brings decadence, hallucinations, and madness to any reader. 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 disturbing 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.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 10 June 2010
The Repairer of Reputations- an essential masterpiece, one that must be read by anyone who loves the weird, horror and the bizarre. A work of imagination, unlike any other. Buy the book for this five star story alone. This tale has enough ideas for a whole novel.
The next three stories- The Mask, The Court of the Dragon and The Yellow Sign- all worth the effort, all feature in some way The King in Yellow. (Four stars)
Demoielle D'Ys- a unoriginal but not unpleasant little ghost story (Three stars)
The Prophets Paradise- meaningless rubbish or work of genius? I go for the former (One star)
Street of the Four Winds- a sinister tale about a cat (Three stars).
Street of the First Shell- kind of sums up the collection- passages of fine writing mixed with tedium (more of the latter). Three stars.
Street of Our Lady of the Fields and Rue Barrie- unreadable sentimental tosh. One star each (And I'm being generous).
This book is definitely worth buying, particularly at this price, but don't feel you have to read all the stories, especially the last two.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2011
One hopes that you will be buying this little collection of stories so that you can take a snifter and get a taste of Robert W Chambers work, as in its own right its not especially a very good collection of work. From here though, you can see what kind of work Lovecraft built upon and improved immensely. The stories are pretty poor stuff on their own and not exactly that weird. But for the price this is a good insight into a foundation if not the building.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 July 2012
It is a shame that this wonderful book is only remembered by horror story fans, as none of the weird stories that it contains is suitable for horror anthologies, and they all belong where they are: here. This is a masterpiece of the Art Nouveau era, unmatched as far as I know, a book that is composed of short stories rather than a short story collection. It begins with distinguished weird stories and concludes with non-weird stories of Paris and the 1890s that are atmospheric and engaging (my favourite being The Street Of The Four Winds). It has a most peculiar and attractive structure to it and I don't think Chambers matched it afterwards.

Of the available editions I would half-recommend the "library" edition, but this has some typos in it. I regret very much to say that there does not appear to be an ideal edition available.

This book is worth including in Penguin and Modern Classics. The reader should approach it as it is written, exactly as it is. A magical classic of the era.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 April 2014
A interesting collection by a writer largely forgotten because of his laziness. Chambers could write well as stories like The Repairer of Reputations shows, but he could sell the stories that he didn't take any effort in writing, so he did!
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on 27 July 2010
Unusually for the diligent and fastidious Dover, this is not a reprint of the 1895 classic - rather, it's the first five stories from that anthology and some others besides. The King In Yellow stories really are remarkable, and though the best of them are printed here it would have been nice to have at least read the others from the original volume, and made our own minds up as to whether they deserved inclusion or not. The rest of the book is more short stories by Chambers, from various sources, all of which are pleasant, whimsical and deeply inessential.
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on 21 April 2010
Basically, what all the other two star reviews say here is what I feel; the stories about the play that sends people insane are pretty damned good, and the other stories... are they filler? They seem so out of place. My advice would be to read the "King in Yellow" stories on-line, this is public domain text now, so as not to bother with the others which aren't very good, and a disappointment for those wanting a horror collection. To sum up; the other reviews are more detailed about the stories, I'm just echoing the sentiment.

Pyjama Man
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on 8 April 2014
I agree with a lot of the lower starred reviews here.

The first stories that actually talk about the King in Yellow are fantastic. It is definitely an interesting topic but because only a few of the stories even mention the King in Yellow it's hard to recommend the book.
I'd buy it for the first 4/5 stories but after that I'd just stop reading.

The other stories don't elaborate on the King in Yellow in any way and I found that they were a chore to read.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 25 August 2000
This is a classic collection including some of the best 'psychological' horror stories I've ever read. In true Chambers/Lovecraftian style I first found an ancient and battered copy of 'The King in Yellow' in a grimy Istanbul book store. I sat down and read it in a single session, and can't remember ever feeling so disturbed by a work of fiction. The best tales are definitely the first few, particularly the truly horrific 'King in Yellow'. If you like splattering gore and lame tales about American high school kids, this isn't going to appeal. If you want to see how horror really ought to be written read this book !
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