A friend forwarded an article to me about the literary background of the TV show “True Detective.” The link was my first exposure to “The King In Yellow” by Robert W. Chambers. The book, published in 1895, is a series of connected short stories that would fall under the general headings of Horror and Speculative Fiction.
I immediately downloaded a free copy but, as I was already reading a couple of other books, (my Kindle has only encouraged my habit of reading multiple books at the same time) I didn’t get to it for a few weeks. It’s an oddity and I’m torn between enjoying some of the lavish passages and fearing what will come next.
You see “The King in Yellow” is about the power of words. Not words spoken, shouted, whispered or sung — but the power of written words. The premise is that there is a book called “The King in Yellow” that drives readers mad.
Some of the stories are set in unfamiliar/speculative interpretations of places I know well. The opening story through me for a loop, as it is set in a bizarre 19th century version of a futuristic Washington Square. I went to New York University and lived just off the square in a dorm. After that, I moved around the village in what amounts to a tiny piece of Manhattan between Houston Street and Union Square. Only New Yorkers understand that the density of Manhattan enables multiple neighborhoods within such a small territory and that it’s not unusual to have bounced around in the same general vicinity before making a choice.
Getting back to Chambers’ chambers of horror, there are truly terrible occurrences — murders, suicides, betrayals — but halfway through the book I’m stunned by the concept that the deadly book is irresistible. Once started, the reader cannot put it down.
A truly strange variation on the classic praise for a bestseller — “Impossible to put down!”