Archive for the yellow sign

Forbidden Tomes: THE KING IN YELLOW by ROBERT W. CHAMBERS

Posted in Forbidden Tomes, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2015 by smuckyproductions

This collection of stories has gained much-deserved attention after its cited influence on the first season of “True Detective” – the source, along with stories by Ambrose Bierce, of the nightmare that is Carcosa and the Yellow King. A work that precedes Lovecraft and even Machen, delving into the madness that is cosmic horror, there is little that surpasses the power of THE KING IN YELLOW.

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Most of the stories in the collection have nothing to do with the title – referring to a centuries-old play written by an unknown author destroys anyone who reads the second act. In the four stories that apply, the play acts as either a threat or as a catalyst, lurking both corporeally and spiritually as a terrible evil. Its words – detailing the nightmarish realm of Carcosa, where the Yellow King presides – bring paranoia, insanity and death to those who encounter them. Chambers’ four works pay witness to the horrors that rise from the play, horrors that predict awful fates for the human race.

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Chambers plays brilliantly at perceptions of reality. The first story, “The Repairer of Reputations,” gives us one of the best unreliable narrators in horror fiction – a man who believes he is going to be crowned king after he murders his brother. The final two, “In the Court of the Dragon” and “The Yellow Sign” (the most famous of all), characters are haunted by grotesque figures that watch them from afar – by all accounts human aside for their evil expressions. Similar to Lovecraft, but perhaps even more powerfully, Chambers creates a universe in which nothing is stable, and anything can succumb to the powers of madness.

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The style and aesthetic of these stories is distinctly decadent, a fascinating contrast to the terror that occurs within them. Chambers pays homage to Wilde’s school of poets with sensuous images of flowers, golden crowns, and ivory sculptures (see “The Mask,” the second story) – lush imagery and youthful, vigorous characters, until they come into contact with the dreaded play. His Bacchanal settings and delicate environments become subject to decay and destruction as the madness takes root.

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He is most notable, of course, for his ingenious creation of the titular play and mythos. I have always been fascinated by the idea of pieces of art – books, film, paintings, et cetera – that can affect people solely by coming into contact with them. “The King in Yellow” is the most formidable example of this. Its presumably fictional terrors root in the mind, making them real, with agents of the madness lurking around every corner to torment the narrator until death. The evil has a more profound mental effect because of its interiority, compared to the devils of Lovecraft that exist so distantly from our physical world. The Yellow King makes his home close to us, inside of us. It is harder to escape a horror like that.

While it is regrettable that Chambers did not write more about the world of Carcosa, the four stories that he did present are powerful enough to create a lasting impression on horror fiction. His luxurious writing style infuses the reader with a sense of paranoia and insanity that is dreadfully tangible. The King in Yellow has cast his shadow over a century of fiction, and lasts just as long in the reader’s mind.

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Stories for HALLOWEEN That You Can Read Online

Posted in Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Happy 1st of October, horror fans!

As the chill wind blows and the spirits creep forth, it’s important to have an arsenal of spooky tales to spin by the fireside. For the first section of October recommendations, I’ve assembled a collection of short stories that ooze the autumn atmosphere and send shivers up the spine – all in the public domain, and easily accessible online. So cozy up by the fire, lock your doors, and settle in with these STORIES FOR HALLOWEEN.

  1. THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW

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You can’t go through October without indulging in Washington Irving’s lush, warm world of Tarrytown. This is a story for the senses – Irving describes the scent of the air, the texture of the autumn foods, and even the quality of light with relish. Combine that with a terrifically fun and creepy myth, and you’ve got the perfect (family-friendly) Halloween yarn. Purely for the sensory delights, this one is a must.

2. YOUNG GOODMAN BROWN

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What’s autumn without some late-night Sabbaths? Trauma from high school lit class aside, Nathaniel Hawthorne is worth celebrating for this richly atmospheric and disturbing story. This is one of my favorite depictions of the devil, and, like the best Hawthorne, it raises nasty concerns about Puritan values. Without spoiling the fantastic ending, I’ll just say this tale is the perfect witchy spookfest – and also makes us question what we know about our neighbors.

3. THE YELLOW WALLPAPER

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Got to have a good old Gothic breakdown on this list. Charlotte Perkins Gilman weaves a simple but utterly nightmarish world in which the female narrator, confined to a single room with hideous wallpaper by a husband who thinks she’s insane, becomes convinced that there are women in the walls, trying to escape. Psychologically and visually, this story is beyond disturbing. But its fabulous Grand Guignol house setting makes it a perfect tale for October.

4. THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH

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You can’t have a Halloween list without a bit of Poe. While there are many stories to choose from, this one has always been my favorite. It reads like an archaic fable, beautifully described and slowly mounting in tension, before a climax of shock and violence. This is a costume party gone horribly wrong. Hopefully that doesn’t happen to you this season, but regardless, this creepy morality tale is ideal at the stroke of midnight.

5. THE DUNWICH HORROR

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Again, an author often cited. But H.P. Lovecraft outdoes himself with this cosmically frightening story of netherworld beasts and their human servants. Like Washington Irving, Lovecraft evokes his town of Dunwich with perfect attention to atmosphere, and it serves as a flawless setting for the horrors that commence. Full of unhallowed rituals and nightmarish creatures, this story captures the sentiment of Halloween exquisitely. And, to boot, it’s terrifying.

6. COUNT MAGNUS

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Most of M.R. James’s stories were designed for dark winter nights, but I find this classic is better suited for October. Like all of James’s work, it begins with a benevolent protagonist who uncovers a hidden mystery – but the horrors extend beyond simple spectres, because the titular phantom is so malevolent. Graveyards, knotted woods, and dust-filled halls abound in this story; all lorded over by the presence of Count Magnus. Much darker than most of the stories on this list, this one will chill you long into the night.

7. THE YELLOW SIGN

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Robert Chambers has gotten a lot of attention after his works were cited as influencing “True Detective.” His Carcosa saga is definitely worth visiting, and this one is the best of them all. A deformed church employee, a forbidden book that drives people mad, a cosmic lord waiting to be born again – all of these elements, along with a tensely thick Gothic atmosphere, make this story perfect for October.

So, light your fire and don’t look out the window – these stories should keep you chilled this autumn. Stay tuned for a list of contemporary tales that evoke the same atmosphere.

(No photos/artwork used is my property – credit goes to the individual creators.)