The King in Yellow: Origins, Influences & Lineage

thank you everybody for coming my name
is Shane Ivey publisher with Arc Dream Publishing we recently released this
limited edition of The King in Yellow Annotated Edition so we’re here to talk
about that and to talk with our lovely guests about Robert Chambers as well in
general the impact of The King in Yellow Mythos and whatever else people want to
talk about I’m a big believer in letting the smart people talk so that’s what I
intend to do so just for some background I came I came to horror as a genre as a
literary genre like a lot of people these days especially in my generation
through gaming through Call of Cthulhu and through Dungeons & Dragons and the
thing at the end of one of the Dungeons & Dragons books that said read this
thing by HP Lovecraft right so I started reading that beautiful and then about 10
years later there was a piece in a magazine and it’s a little tiny zine
called The Unspeakable Oath that dealt with Carcosa and the yellow sign it
wasn’t the first time those things have been dealt with for Call of Cthulhu but
it completely blew my mind and ever since that I’ve been absolutely
fascinated with Chambers mythology and the more I’ve learned the more
fascinating it becomes not least because most of what we know of as Chambers
mythology emerged in what may be four short stories a little bit more than
that out of a 40-year career of dozens and dozens of dozens of books he made
all of his money writing romances but what we remember in for today is the
early efforts that he promptly rid of so I want to introduce our our
guests here and I want to thank you very much Jim Lowder who is executive editor
at Chaosium for joining the discussion here
Nicole Cushing whose new book is Sick Grey Cough, LAUGH, A SICK GREY LAUGH very good and Sylvia Moreno Garcia whose new thing
is Gods of Jade and Shadow, yeah? And then you’re also doing a fundraiser for make
sure I get the title right The Road of Ice and Salt on IndieGoGo which is the
translation of a cult Mexican vampire novella it’s also a queer novella so if
you like gothic vampire clear or novella please time and donate five dollars and
of course the the annotations for this book I wish I could have the artist here
Samuel Araya who did the paintings and the charcoal sketches which were
incredibly creepy and have their own amazing backstory but he lives in South
America and so we only get him occasionally but the annotations and the
research the heavy lifting here was done by friend colleague Kenneth Hite right
here so I guess first things first I would
love to hear from Ken when you when you started on this project what was yeah I
guess what’s the first thing that took you by surprise I mean it’s the first
thing that took me by surprise was how little there was on chambers because I
thought that I would just be able to lean back and real scholars of horror
would have done all the work and I could just read the five or six really
top-notch essays just go through JSTOR and find a few things that you know some
MLA guy who was desperate for a thesis and I could read that and I’d be done
then I’d say well I pretty much am mukarat with chambers and there was
nothing there was almost exactly nothing there was an essay in the romantist
which analyzed him as a Romantic author but an analyzed king in yellow as a
proto romance there was a little bit about the Gothic by a guy named
Weinstein there was essay by Brian staple for that
I ran into about halfway through the process which I really loved because
Brian Stableford is amazing and that was just about it in terms of things over
two paragraphs written about Robert W Chambers since 1933 there was that and
there was a I hesitate even to say biography but I’m gonna say with a lot
of air quotes biography of him by a guy named Sean Tomlinson which was
self-published and was a lot of I used to think that Robert W Chambers had an
affair with this lady and then I looked up her birthday and she would have been
20 years older than him and didn’t live in the town like oh thanks John Thomas
and that was it if I’m allowed to do that these
annotations go crazy that’s like him and Marlena Dietrich are
carrying on it’s gonna be amazing but so the zone so there was this guy’s
biography that sort of assembled a few facts he grew up in broad Albin’s way
sort of and then in me and the buyer he’s like gosh I wish I’d ever talked to
anyone he knew chambers that would have really helped with it about it yep yep
it would so there was very little written about him and I guess that was
my surprises you know Chambers is to us in were very much a seminal figure
despite the very small amount that he wrote he’s done I mean obviously he
wrote 90 other books that being resolutely ignore but someone should
have touched on any of them they were bestsellers they were huge cultural
moment and they were they were turned into movies see DW Griffith was a buddy
of his yes Secret Service operator 13 starring Gary Cooper right there was a
lot of a lot of chambers presence in popular culture you know down really
down to the TV show finder of lost love Jack’s was based on a chambers a sort of
picaresque novel or serial novel called tracer of lost persons and I take that
back Joe she wrote a lengthy essay about chambers for evolution of the weird tale
which is Joshi I read that there was very little actual scholarly work done
on all right so I guess what’s in tradition
to start setting the context maybe we can hear from Ken from the other
panelists here what’s been your relationship up to for Ken you know dude
this gigantic piece of work like excluding that what’s been your
relationship with the Chamber stories with the yellow sign and and so on
I mean before he moved into my house for months right I mean I I ran across the
yellow sign obviously at whispering darkness was my
first encounter with the word Carcosa and the lake of Holly and then I think
Lynn Carter put one of the stories and I believe it was the yellow sign in
spawning that very first through the mythos anthology that he put together
and then so I would have read that there and I think during the time that I was
running Call of Cthulhu and desperately trying to read more Cthulhu Mythos than
my players so that I would always have something to spring on them I would have
found maybe the ACE I only ace chambers from 1967 paper bag
and maybe that was the first chambers that I found her baby was the Bleiler
Dover edition of chambers which was published in 70-something and also would
have been sitting in Oklahoma City used bookstores waiting for me to swoop it up
and at that time I I read all of them yellow mint those ones which which they
think was the Bleiler that I saw first and then I found the whole book and was
like oh great five more chambers stories oh cool four of them are about romancing
young ladies in Paris that’ll come in handy in my Call of Cthulhu game and I
and I did notice that I very much liked stream to the first shell I thought that
was a very affecting story and then that it really worked and obviously the time
slip story met it was Mademoiselle dese was a was a great little you know sort
of us twilight zone the ending and there’s a character named past her and
you’re wondering why and this Hester working as the under groom in this case
are 1570s well he fell on hard times everyone’s got a little bit better like
it but I really hadn’t been sort of gone back to chambers except to every now and
again I’ve run into repair or and run into the yellow sign and I’d reread them
but until this came along I hadn’t gone back to chambers as a as a holistic unit
it was just sort of something that hung around and then when John times wrote I
didn’t see wrote to Holly first I saw the hostler mythos in the Delta green
countdown right and when he wrote that essay I did a great deal of chin
scratching and saying I believe John tines is correct but I I don’t think
that even that drove me back to chambers to to reencounter it or reintegrate it
yeah about you soon like how how this is like should I even
touch it with chambers why am I on this prior to that well there’s two things
I guess one one is that I wrote it up I guess the reason why you’re remembered
was that I wrote kind of like a kenyan yellow story a long time ago which is
actually about a pornographic theater in Mexico City in the 1980s where they’re
showing this movie that has this woman dressed in yellow and you know that
stuff happens and a lot of people when I go to Necronomicon that’s the story that
everybody remembers it’s like the porno in Mexico City amazing space in a real computer in
Mexico City not that I would know anything about that um but I did write
that and then I’ve written other stories that ripoff on yellow stuff like I have
a story set in Vancouver in the 1960s which is called the yellows door which
is inspired but a real Chinese eating place that existed there in the 1960s
and in my story it’s a gambling den and of course bad things happen when you go
into the Yellow Door you’ll have to find it I don’t remember what collection it
is it’s somewhere I don’t know written a lot of stuff so I ello a lot for a lot
of things to signify like you know horrible evil stuff and nobody has cut
on cut onto it so nobody knows like until this moment I’m saying realize it
that I have a series of weird stories at all time around the color yellow but yes
it’s because of you know like chambers and the yellow sign and I don’t remember
where I saw it from the first time I think it came in a collection of gothic
fiction and it was just one story right and it didn’t seem to fit like like
everything else was like Henry James maybe and like Edgar Allen Poe and so it
was like is like yeah the problem that push there Falls whatever and
like crazy like ghost stuff and and then it’s like and then there’s a thing and I
was like what is this things it seemed to me like an experimental film but
written you know like written down so I guess that’s why I came up with with
that and then there was this weird thing where I thought it was similar to this
Borka story called dawn ooh Orpheus dirtiest which have you earned the latin
american paneling we’re talking about that story but oddly enough I have red
markers and then these things are connected somehow and if you’ve never
read that that’s about an imaginary book an imaginary entry in encyclopedia about
an imaginary land so somebody opens an encyclopedia and they find like this
story about the land of dawn and they start reading about it and then they
start trying to find more about it and and this imaginary land invades the real
world it’s a strange story it’s hard to describe it’s about encyclopedias and
books and like and like bibliographic entries and stuff like that but like in
making your reality and changing your reality but I thought that both barkas
and they stood after I read more about chambers like they were working on the
same wavelength so I was like ah I mean how they’re like interconnected at a
cosmic scale I don’t know if that’s still true but at that time you know I
was drinking a lot of like Diet Coke reading at night lots of sugar as a
teenager and so I probably made you know connections that she knows and like
sugars shouldn’t be made but I did think that they were like oh poor kids and
chambers are like connected some kind of sublime level but that’s
what I thought and that’s what I thought it was cool and then later when they
started writing strict fiction I came back to it and I was like well somebody
asked me like write a short story for like a pornographic collection I was
like I don’t know of that and so then I was like what about a pornographic
theater and the king in yellow long story can everyone hear me okay okay
yeah so actually my first encounter with the King in Yellow mythos came through
the efforts of Joe Palmer who a lot of you folks probably know who you know is
under the weather ill and has been ill for a while now but he was really the
advocate in the weird fiction community for greater awareness of the communal
Amathus enough chambers I can remember seeing pictures of him at chambers you
know tombstone and you know honoring chambers and chambers was his guy and I
think it was that passion made me interested because I’m always interested
in authors who are obscure or or you know overlooked and so yeah that was my
really it was his advocacy that made me interested in checking him out and of
course what I found was this brilliant eccentricity and I mean especially when
he put in the context of the times when he was writing and this mythos that
gives you just enough detail to be channelized and want to know more but
not so much that it flushes it all out for you and so it leaves a lot of room
for for playing around with it so I contributed to a chaos team anthology
and I think so this song know I know about it okay
and it was anthology of Kingdom yellow stories written by women and and it was
so I sent mine in like southern Indiana in a working-class home because that’s
where I live I live in southern Indiana and a working-class neighborhood and you
know kind of having this reinterpretation and those you know in
those terms and I found that it worked really well as as a device to kind of
get up a certain flavor of madness and I’m also intrigued by the connections
with ambrose bierce because I believe there’s you know just a few lines of
beers helped inspire Carcosa if I’m not mistaken and some of the other
references and it Bierce is a strange character so you have this kind of like
lineage starting with very obscure stuff with Bierce and of course Bierce is
obscure enough anyway because of his disappearance and so it just lends to
the mystery event oh yes in Mexico and it lends to the mystery and nightmarish
you know just you know you have nightmarish this you have drama you know
literally in the sense of a play you have you know missing text or you know
if mysterious Texas all the ingredients of something particularly interesting I
think the the first time I read chamber is I was traveling and I had gone to UK
in 1992 for the first time and I was traveling up to Whitby which is you know
we’re part of Dracula’s said and I’ve had picked up a copy of bikini and
yellow from a bookshop in the UK in London and I was reading it on the way
up to Whitby where I got sicker and sicker and sicker and had an incredible
attack of appendicitis after reading the repairer of
reputations so the first did not occur to you a
better stop so it was one of those stories where I read it and then I had
to go back and read it again because was it as weird as I remembered or was it
sort of a fever dream they and no it was as weird as I
remember and and it had stuck with me since then terror in particular is a
brilliant piece of writing and since then I’ve used the material a couple of
times in the story I wrote for shadows over Baker Street the Sherlock Holmes
mythos anthology I wrote a story about what happened to Watson in Afghanistan
and for him he remembers this after Holmes is supposedly dead over the
Reichenbach Falls and reason has fallen and it gives Watson a chance to remember
this unreason that he encountered in Afghanistan and the chamber’s mythos for
that seemed for the madness and the ways in which it discusses doorways of that
madness into reality seemed kind of a perfect choice for that I’ve used it
again in Pulp story I wrote the crooked smile killers which is a story about the
corpse of this neo pulp character I created in the 1920s Chicago and and use
a lot of the material in there I’ve been writing it in some scenarios I’ve been
working on for Call of Cthulhu and running in shows including this one it’s
something that I keep coming back to in part because for the reasons everyone
is mentioned so far some of the the thematic elements for it like the place
of art in redefining reality and that’s something that Chambers was picking up
from the decadence because he was an artist in Paris and was part of that
scene and the King in yellow is probably yellow because of the yellow book and
Beardsley and the other decadent writers of the time that that was all he was
marinating in all of that as he was working on this material and it it’s a
fascinating glimpse into a parcel mythology that
leaves a lot of room for other writers to build things in and I guess I should mention at this
juncture that I wrote a story for an anthology that Jim did for calcium
called madness on the Orient Express in which I mash up the king in yellow and
the Phantom of the Opera because that needed to happen yes and it’s sort of a
meta commentary on the notion of fandom and the notion of IP and that you know
in the way that art can poison you so can an art is right sort of the thesis
of that story so Kenan I’m wondering if you can kind
of talk a little bit about things that you read or that you uncover the
surprise that may surprise you or may have felt new about some of the origins
of the elements the stories that were all really familiar with the king in
yellow and so the yellow side decimals right um in terms of the
origins the more you dig into it the more fathers the King and yellow turns
out to have I mean when I started I thought it’s just King it’s just King
Lear it old Mad King in tatters wandering around given prophecies messin
with the world and visit stare at the great Chicago Bookman and mackan scholar
and read with me he wrote a poem called Cordelia song that appeared in Weird
Tales very early piece of the yellow mythos and then I discovered that oh
that’s odd Baudelaire had a poem called the seven ancients in which someone sees
a tattered figure in yellow rags seven times in Paris which if you notice is
the number of times the narrator sees the pale organist figure in court of the
Dragon so and we know that Chambers was remodeler because he was in Paris and
part of that scene and I was it’s about there that’s an interesting play oh look
there’s a guy named Marcel Schwab who was a journalist and a decadent writer
who wrote a story called the king in the yellow mask it was about a king who
wears a golden mask and a blind beggar comes uninvited to the city and shows up
at a court function and says you should take off your mask oh my god any of the
King takes off his mask and spoiler for a story written in 1892 it turns out
he’s a leper so what’s underneath it a pallid face and that of course feeds
back to the legend of mo Khanna the athletes use an Afghan rebel against the
Persians who was supposedly wore a silken mask
and conducted himself against the Caliph and is seen as this sort of figure of
Aerys II and rebellion and trouble for the rightly guided caliphs aid and he
used magic to make a mean appear over his armies and then vanished
when the Caliph’s armies the rightly guided armies came
beseech him in his castle and whether he jumped into the fire or was taken up by
demons or just murdered everyone in his own company and snuck away nobody knows
more has wrote a story called the Hakim the the Dyer of Merv which is about this
figure and his theory is that he has a leprous face and that’s why he doesn’t
show his mask it doesn’t show his face wears a mask and there’s a lot of other
connections and the more I opened up sort of just what would chambers have
been looking at at the time what might you’ve been reading the more places that
the King yellow sort of deals in from and for example a lot of people think oh
chambers came up with a suicide booths in repairer of reputations that’s crazy
and original except that Maupassant came up with it in a story called the the
somnolent which is about a guy who falls asleep while reading about suicides and
dreams that he’s in the future and when he’s in the future he’s welcomed to the
suicide booth by the guy and you’re just you smell the flowers that you most love
and are put to sleep by a gas and then he wakes up and he wakes up from his
dream but he doesn’t know if he’s dead and just dreaming that he’s awake
because it’s what the Sun and Maupassant was dying her simplest but there’s a
suicide booth and then I said well at least I have now now nail down that
suicide booth he got it from opus on oh no ignatius dinelli wrote it put a
suicide boots all over future New York in a novel that he wrote in 1889 and at
some point it’s like alright show of hands who does not have a mysterious
they’re looking at a suicide booth people
the enzyme what neat you know and so the the degree which chambers must have just
been this omnivorous reader and the degree to which as you say the decadence
are informed by all these cultural currents just shows up time and time
again and so much of this is because as I mentioned no one has done in the world
since Google no one has written about chambers right so this is the easiest
thing to do this is not man is a brilliant researcher this is Ken has the
first boat going west a it’s America you know the black stars turned out to be
from a scene in a novel by Heinrich Heine called Florentine nights which is
about Paganini the satanic lee inspired violinist playing so evilly that the sky
turns white and the stars turned black and shine down and you think well
heinrich heine that’s kind of a reach except that 1893 was hidin centennial
right and charles dr. Leland translated all of Heine in 1891 and released it and
there was a giant controversy in the New York City papers about where they were
gonna put the statue of Heinrich Heine and so Chambers is sitting there writing
the stories and then looking at the newspaper and it’s like find that and
maybe he rented in Paris maybe he read it whatever but he would have pulled
down Heine open it up and said black stars on a white sky that’s awesome I’m
putting that and the degree to which chambers I mean he’s still a genius he’s
still creating this alchemy and right these illusions that we’re we’re
following along and taking these weird little bits out of ambrose bierce again
it is weird jacked alway and creating this bizarre set of mythology is maybe a
strong word but these interconnected legends and making these stories that
we’re still reading today but it’s not so much it’s bringing you right out of
his head and it’s seafood allergies like it does with Lovecraft right so much of
this house coming out of this cultural blue bonds
that is the 1890s and if you look at his overall output –
its he’s very much a popular author he’s writing romances he’s writing Oh Secret
Service stories I can do those I can do weird strange animal stories I can do
anything and so he’s got this massive up what he wrote kids books and so that’s
exactly the sort of output you would expect from somebody who is pulling in
all of this stuff in pop culture and the high culture around him because he’s
moving between the two worlds yeah he was people very rapidly began to make
fun of robert w chambers when he became a bestseller and there’s a snotty
article in a Boston literary magazine that I loved that sort of ranked him as
the the lower-middle brow not quite the upper lower brow he’s with chewing gum
and watching baseball he’s yet a lower-middle Brown right he’s not up
with opera or great things so the even in even in 1919 ten people were giving
him say he knows about opera right yeah he’s not up there he’s not up there he’s
not opera so so the the degree to which he is part of that culture and then goes
and sells it back to them and makes a fat lot of money collects porcelain good
for you Robert W James man nope no expired beans and dying of kidney
disease everyone pal so I’d be curious to hear from the
panelists what I got out of the stories that we’re familiar with here all the
ones were not familiar what do you find kind of most compelling and and why do
you think people you know some of it I think as I said I think the the room
between especially the first four stories in King in Yellow that leave
room for other artists to do things with the material is incredibly compelling I
think and this is something he picked up from the decadence this idea that art is
a gateway and a possible replacement for reality is marvelous and that’s you get
the fragments of the play and the way that interacts with the potentially
horrible things that that weight behind it and that’s something the Chamber’s
did that was popularizing something that the the decadence were doing where they
were talking about anything art can do anything nature can do art can do better
you can always make something from your imagination that is more wonderful than
nature except chambers comes in and kind of throws the curve at the end that art
is this gateway into this possible marvelous world that is horrible
horrible horrible you actually don’t want to go there and so he’s sort of
this transitional figure and this isn’t a surprise for somebody who is writing
as much pop stuff as he was to people like guy Boothby or SATs Romer who would
take figures like the king in yellow and make them Foo Man to or dr. Nicola or
dr. Mabuse in Germany where the popular authors have this towering unknown
mysterious figure who represents decadence and
that’s that’s a little later than than what’s going on here
chambers is sort of a half step there from the decadence that possibly art can
introduce you to something that is incredibly malevolent so one thing that
that makes me curious about is the the sort of the the bark versus nature
issue Chambers famously was an outdoorsman out in nature I wonder do
you have any idea or was that kind of a deliberate reaction why do you think
it’s definitely part of the the decadent aesthetics that he was he was part of
and especially when he was painting in France you know when he was involved in
that there’s a I mean I think the work that you’re referring to is again it’s
translated either as against nature or against the grain and by JK women or
women if you want and it’s it’s wonderful it’s wonderfully you know
bleak and misanthropic and and leaning into insanity and which are some of the
things that I I mean if the leaning into insanity is something that I find very
attractive about chambers work the I you know it kind of captures the texture of
insanity both at a micro and macro level which in a way that’s just delicious and
fun to play with and and deconstruct and do different things with and it doesn’t
it doesn’t really know but in all the stories that addresses
that it feels like it’s something that’s serious
yeah and gives it the gravity it deserves yeah yeah what you mean Co did
the same thing too so it’s like it’s in that tradition as well well you know
should I use this memory just like that I think just like that um so in the late
1800s there’s a lot of mid to late 1800 there’s a lot of kind of open stuff
going on you know secret societies and people are believing in seances they’re
trying to talk to ghosts and all that kind of stuff and you know there’s gonna
be Golden Dawn eventually and all that kind of stuff so there’s all this stuff
that’s going on where yep people are getting into really weird things and
they’re having a really odd parties kind of kind of movement and they’re you know
asking themselves about the limits of consciousness and of reality and later
on that’s gonna lead to different forms of art and all that kind of stuff but in
that time period yeah everybody’s kind of like preoccupied with
with that kind of stuff and they’re like oh let’s get together and see fairies
are real which is like fairies might be real there might be fairies that ghosts
might be real astral projection might be a thing and I
think when you look at some of these stories they kind of happen to that
there’s a sense of optimism that if you read certain manuscripts certain kinds
of knowledge you will unlock like you have access to this play for example you
know it drive you crazy but it also might you know allow you to access a
different kind of plane understand yeah wait and that’s what some of these
people are asking themselves you know they’re getting together to do yes weird
senses and put on funny costumes and you know babble things but they’re also I
mean they’re having a good time in a beer but they’re also ultimately trying
to like understand something about the world in in a different kind of way and
so I think it reflects yeah this kind of moment in time when everybody’s kind of
tune into that and trying to trying to define a certain frequency and some of
these stories seem to reflect that the kind of desire but also think the
imminent decadence of that pursuit like it’s not gonna go well for you if you do
that and and yeah and so and there’s some other writers that that are writing
in that vein and I forgot this guy who count whatever oh he got reprinted last
year this guy wasn’t nuts all right he hears about that he was this note this
noble guy he wrote these decadent romantic poems he also wrote like short
stories he dressed funny he like in a top hat you should carry that turtle
under his arm that kind of stuff from yes that’s good that’s the dude and he
just got reprinted right last year laughs they did a new volume of his he
has translations yeah yeah that kind of guy there’s a lot of guys like that
around you know like trying to like writing their poetry and you know and
doing and dressing funny and you know and that kind of stuff so I think it
reflects like really a type of personality and an ethros well and it’s
partly the the as you get closer to the turn of the century the technology is
changing the society radically and people are trying to find where their
places in the world and so they’re looking for those they’re doing a lot of
drugs like when they argue we don’t think about like the drugs but thinking
of like morphine – I think yeah yeah like oh yeah you know like more morphine
and exactly and of course you see things when you’re on morphine like you’re like
do it right don’t just go to sleep people that’s the regular
at the good morphine and so especially in Europe like I mentioned the the
criminis fiction stuff in France especially that becomes phantom Oz who
is this figure like the king in yellow who can be anyone and can take the mask
off at any time or somebody you think is someone you know at any time could
actually be phantom Oz and that was again
flipping between this high art low art they’re doing these French pulps with
the detective the male detective and the male phantom Oz dressed like nuns
shooting at each other over an open coffin you know that’s the cover of
these books and they’re just really odd and the data is later picked up on all
of this and absolutely loved it Magritte and jerry arrives in paris
basically write as chambers as Leoben right they may have met they may not
have met yes no way of to know and so Larry’s life is if anything a bigger
trash fire than chambers yeah and so you see this kind of through line with that
with these towering figures that overwhelm everything and maybe the heart
of this society or the culture that you’re that you’re part of and it may be
just an empty mystery if you look at the phantom ah stuff the detective who
thinks he understands phantom who fought Tomas is his superiors think he’s not oh
it’s go you thinks it’s fine Tomas again you know who put that guy in the bear
cage and blew up the the ocean liner those books are bananas
and and that’s the sort of weirdness that all of this is tapping into as well
and if you go back I think there is a line from chambers to that material as
well and I think one of the core things to keep in mind is Chambers is just a
good ol country boy American it believes in true love and yeah going out and
fishing and hunting I mean in his in an interview he did with a paper in America
he said oh yeah I hung a couple of things in the salon but I went fishing
instead of go to the opening this is Jamie self-image and in even in the king
in yellow there’s a line where cast a and Hillary casts and says oh I don’t
want to fish anymore and it’s like Chambers is hanging and making me
outside saying he’s mad at evil and so champers comes to Paris literally write
as deck as the decadent movement is coming up our rapport is written like
the year two years before chambers arrives in Paris though all of the
scandal is absolutely fresh right and and the the Rosicrucian that you’re
talking about are having their psychic warfare with each other and and by means
of competitive art shows is one of the ways they would do their psychic warfare
the there’s a journal called la decadence that happens right as Chambers
is at the boughs arts Oscar Wilde is putting on Salome and France feces it’s
illegal to show his play in London and also dressing Sarah Bernhardt in yellow
yeah and hanging all the stage in yellow because while is playing with images of
anti-semitism and Chambers was an anti-semite it was like oh that’s good
that’s going in the book and so all of this decadence is happening and again
those later interviews he would talk about his friend Paul Verlaine and how
great a guy Ernest Towson was whenever you could get him away from absinthe and
go fishing with him and so the notion that he’s at the cafe Bichette across a
table from de Maupassant watching his brains dribble out of his ear
from tertiary syphilis reading motifs on fiction just get more and more loopy as
he writes it more with less and less his brain operating he’s seeing the
decadence happen it’s not that he and maybe I imagined that as a as a young
man in Paris he is tempted by aspects of the decadence but as a good boy he knows
he’s not supposed to be tempted by the decadence and his little brother is
there studying architecture so he really can’t go out cavorting with the
courtesans because someone’s gonna tattle the dad and so but he sees this
and he is writing it not just with the fascination that we respond to it with
from a safe hundred years but with legitimate terror well yeah what is it I
go crazy what if I get syphilis what if I turn out to be like my bunny Paul
Verlaine and my life is destroyed just because I drink absinthe with Rhambo
right that’s that would be a bad thing to happen to me and all I have a son of
a lawyer for God’s sake and all of these people are focused on art and where is
arts role in this either as a gateway to that decadence or a reflection of that
and and how does get and his artistic sensibilities and you can read his art
criticism but he would write occasionally for like common feel
magazine when he came back I think the polite way to say that is that they are
a little bit old-fashioned he describes de Gaulle for example as the farthest
you can go without madness they got ballet dancers he’s like to
know that it’s what artists for get it right they got it it’s from John Paul so
true so it’s not the right time period but he said is my favorite quote from
him after I took miss Killeen I started seeing crabs around me all the time
they followed me into class always like I mean the thing is that simplice is
very much an endemic disease in the artistic set and in the sort of bohemian
crowd that chambers ran around with and that is because if you didn’t want to
have sex with a nice girl or boy you had to have sex with a prostitute and there
but there was no cure for syphilis so the the pool was basically swim at your
own risk is what I’m trying to say and so the condition goes on there’s
lots of speculation anything much of it unfounded that Rob Stoker contracted
syphilis from hanging around actresses there’s a great deal of speculation that
various other figures marry it’s analytic we know for a fact that
Maupassant was a syphilitic and again literally being the first person to just
go through motifs on saying that’s in chambers that’s in chambers that’s um
chambers this is not hard literary criticism but I went the first person to
do it but mo Poisson is very much on Chambers
is mine he wrote three hundred and thirty short stories basically that are
published in French periodicals and newspapers at the same time that changed
his career almost exactly brackets chambers time in Paris and he dies in
1893 which is the air chambers leaves parents so he’s seen this happen and
it’s part of his set and because good birds walk boys didn’t write home and
say ah the funny story I have syphilis we don’t know how many of the other
American artists that were his friends contracted the disease I mean we do know
that his one son had some sort of developmental disability but it’s not
saying Chambers was so poetic and he certainly showed no signs of it later on
in his life but he would have been aware of that at
all times and focused on it in the same way that Edgar Allan Poe is very aware
of tuberculosis with his you know his child bride and his adoring
mother-in-law both dying of it the Red Death does not become tuberculosis
because we know that Edgar Allen Poe is obsessed with women coughing they’re
bright red blood out on the tablecloth but it doesn’t not become for closest
simplest separates lovers it drives you mad it is available in
artistic circles by use people together in a sort of a covert Brotherhood if you
will it is very similar to how he presents the yellow sign on you know
over and over and over again it has the same effects and that might have been
him saying why it is it is as though decadence spreads like syphilis
and he thought that’s a good metaphor or it might have been a very good friend of
his we don’t know how close he was or wasn’t with him oppa son
we know they almost certainly had lunch together at some point because he name
drops motifs on favorite cafe in his one of his stories about Paris the Our Lady
the fields and so he he may have benefited her watching it we know that
he knew her lame another denude alison both of those guys have that connection
in their life so and apparently it’s the present fear to him and he’s thinking
about it in that same way yellow of course also is in addition to the
anti-semitic badge that was forced on Jews during the Middle Ages and was
still associated with Jews the enhancement of guard it was also the
quarantine flag and you flew a yellow flag on your ship if you had disease
yellow is also representative of fever because it’s the yellow fever it’s the
color of diarrhea the color have onset bone it’s the color of all manner of
things it’s the color of a disease called rhombus which is a kidney disease
it turns your skin yellow and what is the name of the Mademoiselle in
Mademoiselle these jaundice and that he discussed that I think one
of the things to talk about some which is the in the stories this kind of
almost overt connection between love and death you know that kind of cinematic I
mean I I’m just gonna say this really quick he’s like I’m sure that Nikola and
Sylvia and Jim have better things to say definitely Sofia Nicole yeah but the
notion that Freud stumbles over twenty years after the fact that he says the
two causes of irrationality are Eros and Thanatos madness of love and a madness
of death the death which of the love wish and this says more about Freud than
it does about life but Chambers is responding to the same exact currents of
middle European weirdness that Freud is responding to and he puts Thanatos
literally on the cover of the fourth edition of the book the king in yellow
figure is drawn holding advantage hoses upside down Porsche from Greek mythology
phantoms as simple as the butterflies butterflies appear in Our Lady of Our
Lady in the fields and there’s a butterfly on the back of I think the
third edition of the King in Yellow again drawn by chambers chambers also
big butterfly flutter so and arrows obviously hears twice in the stories and
once in a ever graph so Eros and Thanatos are these sort of covert
presences in the stories and then the stories are quite obviously about love
and death in the case of Mademoiselle these sort known as at least it is
literally a story of love and death being overlaid and being the same and
where is that in this in the collection it’s right in the middle it’s the pivot
that the stories turn around that you can say the first for our stories of
death and the Paris stories are stories of
and there we are but it’s present in all of them these have a report of the
Dragon that has no overt love element but that’s what I would say and then
hopefully Sylvia Nicole would say fennekin yeah I don’t know I think you
covered it pretty well so I’m I’m more I mean what I’m more interested in is you
know if the earlier stories in the cycle that are most interesting to me just
because and when I when I wrote my story for the chaos iam anthology I definitely
did have the madness in the context of a romantic relationship and I think what
that can do is key into one of the elements of the kingdom Leola mythos
that is so attractive which is loss of control and you know that you know when
you see the yellow side takes away your volition you have no will of your own
and which is something that both love and death have in common what I’m
intrigued by is how it tackles in a kind of fragmentary way and you know these
stories kind of you know there’s there’s fright you know what if they fragmentary
there’s gaps in between them that we exploit as 21st century writers kind of
exploring the mythos but I’m often you know I’m just curious about like what
led to the fragments and why it how did it evolve in the way that it evolved and
wish we could get some insight into that with with chambers you know biography
when maybe there’s room for scholarship for that how it developed that way well
there’s a lot of room yeah yeah so but yeah I mean so I think I think what
you’ve said is it’s pretty accurate yeah no I think like obviously if I wrote a
pornographic story maybe yeah yeah because of that and yeah because of a
time period like you said if you read any like biographies of people living in
that time period there’s some very interesting Libertines that the first
time you hear about this famous artist or whatever you like he’s sexy and then
you’re like he had horrifying syphilis in the source and were like I don’t know
anything and and ya know it gets really quite roast but there’s also yeah like
there’s this image of like the lyric team they’re like you know decadent you
know sexy guy and then you’re like but he’s covered in pus and after you read a
couple of those you cannot unsee it you know what you will never look at one of
those guys again you’re like no becomes embedded in you you know and there’s a
whole tradition of them for example women that drive like guys to their doom
for John Keats that you know the beautiful woman sounds messy
and and it goes on and on so there’s always this connection I think in
literature and especially in the different times we can yeah sex and you
know and destruction you know like it’s very interesting but you might be
destroyed so don’t go there but I mean it’s very interesting so you’re like
kind of like that and like in the same way that I think some protagonists
looked for forbidden knowledge that is intellectual like left crabs who died
owners look for forbidding intellectual knowledge there’s other protectors that
are moved by experiences and you know and and very much erotic experience its
fleshy experiences and you know and I think that you know it’s not explicit in
chambers but you kind of think like you know like maybe it’s not like people are
interested in this stuff in these stories like are into it because of that
kind of knowledge and then you know tip marker kind of makes it explicit I need
go through hell eraser and it’s like yes we all want to open like forbidden
knowledge forbidden but now it’s like it’s a Rubik’s Cube well and that’s if
you look at the society the time what the decadence we’re doing by saying this
stuff out loud by having productions that were overtly sexual and things like
that that’s where the the reading audience for this would be looking at
that as that is in a different window on the world so well is going to or sex is
going to give me this different window on experience and it’s got the threat
associated with it and I think the idea of looking at the entirety of King and
yellow as that it you know that binary with the pivot in the middle is very
interesting because that gives the book is a whole more of an identity than four
really good stories and that huh can you talk a little more about the
sort of the the way that we have those four scary
stories the smoothie stores that everybody loves and the romances and is
there more between them I think one of the things that tie them together secondly some of these very obvious
they’re all they’re all assault urbanist stories the exemption of
demonsaw these particular ladies in repairs in new york they are all about
our art appears at both of them both that’s both have my artistic
protagonists young because again guess what a Chambers was an art student when
he wrote most of them before a practicing artist in Greenwich Village
when he wrote the last few of them so his the art runs through all of them
they are connected by various thematic sort of tropes like mirrors show up all
throughout because it’s famously arts Java small the mirror up to life and
then chambers is like look in the mirrors see what you see oh it’s a crazy
person a beam structure of a fiction amount of fiction amount of fiction that
is so very beautiful and crazy easily layered in repairer is present not as
magnificently in a lot of the other stories even in stores like rhubari
where the characters are mirroring each other because one of them truly loves
the young recessed we’re maybe thought to believe it’s a prostitute but maybe
not but he won’t say anything because he listens to that back home in Brooklyn or
in Millbrook Connecticut and and the other characters the sort of jaded
ruined artist and as the declared his love for the grist said and she’s blown
him off because she doesn’t love it and so he loved but it was saved by her lack
of love the other guy loved but was saved by order and respectability and
there’s a weird sort of a twinning going on in that story which is again a
relatively yeah it’s the best of the Paris stories but when you look at it as
you know who’s in the mirror who’s winning
where is the death pinnacles the impulse to marry 80% and is always literally
said by another characters both socially it’s like yeah right back home to mom
the stock their mom and dad dad and stockbroker and say guess what I’ve
married a French Washington woman this is going to be great and you will
literally die poor and alone in Paris right especially do you think that
people no surprises I mean I think just your
standard time shifting weird unreliable narrator yeah yeah that is again that
was that that was the part of repairer that really struck me was that kind of
hallucinogenic quality to that story that seems very much ahead of its time
and you know the only other experience like that I’ve had is I was driving for
16 hours and pulled into a hotel and watched turned on cemetery man halfway
through and and finished watching the movie and I thought I must not have seen
that film probably through and then watch it again and yeah I guess I did
and and going back and looking at repair and the way it’s structured in the way
this the story is told is is remarkable that that’s a story that that there’s
many repeatedly there’s something very modern 20 and inch in whatever about
some of these stories in comparison some of the other stuff that’s going on
that’s that’s just very cool I think we respond to it because it actually fits
very well with our aesthetic


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