Strange is the night where black stars rise
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
In the 1938 Memorial Edition of Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow, Rupert Hughes suggests that if we remove Chambers from the literary landscape, “a great and brilliant life would be left without presentation; a swarm of men and women as typical of our time as any other groups, and living our life to the full, would be entirely omitted from the literary parade.” Hughes assures us that the work of Robert Chambers will survive, “unless posterity shall be too deeply involved in its own problems to care for ours.”
The King in Yellow was published in 1895. As Hughes suggests, “the central idea is magnificent.” The first four stories in the collection reference The King in Yellow, a forbidden play which inspires madness in those who read it. This same leit-motif appears in A Season in Carcosa, a collection of tales inspired by Chambers and lovingly assembled by one of his greatest champions, Joseph S. Pulver Sr. In the introduction to A Season in Carcosa, Pulver suggests that, with The King in Yellow Chambers created a mythology of sorts, “some even term it a mythos, linked by a king in pallid, tattered robes, the madness-inducing ‘The King in Yellow’ play, and the Yellow Sign.”
The authors involved in Pulver’s collection have collectively embraced, built upon, and perhaps defined the Chambers mythology. In “My Voice is Dead”, author Joel Lane capably brings Carcosa into the 21st century without sacrificing the haunted beauty of the 19th. The fact that Lane is able to do this is a compliment to his skills as a writer, and to the timelessness of Chambers’ original ideal. With “Beyond the Banks of the River Seine”, Simon Strantzas offers a more traditional ‘Chambers-esque’ tale. With his usual brilliance, Strantzas captures the madness evoked by ‘The King in Yellow’ and the very real and all-too-human poison known as envy. He captures the subtle vagueness of Chambers perfectly, making “Beyond the Banks of the River Seine” one of the (many) true gems of this collection. Where Strantzas and Lane build upon the Chambers style, Daniel Mills brilliantly embodies the mythos in “MS Found in a Chicago Hotel Room”. Mills is an extremely gifted writer. His often breathtaking prose brings to life the Chambers pantheon, from Camilla to the King himself, leaving little doubt that, as Hughes so hoped, Chambers has survived.
Stories occasionally transcend genre. In 1895 The King in Yellow did this very thing. In 2012 Edward Morris has done much the same with his flawless contribution to A Season in Carcosa. “The Theatre and It’s Double” is superb. Edward Morris captures the essence of Chambers’ original work while employing his own delightfully exquisite style. As with Pulver’s contribution, “Not Enough Hope”, and “Salvation in Yellow” by Robin Spriggs, Morris toys with form and style. What makes these three authors stand out within this collection and the Chambers mythology as a whole is their willingness to challenge convention. Rupert Hughes praised Chambers for his “sense of form, of progress, suspense, and climax.” Indeed, Hughes appeared infatuated by the form and structure Morris, Spriggs, and Pulver rebel against in this collection. While Hughes was correct in thinking that form and structure serve a purpose in literature, that purpose should not stifle creative brilliance, nor can it contain the monstrous talent exhibited here by these three authors.
Allyson Bird’s “The Beat Hotel” rounds out the collection. Like Strantzas, her contribution is a subtle tribute to Robert W. Chambers. Like Strantzas, Bird is brilliant. Few authors are as consistently good as Allyson Bird. In anthologies and collections, the first and last stories often leave the longest lasting impression on the book as a whole. Whether by design or not, Joel Lane and Allyson Bird deliver. “My Voice is Dead” and “The Beat Hotel” linger, ensuring that A Season in Carcosa, like The King in Yellow will survive the passage of time.