I’m just a bit behind in my reviews, meaning I read this book back in April and now it’s fall, so… Which is probably for the best, because this really isn’t a springtime book. This book needs to be read on a chilly fall day, while you’re under a quilt, with a pumpkin spice latte or mulled wine in your hand.
The King in Yellow is a collection of short stories that pre-date Lovecraft and his elder god horror. (In fact, Lovecraft included the mythos began by Chambers in several of his stories.) The first several stories are loosely connected by mentions to the King in Yellow; in the book’s universe, The King in Yellow is a play that is said to drive anyone mad who reads it. (The last of the stories are, in my opinion, not really worth mentioning, unless you are really interested in the bohemian lifestyle of artists in Paris and want one dimension characters vaguely propelled by some notion of love.)
The Mask is the short story that has probably stuck with me the most, although it was not my favorite. An artist discovers a formula that causes living creatures to turn into marble statues and invites his friend, another artist, over to experiment with it. There’s a love triangle with a Bella of a woman (meaning we know that the two artists love her and we’re just suppose to infer that that makes her a character in her own right, but it doesn’t). Of course, the woman becomes ill, because that’s more romantic, and then falls into a pool of the marble formula that of course was casually left out in a human sized tub. Both artists then suffer heartbreak, causing the first one to die, because obviously the second one loved her more. In the end the the marble chemistry ends up not being permanent and they live happily ever after. Probably the reason this story has stayed with me is that I felt so bad for Chambers while reading it. Here was a hopelessly romantic man that desperately, desperately wanted to be in love. If he were alive in modern times, I can guarantee he’d be one of those people that don’t understand romantic comedies are not based in real live. I keep wondering if he was a proto-Nice Guy (TM). In the end, this is probably the reason his short stories aren’t remembered as much as Lovecraft’s. Chambers left the horror genre to continue writing flat love stories, which no one was really interested in.