The King in Yellow – Robert W. Chambers

Let’s just go ahead and assume that I am stupid. I am happy to accept that. I am OK with the idea of multiple intelligences, and get that you can’t be smart in all regards. I recognize that for the vast majority of subject matters one can learn about, I am ignorant. With a lot of hard work, I might be able to achieve familiarity with 0.01% of human knowledge.

Knowing my own ignorance keeps me reading, and it keeps me reading widely. This does well for my non-fiction reading, but for fiction it feels less helpful.

It really does feel like I am reading horror the wrong way. But I think I just do not have the brain for it. I spend too much time wondering how ‘eldritch’ horror would work to be scared of it. I would be the jackass who looks Cthulhu right in the tentacled face and asks him ‘hey, what are you made of anyway? Or you just matter like the rest of us?’

It’s commonly understood that once you see the rubber monster in horror movies, you stop being scared of it. To be scared, you have to look away. But the way I read speculative fiction doesn’t allow me to do this, as I want to go right under the hood of the fictional world and see how it ticks.

The King in Yellow isn’t likely a bad set of short stories. They just weren’t for me. It is described as a precursor to Lovecraft – which it isn’t. Some of the short stories go into a mythical book called ‘The King in Yellow’ the very reading of which will drive the reader insane. That’s a great premise, but we don’t get a lot of it, and the bits we do feel more ‘tell’ and not enough ‘show’. Frankly, no one will ever do it as well as John Carpenter did with ‘in the mouth of madness’. That tells me that such stories are possible to be good. As I said, I won’t go so far as to call these stories bad, but I can say that the story the book opens with is a masterclass of fucking up Chekov’s gun.

I came away not really understanding the appeal of this stories. I think it really goes into the daisy chain of reference. It isn’t so much that this is a worthy read, but merely that Lovecraft makes a mention of ‘The King in Yellow’, and then one discovers that there is an actual book of that title, and in that Book there is a fictional book that drives people mad. It is nifty, so long as you have reverence fot the over-arching mythos. But I don’t, really. And the daisy chain ends here.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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