Robert W. Chambers published The King in Yellow in 1895 as a collection of supernatural tales that interrelated and connected to each other through an interesting conceit that prefigured the rise of postmodernism by a good half century or more. The connective tissue tying the stories together is the alleged existence of a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. That volume is considered to hold such great and dreadful power that anyone who dares read it set down upon a path toward insanity.
The composition of this unusual work was undertaken by Chambers following a trip to Paris as an art student in which he immersed himself in the horrific imagery of Bohemian and Decade art movements. The result is a book that contains ten self-contained short stories and a fictional play also titled “The King in Yellow” from which excerpts are introduced throughout the stories.
The legacy of Chambers’ book continues to expand upon its conceptualization as a proto-postmodernist meta-fiction. Raymond Chandler published a story that borrows the same title and a characters makes an oblique reference to having read a book called “The King in Yellow.” Several works of H.P Lovecraft introduce references and allusions back to Chambers’ books within his own somewhat similar interconnected mythos of Cthulhu. The Mysterious Package Company—an immersive interactive gift provider—created an entire experience centered around this work of Chambers that culminates in the arrival through post of a statue of the titular monarch. Familiarity with the stories and the play that make up The King in Yellow may prove to be invaluable assistance in fully comprehending some of the murkier aspects of the HBO series True Detective. (The one with Matthew McConaughey!)