Review by Sean Branney
September 17, 2019
For many Lovecraft fans, the works of Robert W. Chambers are an oblique corner of the Cthulhu Mythos. His creations of The King in Yellow, Carcosa and Hastur are often referred to, but Chambers actual stories tend to be less well known. Arc Dream Publishing (the mad geniuses behind the Delta Green franchise) have set out to fix this by offering a beautifully produced and comprehensive edition of Chambers' tales which brush up against the mythos and which are most likely to hold appeal to aficionados of weird fiction.
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1865, Chambers both chronologically and somewhat aesthetically, fills the gap between Poe and Lovecraft. He studied in Paris and gained skills as both an illustrator and as an author. His most enduring contribution to the world of weird fiction came in 1895 with his publication of the short story "The King in Yellow". The story centers around a play of the same title whose weird beauty and poetic potency is enough to drive readers mad. Chambers explored other genres, writing both historical novels and children's stories. Ultimately though, it may have been Lovecraft's appraisal of Chambers' works in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature which cemented his standing among writers of weird tales in the 19th century.
This new edition by Arc Dream spares no expense (as its price will quickly show). It's published in an 8.5 x 11 inch format with an embossed leather cover and gilt-edged pages. A foreword by gaming legend John Scott Tynes eases the reader into the collection of eleven tales. Unique to this edition are the abundant annotations by author and game designer Kenneth Hite. Hite applies his scholarship to obscure references in the text, bringing clarity and context to a great many points in Chambers' tales. Hite also provides Appendices on Chambers, The King in Yellow and Ambrose Bierce. There are times, especially early in the volume, where the proliferation of Hite's annotations sometimes felt excessive. While the majority of his remarks are insightful, some (such as pointing out that most cats have yellow eyes) seemed to exist for their own sake.
This edition benefits substantially from illustrations by Samuel Araya. His paintings succeed marvelously in capturing the spirit of Chambers' King in Yellow stories. They are at once dreamy and ominous, carrying an implication of strange and otherworldly forces - without ever moving into the realm of overt horror. The paintings contain a pleasing mix of tone - some being in a bright, dreamy palette, while others challenge the viewer to determine what grim threat lurks in the shadows.
The King in Yellow: Annotated Edition is a high-end book and for that reason alone, it may be beyond the means of some collectors. But for those ready to make an investment in the stories of Robert W. Chambers, this new edition from Arc Dream is without equal and is a superb acquisition for any strange library.