The other night I picked up Joseph Pulver's A Season in Carcosa, read the intro and then realized I'd never read The King In Yellow, so I probably needed to hold off for a bit. When I finished The Yellow Sign and Other Stories, I realized that Chambers had borrowed Carcosa from Ambrose Bierce's short story "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" so I guess I have to go grab The Heritage of Hastur to read that one. Lucky for me, I own a LOT of Chaosium volumes.
This collection is a mixed bag of tales ranging from the best of the weird to eerie to fun and then downright silly. The first group of stories in this book come from Chambers' The King in Yellow, featuring "The Repairer of Reputations," "The Mask," "In the Court of the Dragon" "The Yellow Sign" "The Demoiselle d'Ys" and "The Prophet's Paradise." For my money, these are the best and the most intensely weird stories in the entire book, and as weird goes, they just don't get better. In fact, these are some of the best weird stories I've ever read, period. The next stories, "The Maker of Moons" and "A Pleasant Evening," come from The Maker of Moons, two more excellent pieces with perhaps a bit less weirdish intensity than the King in Yellow selections, but are still guaranteed to induce a sense of dread. "The Maker of Moons" wins my vote in this section, although the supernatural tones of "A Pleasant Evening" had a shocker of an ending that really grabbed me. The third group of stories is The Mystery of Choice; one of the best supernatural stories I've ever read is found here in "The Messenger." I also loved the Bretonne setting and the local legends and customs that have much to do with the stories in this section. In Search of the Unknown features stories focusing on the exploits of a zoologist who is sent here and there to verify discoveries of strange creatures. While these tales are highly entertaining, they fall less into the weird zone and more into the realm of strange adventure. Skipping ahead, the same is true for Police!!!, although with the exception of "The Third Eye," these little episodes have more of a cheesy-slash-silly edge, especially in "The Immortal," featuring a bunch of cave-dwelling women in the Florida Everglades. The chapters excerpted from The Tracer of Lost Persons left me wanting more, especially if the rest of that particular book is as good is what's here. Egyptian hieroglyphics, a hidden chamber and a body turned to dust all had my complete attention for the duration. Finally, The Tree of Heaven is a decent mix of stories that run a good spectrum ranging from strange to eerie, but not anywhere near the quality of The King in Yellow or The Maker of Moons.
While all of these collected tales may not suit everyone, as is generally the case with an anthology, the book is well worth reading if for nothing else, the chapters from the first three titles The King in Yellow, The Maker of Moons, and The Mystery of Choice. Even the cheesy stories might produce a laugh now and then, but definitely, if you're at all into weird fiction and you haven't read Chambers' work yet, you really don't want to miss this book. Now I can go read A Season in Carcosa and not feel stupid or that I missed anything!
// *** \\There's another review at SF Site by Georges T. Dodds that goes into a little more detail about the stories than I have, you can take a look here .
I'm reading The King in Yellow by Chambers right now, and I'm glad someone else likes his weirdness. What did you think of the Prophets' Paradise? I couldn't understand what was going on.ReplyDelete
Also, which is your favourite story?
I LOVE these stories. My favorites were all of the stories under "The King in Yellow." Now that I've reread them again, they're even better. You should find a copy of James Blish's "More Light" -- he writes two parts of the play.ReplyDelete
Prophets' Paradise seemed to me to be some sort experimental prose he was working on -- I might be wrong, but it does seem to have a bit of the same flavor as his KIY works.
I do hope you like it...he's definitely captured my imagination.
"CAMILLA: You, sir, should unmask.Delete
CASSILDA: Indeed it's time. We all have laid aside disguise but you.
STRANGER: I wear no mask.
CAMILLA: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!
THE KING IN YELLOW: Act 1-Scene 2d."
I have no idea why this is my favorite little part in the book. So tame on one hand yet who knows just what this man looks like!