This stage play text was written to fulfill a literary hoax, one that in fact helped to inspire the notorious Necronomicon of Lovecraft. In the weird fiction of Robert W. Chambers, The King in Yellow was a play with a degenerative effect on the morals and sanity of its readers. Thom Ryng is not the first to flesh out the text of the play; in his introduction he suggests that he is perhaps the eighth, and he refers specifically to two earlier attempts: one by Lin Carter and one by James Blish. (I’ve read both.) In the first edition of the Ryng text, the conceit was that the text had been recovered from a 19th-century French edition. In this softbound reprint, editorial and authorial matter confesses its actual late-20th-century composition in the distant wake of Chambers’ fiction. It has been produced on stage at least once, if we are to believe the current edition.
Materially, the book is a sturdy softcover volume with a generous font size. I was a little disappointed that the cover had the false Yellow Sign originally designed by artist Kevin Ross and corrupted in the editorial process for the Chaosium role-playing game Call of Cthulhu. (Chambers’ original Yellow Sign was probably the “inverted torch” insignia that appeared on the binding of early editions of Chambers’ story collection The King in Yellow.)
There is a vein of socio-political commentary that is disturbingly prescient (the author implies that it could have been causative), considering that the book was written in the 1990s. Readers are also furnished with a Hasturian incantation to achieve magical invisibility.
When I read this book, the experience was attended with appropriate inter-textual synchronicities. The Oedipus eyes of Thales echoed my recent philosophical reading in Nietzsche criticism (to wit, The Shortest Shadow and Foucault’s Lectures on the Will to Know). Also relating to that reading, but opening onto a perpetual return to a secret place, is the play’s portrayal of Truth as a phantom who is martyred.
Overall, I was suitably impressed, instructed, and infected by Ryng’s deposition from the ether of this dread volume. [via]
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