Cosmic horror weirdo HP Lovecraft now looms so large in the literary pantheon that it’s easy to forget he was just one of a series of authors gazing into similar abyssal depths around the turn of the century, and one – Robert W Chambers (1865-1933) – is ripe for rediscovery.
Best known for contributing plot points and phrasing to HBO’s eerie True Detective, his surreal anthology, The King In Yellow, also directly influenced Lovecraft with its tortured artists and lore-seekers, translucent night stalkers and wide-eyed madmen in the grip of otherworldly horrors.
This influence is so prominent that it’s difficult to see where Chambers ends and Lovecraft begins, a viewpoint that’s endemic given the admiring references in Lovecraft’s fiction and the Yellow King-themed expansion pack for the Arkham Horror board game that fuses their worlds together.
The book, as released in 1895, contains ten stories. Only the first four are directly linked, and it’s these that INJ Culbard contents himself with, shifting around the running order as so to exit on the most metaphysical of the bunch – the perplexing ‘In The Court Of The Dragon’, in which the Yellow King makes a direct appearance.
Like Lovecraft, Chambers’ tales have one foot in an earlier gothic horror tradition, yet one foot in the present. There’s an inescapable modernity to even the scenes of drawing room civility, while the over-arching meta-text – a play, whose script falls into the hands of our protagonists – is more than just a Necronomicon with stage directions; it’s a precursor to Trick ‘R Treat’s cherubic pumpkinhead and V/H/S’s stack of gristly videotapes.