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Author Topic: Pseudopod 364: The Yellow Sign  (Read 10011 times)
Bdoomed
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« on: December 13, 2013, 08:38:25 PM »

Pseudopod 364: The Yellow Sign

Replay: Pseudopod 364: The Yellow Sign

by Robert W. Chambers

“The Yellow Sign” was first published in the collection THE KING IN YELLOW in 1895.

ROBERT W. CHAMBERS (1865 – 1933) was an American artist and writer. He studied art in Paris and sold illustrations to “Life”, “Truth”, and “Vogue” magazine. His first novel, IN THE QUARTER (1887) was influenced by the Decadent writers and in 1895 he published THE KING IN YELLOW, a collection of Art Nouveau short stories. This included several famous weird short stories which are connected by the theme of a fictitious drama, “The King in Yellow”, which drives those who read it insane. E. F. Bleiler described THE KING IN YELLOW as one of the most important works of American supernatural fiction and it was also strongly admired by H.P. Lovecraft and his circle. A later story, “The Maker of Moons” from 1896, features a U.S. Government department dedicated to battling the titular supernatural menace and presages much of the action and Yellow Peril threats of the later pulp magazines. Chambers eventually moved into a successful – and more remunerative – career writing romance fiction.

Your reader this week – B.J. Harrison – is the redoubtable narrator of THE CLASSIC TALES podcast. Check out his superior readings here and here and like THE CLASSIC TALES on Facebook here, while you’re at it.



“When I first saw the watchman his back was toward me. I looked at him indifferently until he went into the church. I paid no more attention to him than I had to any other man who lounged through Washington Square that morning, and when I shut my window and turned back into my studio I had forgotten him. Late in the afternoon, the day being warm, I raised the window again and leaned out to get a sniff of air. A man was standing in the courtyard of the church, and I noticed him again with as little interest as I had that morning. I looked across the square to where the fountain was playing and then, with my mind filled with vague impressions of trees, asphalt drives, and the moving groups of nursemaids and holiday-makers, I started to walk back to my easel. As I turned, my listless glance included the man below in the churchyard. His face was toward me now, and with a perfectly involuntary movement I bent to see it. At the same moment he raised his head and looked at me. Instantly I thought of a coffin-worm. Whatever it was about the man that repelled me I did not know, but the impression of a plump white grave-worm was so intense and nauseating that I must have shown it in my expression, for he turned his puffy face away with a movement which made me think of a disturbed grub in a chestnut.”


Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
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« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2013, 02:38:30 AM »

I'm going to comment with my actual thoughts later, but did anyone with better hearing than mine catch the name of the Canadian-town-eaten-by-language-virus that Alasdair mentioned?
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« Reply #2 on: December 14, 2013, 02:42:54 AM »

Pontypool:)
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« Reply #3 on: December 14, 2013, 09:49:01 AM »

I can't encourage you enough to go pick up a copy of the other "must read" from "The King in Yellow": "The Repairer of Repuatations". I find that it and this story are the strongest of that bunch. Unfortunately, The Repairer of reputations clocks in at around 20k words, so it's quite a lot over our length cap. If you're a dabbler, you can stop with those two. I loved the concepts, and theres some really great weird stories in the first part of the King in Yellow collection. However, I'm unsure why the back half of the stories are included in the collection titled "The King in Yellow". While they may be about artists of the time period, they have nothing to do with the King in Yellow frame.

I can see the inspiration that the book within the story creates. Probably my favorite of these inspirations is the film "In the Mouth of Madness" ("Do you read Sutter Kane?") Also, go dig through the archives and relisten to Hometown Horrible for a similar theme, and because the story is awesome.
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« Reply #4 on: December 14, 2013, 01:43:44 PM »

Pontypool:)

You are a gentleman and a scholar...

And I spelled your name wrong again. For f^*k's sake...
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« Reply #5 on: December 14, 2013, 04:30:51 PM »

I can see the inspiration that the book within the story creates. Probably my favorite of these inspirations is the film "In the Mouth of Madness" ("Do you read Sutter Kane?") Also, go dig through the archives and relisten to Hometown Horrible for a similar theme, and because the story is awesome.

"Did I ever tell you that my favorite color was BLUE?"

I second "Hometown Horrible." It's got to be one of the top five Pseudopod stories of all time.
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« Reply #6 on: December 14, 2013, 05:00:50 PM »

Also, here's an interesting bit of trivia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carcosa_Seri_Negara

There's apparently an old hotel in Kuala Lumpur called Carcosa. It was built by the British and named by one Sir Frank Swettenham. It seems that Sir Frank had recently read Chambers' book and liked the sound of "Lost Carcosa" from Cassilda's song in Act 1, Scene 2 of The King in Yellow. From the letter reproduced in the Wikipedia article, it appears as though he believed it to be a real play.
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« Reply #7 on: December 16, 2013, 09:53:36 AM »

Creepy.  The characters felt true, especially the budding romance between them and the awkwardness that created in the nudity to which they were already accustomed, and I generally liked it.  The rotting man was quite creepy.  I think I got a little lost just at the end, but I think that was my own fault--mind got a bit wandery, but I don't think it was boring or anything, just my mind thinking about projects I'm working on that were trying to grab my attention at an inconvenient time.
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« Reply #8 on: December 16, 2013, 12:47:18 PM »

I don't usually hear one of these older stories and think, "I must read this author." But this time, I looked up Mr. Chambers and have downloaded The King in Yellow and downloaded it from the Project Gutenberg site onto my Kindle. Thanks, Pseudopod! Smiley
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« Reply #9 on: December 19, 2013, 04:29:17 AM »

Pontypool:)

You are a gentleman and a scholar...

And I spelled your name wrong again. For f^*k's sake...

I love that movie ~~ I thought it was set in the Pontypool in South Wales when I picked the DVD off the shelf, and was a bit disappointed not to have the Welsh accents - though come to think of it that could make things even weirder - but I was happily surprised to discover there's a Pontypool in Ontario as well.

I hope you enjoy it Smiley
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« Reply #10 on: December 19, 2013, 09:48:07 AM »

So, this story seemed to be rambling to me.    It felt like stuff was just in there, like it suffered from sort of Chris Carter Effect.

But despite that, I enjoyed this story a lot.

May have been the universe aligning just right, what with me listening to this while taking a walk and coming by the funeral home and their black herse sitting parked right as he mentioned the herse coming.  (no lie, that was creepy)

But over all this story had me filled with a vague sense of dread that you get in a nightmare.    That's a good thing for a horror story.   Just this dread I couldn't put my finger on.
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« Reply #11 on: December 21, 2013, 04:36:52 PM »

If you're into the King in Yellow mythos (or you just want to hear a really wonderful story), check out Silvia Moreno-Garcia's "Flash Frame" on Tales to Terrify: http://talestoterrify.com/tales-to-terrify-no-9-david-thomas-lord/. It never mentions the King in Yellow (more of a Queen in Yellow, actually), but the oblique reference is there.
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« Reply #12 on: December 23, 2013, 07:36:10 PM »

I really enjoyed this story. It didn't seem dated at all - if you had told me that this was a modern story, I wouldn't have blinked an eye. Like Unblinking said, the characters were both easily believable and relate-able, and I actually got to point where the mention of the squishy man was making me sick. (Never thought describing a guy as "soft" over and over again could make me feel so disgusted.)

I love it when you guys introduce me to new, old authors. I have never even heard of the King in Yellow stories before today.

Pseudopod rocks!
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« Reply #13 on: December 24, 2013, 12:44:45 AM »

Quote
I love it when you guys introduce me to new, old authors. I have never even heard of the King in Yellow stories before today.

Thank you for a wonderful Christmas present! 
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« Reply #14 on: December 26, 2013, 04:11:25 PM »

Count me as another who hadn't heard of "The King in Yellow" until I heard this one today! Weird part was that some friends gave us the Call of Cthulhu: Arkham Horror board game for Christmas, and about an hour after listening to this episode, my husband was flipping through the game materials and came across a card for the King in Yellow. Somehow he'd missed the bit in Alasdair's intro about the Lovecraft connection, and so was quite spooked. It was hilarious, so high fives for accidental synergy!

The story itself was excellent. I really enjoyed this one, especially that final scene where the girl reads the book for playful reasons, and then the narrator chooses to join her in madness. Perfect and chilling. I'm adding the whole short story collection to my reading list. It was Lovecraftian without the heavily ornate language, and oddly didn't feel dated the way vintage horror can sometimes feel.

ETA: Hey, Wikipedia says that "The Yellow Sign" was made into a movie in 2000! Did anyone ever see it?
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« Reply #15 on: December 30, 2013, 04:31:09 AM »

I will totally play Arkham Horror, but only once.  (Keee-rist is that game longer than its mechanics actually support.  Like, it would be super fun and awesome if it ended in, say, ninety minutes, but it's been a four-to-six hour slog every time I've tried it.)

Also, "Pontypool" is awesome and bizarre and just ridiculously interesting on multiple levels.  However, we got our copy (one of our Christmas presents, and I forget even who asked for it), and the box is stupid.  Like, the back of it just has pictures as if it's Generic Zombie Movie #4765, and the front of it, I kid you not, has the tagline "Shut up or die."  I mean, okay, yes, it involves a horde of infected people and creepy siege/violence like a zombie movie, and yes the infection involves the use of language, but I just don't get the marketing angle.  Diehard zombie fans are going to find it dull and talky, and people who would *love* it will dismiss it out of hand unless they know what they're looking at.  I dunno.

Aaaaaanyway, this story was fun and had some nicely inexplicable creepy bits.  I drifted a little bit and wasn't entirely clear on what was a dream and what wasn't, but that was kind of the point, I suppose.  I particularly liked the return to the motif of the state of decay of the body on the floor.  Great note to end on.
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« Reply #16 on: December 30, 2013, 10:43:14 AM »

Diehard zombie fans

Someone needs to write this Die Hard sequel. "Oh man, I can't believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same crap happen to the same guy even after death?"

I'm sorry. My brain is a little...weird, today. Back to the topic of the story. Smiley

I find the trope of "the book that drives those who read it insane" really fascinating. Seems like it turns up a good bit in older stories, but not as much these days. Unless you count the meme virus in Snow Crash...

I wonder why that is?
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« Reply #17 on: January 03, 2014, 12:55:25 AM »

I find the trope of "the book that drives those who read it insane" really fascinating. Seems like it turns up a good bit in older stories, but not as much these days. Unless you count the meme virus in Snow Crash...

I wonder why that is?

It's kinda hard to do well? That would be my guess.

A semi-related story is The Wanderer in Unknown Realms. It's not that the book drives you insane... anyway, can't say. I CAN say that it's by one of my favourite authors, the ever awesomely poetic John Connolly. Man, can that guy writes dark stuff well.
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« Reply #18 on: January 03, 2014, 08:44:05 AM »

I find the trope of "the book that drives those who read it insane" really fascinating. Seems like it turns up a good bit in older stories, but not as much these days. Unless you count the meme virus in Snow Crash...

I wonder why that is?

It's kinda hard to do well? That would be my guess.

A semi-related story is The Wanderer in Unknown Realms. It's not that the book drives you insane... anyway, can't say. I CAN say that it's by one of my favourite authors, the ever awesomely poetic John Connolly. Man, can that guy writes dark stuff well.

When it comes to horror, it's hard to do so without invoking or nodding to The Necronomicon. HPL has pervaded horror and all of his worldbuilding is open source. Even when a new tome of unspeakable knowledge is added, it's usually on a shelf with The Necronomicon, The Book of Eibon, and Cultes des Ghoules. The most recent one that pops to my mind is the book in Jerusalem's Lot (Stephen King, Night Shift), and that follows the latter path of invoking the new along with the old. In the Mouth of Madness may be newer, but again follows the same pattern (albeit more subtly).
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« Reply #19 on: January 07, 2014, 07:03:01 PM »

After relistening to this one, I'm struck by the resemblance of some of the major points to HPL's "The Hound". Two haunted artists struck down by a corpse looking to recover a piece of jewelry.

You can also see how Chambers went on to write romance stories, as this has a significant passage devoted to it. It also really humanized the couple and makes their fall all the more tragic.

As to authors pointing to other stories to reinforce worldbuilding, this line points at The Repairer of Reputations (seriously go read that one): "If I ever had had any curiosity to read it, the awful tragedy of young Castaigne, whom I knew, prevented me from exploring its wicked pages."
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