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Clark Ashton Smith and the King in Yellow?
Posted by: Raoul (IP Logged)
Date: 26 September, 2020 12:53PM
Hello everyone. I'm new but I looked over a lot of topics before posting so I hope my topic blends in well. :) I started reading Robert W. Chambers' The King in Yellow for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed the first five stories. I also appreciated the remainder of the book though they're non-supernatural and non-surreal romances, but I'm not as interested in that.

I felt similar details in the first five KiY stories to many of the best fantasy stories of Smith. Namely:

1) The heavy use of romance. Especially romance haunted by an atmosphere of the weird.

2) The investment in the themes of love, death, decadence, and transcendent beauty and horror.

3) The creation of strange worlds filled with morbid wonder and ominous mystery, though in the case of KiY the world of Carcosa is only described in vague hints.

4) The use of troubled artists or visionaries as protagonists.

5) A dark form of irony and subtle sense of sardonic humor.

6) The heavy use of France and the French language. In fact, After his KiY, Chambers wrote a book titled The Mystery of Choice which had several stories set in a rural cursed countryside of France, reminding me of Smith's Averoigne.

I read that Smith was an admirer of The King in Yellow and somewhere he said "The Yellow Sign" was one of his favorite stories. So I wondered if Smith was influenced by Chambers in some ways. Can anyone confirm or make any good conclusions?

I know Smith and Chambers are very different from each other too, since Chambers was more focused on the psychological investment of his characters while Smith was really engrossed in weird and fantastic worlds. And whereas Smith wrote about sorcery and monsters in magical lands of the past and future, Chambers wrote his stories in a contemporary setting and his weird imagery was more subtle and surreal. But is there a strong link between these authors past these differences? Any help would be appreciated. :)

I tried asking this on another Lovecraft website, but only one answer was helpful. I think most people there were only interested in Cthulhu tattoos and the Call of Cthulhu RPG.

I see you people have been making lots of topics for talking about writers like Kipling and Machen. If you want this can maybe be a similar thread for Chambers and/or The King in Yellow

Re: Clark Ashton Smith and the King in Yellow?
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 26 September, 2020 04:13PM
Count me in.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Clark Ashton Smith and the King in Yellow?
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 28 September, 2020 11:19AM
To get started, before I re-read Chambers, I'll comment that the greatest strength of idea of "The King in Yellow" is that it exists as hints and fragments, and implies a strange and unique indirect threat. It is an example of the psychological concept, presque vu.

We really don't know the play in any depth. We're given a few basics, and then small pieces, either by Chambers, or by subsequent authors who are intrigued b the concept.

For example, this is Cordelia's Song, by Vincent Starrett:

Quote:
from "Cordelia's Song"

The moon shines whitely; I shall take
My silk umbrella, lest the moon
Too warmly fall upon the lake
And cause my bridal flowers to swoon.

The sparrow’s sorrow is in vain,
And so does he his bride forget.
I wed the long grass and the rain,
And seven sailors dripping wet.

And shall not you and shall not I
Keep tryst beside this silent stream,
Who thought that we should rather die
Than wed the peacock’s amber dream?

The moon shines whitely; I shall take
My silk umbrella, lest the moon
Too coldly fall upon the lake
And chill my bridal flowers too soon.

WHOA! What's *that* all about, huh?

It fits and extends the concept of a disquieting, deeply disturbing work of art. So far as we know, there is no character in the implied play named Cordelia, and yet...

The imagery is all disjointed and disturbing, filled with non sequiturs, filled with provocative hints.

The only other thing comparable that I can recall this morning, off the top of my head, is "The Hours in the Life of a Lousy Haired Man".

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Clark Ashton Smith and the King in Yellow?
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 28 September, 2020 03:18PM
Sorry, I posted on the wrong thread!

I'd join in this myself, but I'm awfully busy as of late. I'll keep an eye on all these new threads though and will add my thoughts when I can. Fascinating threads and activities lately.



Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 28 Sep 20 | 03:26PM by Hespire.

Re: Clark Ashton Smith and the King in Yellow?
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 28 September, 2020 03:26PM
Hespire Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sorry, I posted on the wrong thread!

Oh, no!!!

;^)

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Clark Ashton Smith and the King in Yellow?
Posted by: Raoul (IP Logged)
Date: 28 September, 2020 09:07PM
I agree with that WHOA! That poem has the same vibe of surreal/otherworldy tragedy as Cassilda's Song. And also the enticing disorientation you described too. And what's more impressive is it wasn't from one of the original KiY stories. I never knew other writers made stories based on the concept or expanded on it besides "The Return of Hastur" by August Derleth.

The Hastur story was awful btw. I thought if anybody wrote their own King in Yellow story it would end up more like that "eviler half-brother of Cthulhu" trash, not the subtle realism and creepy surrealism of Chambers.

And I agree the idea behind the fictional play is genius and haunts me to this day. Can you imagine how readers in 1895 must have felt when reading something so radically bizarre and mysterious? I was wondering to myself if Smith was influenced by such impressive ideas from the King in Yellow. His books of Eibon and Carnamagos and that manuscript from "The End of The Story" might be more likely influenced by the Necronomicon, but you never know.

Re: Clark Ashton Smith and the King in Yellow?
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 30 September, 2020 12:17PM
Raoul Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I agree with that WHOA! That poem has the same
> vibe of surreal/otherworldy tragedy as Cassilda's
> Song. And also the enticing disorientation you
> described too. And what's more impressive is it
> wasn't from one of the original KiY stories. I
> never knew other writers made stories based on the
> concept or expanded on it besides "The Return of
> Hastur" by August Derleth.
>
> The Hastur story was awful btw. I thought if
> anybody wrote their own King in Yellow story it
> would end up more like that "eviler half-brother
> of Cthulhu" trash, not the subtle realism and
> creepy surrealism of Chambers.

Usually, published writers have a certain level of artistic competence, but not Derleth. He was perhaps the most "tone-deaf" writer I've ever attempted to read.

"Ham-fisted" comes the closest to describing his writing, in my opinion.

>
> And I agree the idea behind the fictional play is
> genius and haunts me to this day. Can you imagine
> how readers in 1895 must have felt when reading
> something so radically bizarre and mysterious? I
> was wondering to myself if Smith was influenced by
> such impressive ideas from the King in Yellow. His
> books of Eibon and Carnamagos and that manuscript
> from "The End of The Story" might be more likely
> influenced by the Necronomicon, but you never
> know.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Clark Ashton Smith and the King in Yellow?
Posted by: The Sojourner of Worlds (IP Logged)
Date: 3 October, 2020 09:57PM
I always liked Naotalba's Song.

[kinginyellow.fandom.com]

Carnamagos is another name that piqued my interest. He's mentioned in Xeethra and in some of Smith's correspondence, but plays a much more prominent role in The Treader of the Dust and The Infernal Star, the latter of which describes him as Cimmerian. His name also comes up in The Black Book, on the list of Zothique stories.

Quote:
Now, as he sat there in a state half terror, half stupor, his eyes were drawn to the wizard volume before him: the writings of that evil sage and seer, Carnamagos, which had been recovered a thousand years agone from some Graeco-Bactrian tomb, and transcribed by an apostate monk in the original Greek, in the blood of an incubus-begottten monster. In that volume were the chronicles of great sorcerers of old, and the histories of demons earthly and ultra-cosmic, and the veritable spells by which the demons could be called up and controlled and dismissed.

Quote:
But Carnamagos, in his Testaments, prophecied that a fourth transportation would occur during the present cycle of terrene time; and the fifth would not occur till the final cycle, and the lifting of the last continent, Zothique.

Quote:
These he collated carefully with The Testaments of Carnamagos, that Cimmerian seer whose records of ultimate blasphemies, both past and future, were found in Graeco-Bactrian tombs.

In certain ways, he appears to be the link between all of Smith's settings. Pretty impressive, when you think about it. There's nothing else connecting our era, let alone previous eras, to the immeasurably distant future of Zothique... except for this one Cimmerian seer.

I almost wanna call him the protagonist.

Concerning Smith and Chambers, this is all I could find:

Quote:
As to Chambers, I fear one would get stung on almost anything of his, except The King in Yellow, which I believe you already know. Lovecraft has mentioned a volume of fantasies by C., entitle The Maker of Moons; but I have not seen this. Slayer of Souls (I saw one or two magazine instalments [sic] years ago) was inexpressibly pediculous.

Quote:
The Favorite Weird Stories of C. A. Smith

(Courtesy of H. Koenig)

"The Yellow Sign" by Chambers
"The House of Sounds" by Shiel
"The Willows" by Blackwood
"A View from a Hill" by James
"The Death of Halpin Fraser" by Bierce
"The house of Usher" by Poe (i.e., "The Fall of the House of Usher")
"The Masque of the Red Death" by Poe
"The White Powder" by Machen
"The Call of Cthulhu" by Lovecraft
"The Colour Out of Space" by Lovecraft

Re: Clark Ashton Smith and the King in Yellow?
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 4 October, 2020 06:48AM
"The Death of Halpin Fraser' is one of Bierce's best stories, but you have to read it at least three times to understand what's going on. I was never sure if this was due to Bierce's sometimes circuitous style or because of the subject matter.

Re: Clark Ashton Smith and the King in Yellow?
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 4 October, 2020 06:48AM
The clue - the only clue - is the book of poetry.

Re: Clark Ashton Smith and the King in Yellow?
Posted by: Raoul (IP Logged)
Date: 4 October, 2020 12:01PM
The Sojourner of Worlds Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I always liked Naotalba's Song.
>
> [kinginyellow.fandom.com]
> Song


I prefer the dream-like strangeness of Cordelia's song but Naotalba sings a good gloomy song of doom.


> Carnamagos is another name that piqued my
> interest. He's mentioned in Xeethra and in some of
> Smith's correspondence, but plays a much more
> prominent role in The Treader of the Dust and The
> Infernal Star, the latter of which describes him
> as Cimmerian. His name also comes up in The Black
> Book, on the list of Zothique stories.


Yes exactly. And he also reminds me more of Bierce's Hali than Alhazred, as someone so mysteriously quoted. Maybe Eibon is overused or has too many stories written directly about him/his book, but I find Carnamagos more creepy and interesting for what little we know.

Btw, Cimmerian? Carnamagos comes from Conan's people?!


>
>
> In certain ways, he appears to be the link between
> all of Smith's settings. Pretty impressive, when
> you think about it. There's nothing else
> connecting our era, let alone previous eras, to
> the immeasurably distant future of Zothique...
> except for this one Cimmerian seer.
>
> I almost wanna call him the protagonist.
>
> Concerning Smith and Chambers, this is all I could
> find:

There's also this part of a letter from Smith where he describes himself writing from:

Tower of black jade in
lost Carcosa. Hour
when the twin suns are
both at nadir,

I don't think Smith references other stories nearly as much as Lovecraft, so this must mean The King in Yellow had some special place in his mind.

Re: Clark Ashton Smith and the King in Yellow?
Posted by: The Sojourner of Worlds (IP Logged)
Date: 8 October, 2020 05:39PM
Good find. I remember now seeing it while going through some of his correspondence.

Yes, he's some kind of a Cimmerian, although it's hard to say whether a Hyborian Cimmerian or a historical Cimmerian. But even if it was the latter, it seems unlikely that specific ethnicity wasn't picked precisely because of its connection to Howard and Conan.

Back to The King in Yellow, I presume we can all agree on The Repairer of Reputations, but what about the other stories?

I have to admit I'm kinda partial to The Demoiselle d'Ys, perhaps thanks to the mood I was in when I first read it. The mood of troubadours, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the medieval France.

I suspect this also might be where Raoul's username comes from.

Re: Clark Ashton Smith and the King in Yellow?
Posted by: Raoul (IP Logged)
Date: 9 October, 2020 12:37AM
I hoped someone would notice! Hastur would've been too obvious. And also too closely allied with Derleth.

The Yellow Sign is the most popular story in The King in Yellow, either because it involves a creature common to weird fiction (an animated corpse) or because Lovecraft liked it more than the rest. But my personal favorite KiY story is The Mask. It has a balance of horror, romance, realism, and symbolic surrealism that are perfectly expressed through fluid, logical narration. And the beautiful, haunting setup of the happy ending moves me every time.

Demoiselle d'Ys is almost underrated, but unlike most ghost stories it brings me into its dream-like atmosphere and romantic feelings surrounding the main character.



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