Publisher: Arc Dream Publishing
Author: Robert W. Chambers
Annotations: Kenneth Hite
illustrations: Samuel Araya
Pages: 206 pages
Price: $89.99 Limited Edition Hardcover or $24.99 PDF on DriveThruRPG
Seen the Yellow Sign? Don’t panic — it’s probably just a peek from inside Arc Dream Publishing’s masterfully annotated edition of The King In Yellow.
“The King In Yellow“ was a key influence on Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” and has become one of the central non-Lovecraft works in the broader Cthulhu mythos, making appearances in Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror family of titles, and Arc Dream’s own upcoming Wrestlenomicon, and likewise served as a driving influence on the first season of HBO’s True Detective.
Despite his influence on Lovecraft, however, Chambers’ work has largely not received the kind of critically-minded attention lavished upon the former — with the publication of this new edition, Arc Dream Publishing is doing its part to change that.
Visually, the book is a creepy delight. Illustrator Samuel Araya’s work is detailed and vibrant; in addition to its visual riches, however, it also possesses the uncanny ability to grow more and more unsettling upon repeated views. Close inspection highlights both Araya’s striking use of color and detail, as well as ever more disturbing elements. Smart font and layout choices keep the sense of an heirloom text while still facilitating easy scanning between story and annotations. Taken together, these elements give the impression that the book itself might have easily come out of one of Chambers’ stories.
While the illustrations do much to set the tone, the annotations are what really lets this edition stand apart from its peers. Context is king, or so the saying goes, and the addition of Kenneth Hite’s insightful notes and appendices creates a deeper and more profound understanding of the text. His ability to call readers’ attention to otherwise overlooked details fosters a new kind of engagement with Chambers’ writing, as well as its legacy. Even those well-read in Chambers’ work will find something new here, supported by a robust body of research. Non-Francophones will especially appreciate Hite’s translations of the French sprinkled liberally throughout the tales, many of which are accompanied by useful cultural notes. Hite also makes an effort to label where Chambers’ prejudices —notably anti-Semitism— have colored his writing, directing readers out towards additional sources.
Hite’s exceptional contextualization goes beyond the annotations, however, in the form of the book’s three appendices: one dedicated to Chambers, one to the title story, and one dealing with references to the works of Ambrose Bierce, a contemporary of Chambers’. These appendices help highlight the importance of this collection; as Hite notes, despite a lifetime of more than eighty publications, Chambers’ “enduring legacy” is “almost entirely the one collection you hold in your hands.”
Beyond its visual, literary, and historical merits, The King In Yellow serves as a rich sourcebook for those looking to work elements of the King, the Play, or related players into a scenario. Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green fans will be especially drawn to the level of detail in the text and the potential for compelling horror-focused campaigns; for those familiar with Arc Dream’s work, this is hardly surprising, but still worthy of both note and praise.
The King In Yellow is currently available for download in PDF format from DriveThru RPG; a limited number of special edition hardcover copies are still available for pre-order directly from Arc Dream Publishing. Even if shelf space is at a premium, the detail and artistry on display make this a title to pick up in print while the opportunity still remains
The King In Yellow seeks to stabilize, celebrate, and preserve what remains of the life and work of Robert W. Chambers, providing valuable insight accompanied by stunning illustrations. Detail-rich annotations and a hefty bibliography give fans, academics, and campaign creators alike a valuable resource. Whether as an introduction or a re-visit, The King In Yellow ensures Cassilda’s Song rings loud and clear.