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Robert W. Chambers, author of “The Repairer of Reputations”

As long-time readers know, I love the story The Repairer of Reputations, by Robert W. Chambers. I wanted to write an analysis of it, but it’s such a carefully-constructed story that I didn’t know how to do it without quoting huge sections at length.

Then I had an idea. The story is in the public domain. (It was published in 1895.) So, I thought, why not post the story with my comments included? That will be an easy way for people to read the story and for me to comment on specific things that I think make it work so well.

So that’s what I did.  It’s so long that I put it on its own page rather than do it as a blog post. You can read it here. I hope it’s useful to anyone who wants to write weird fiction.

As I’ve written before, one problem I see in horror movies, novels and such is the tendency to over-explain everything, to try to tie up the loose ends in the story. This is a problem because it robs the horror of that most terrifying attribute mystery.

It’s understandable why this happens, though. Works in most other genres are better if you tie everything together neatly. For example, I find there is something immensely enjoyable about watching all the plot threads tie together in comic novels like the “Jeeves” books or A Confederacy of Dunces. In a good humor book, even seemingly trivial elements have a role to play in the story, and the result is to tie them all, humorously, into a funny situation. Similarly, in a mystery story, the big payoff requires Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot or whoever to explain everything at the end. Failure to tie things up neatly is a huge flaw.

But the horror genre is different. You must not have that kind of effect in horror, to preserve the uncertain elements, to preserve the sense of fear that must exist for the reader.

I was thinking of this as I was re-reading Robert W. Chambers’ “The Yellow Sign”, which along with his “The Repairer of Reputations”, makes The King in Yellow my favorite weird fiction work ever. As I read, I realized that Chambers was doing things that in most other genres would be unforgivably vague, and render his story incoherent. For example, the principal characters are explicitly noted to be Catholic, yet how this matters to the story, I can’t really say. It doesn’t really seem to be an important element. This would be a problem in most stories, but here it just adds to the wonderfully bizarre feeling of Chambers’ world.

(“The Repairer of Reputations” also has many similarly unexplained elements, perhaps even more, all of which Chambers miraculously made to “work” together.)

Perhaps all this is obvious to most people, but I had never thought of it this way before; that perhaps what is a flaw in most genres can be a good thing in others.

Strange news about a so-called “Ghost city” in China. You can see pictures of it here, as well as an explanation of how the scene supposedly came to be. It’s difficult to tell exactly what is real and what is not here; I’ve seen comments on the Daily Mail site to the effect that the story is mis-translated, and the mist is all that is strange, but other stories indicate the whole thing is a reflection. I think it’s just some sort of weird refection of a much further away city. Then there’s also the possibility of it being a hoax.

I ordinarily shy away from mentioning stories like this, but in this case there is something remarkable about it to me: the image, whatever it is, looks shockingly like the image that is always conjured up in my mind’s eye when reading the lines from The King In Yellow:

“Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen
  In Carcosa.”
No particular significance to this; I pictured an otherworldly city, and this mirage was of a city given an otherworldly effect. (Which, as I think about it, the similarity makes it almost seem more likely this is a hoax.) Moreover, there’s nothing explicitly in those lines from the poems that evokes anything about a city, but nevertheless that is what I pictured. 
Anyway, it was kind of weird to see this, especially so soon after I wrote a post about that book. 

“Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.
Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.
Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.”
         —The King in Yellow, Robert W. Chambers. 1895.
As I’ve said before, The King in Yellow is one of the better works of weird fiction I have ever read. (The first four stories, that is.) Chambers creates a bizarre atmosphere without ever letting it become tedious or over-explaining it. 
The way he establishes all the disparate characters, only to reveal them to be linked by the mysterious play, is a rather ingenious way of slowly creating a sense of dread in the reader. It is also interesting to me how the symbols of decay that crop up throughout the stories add up to give it a very pessimistic tone. It feels to me more like something that would’ve been written in the 1920s, not the 1890’s. I suppose that’s why it appealed to Lovecraft.
But enough of my babbling! The point is, it’s a good story to read around Halloween, in my opinion. 

There are some artworks, pieces of literature and forms of entertainment that lend themselves to being enjoyed in particular seasons, weather conditions, or times of day. For example, the book The King in Yellow that I posted about the other day is, in my opinion, best read on a sunny, pleasant, late summer day. This is sort of unusual for a work of weird fiction, but the horror of the book is primarily psychological, and is sometimes offset by a a peaceful, pleasant setting.

Sometimes the natural environment most complementary to a story is obvious; Lovecraft’s The Haunter of the Dark must be read in a lightning storm because a lightning storm is central to the story. Others are less obvious; the movie Lawrence of Arabia is more fun to watch at night than on a hot summer day–though perhaps overheating is the reason.

As I’ve already pointed out on this blog, I find the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Sorcerer lends itself to being listened to on warm, gray days. (And Ruddigore, obviously, is a natural for Halloween.)

Then there are some things that lend themselves to various seasons. In my opinion, you haven’t read Harry Potter till you’ve read it while sitting outside on a cool October evening. And I’ve found that some video games–like both Mass Effects–are most fun to play on dark winter nights. (Though, of course, that could be because they require a big time investment, and there few distractions in winter.)

One of things that was great about the sport of football was how it used to be played on either a beautiful fall afternoon, a dreary November evening, or a cold, snowy day (or night). These are all memorable, dramatic settings; and much more enjoyable to watch, I think, than the sterile setting of a dome which we see more and more of.

On the other hand, of course, these are just my personal preferences and may not be shared by anyone else. I have no particular point in this post other than to set you thinking if there’s any particular work of art, piece of entertainment or sport that is best under certain natural conditions. It’s quite a fun thing to experiment with, in my opinion. But I’m weird that way.

The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers.

I was re-reading this book the other day, and I had forgotten just how good it is; particularly the first story “The Repairer of Reputations.” I first came across it about a year ago while reading about H.P. Lovecraft, and I must admit that, while Lovecraft’s ideas are more carefully thought out, Chambers’ writing is actually superior to Lovecraft’s, and his overall technique makes for some of the best weird fiction I have ever read, period.

If you happen to like that sort of thing, check it out.