Tell me, have you seen the yellow sign?
The King In Yellow.
It’s a name that you may have already heard--perhaps associated with a robed, fictional figure
of mystery--perhaps in a video game, or a television series--a tabletop RPG--or a strange
book that you read but couldn’t quite remember where it was from.
The King In Yellow.
A strange concept, that seemingly--since it’s incarnation over a century ago--appears time
and time again in the even stranger corners of cosmic horror fiction.
Although, the genre as a whole has been passed from pillar to post throughout the ages--one
of these mysterious figures appears to be far more fluid than any other.
The King In Yellow.
And now that we have the bravery to peek behind the lens--let’s see if we can peel back
those many layers, and discover--just exactly where the sign leads.
Hello horror fans, what’s going on, and once again welcome back to the scariest channel
on YouTube--Top 5 Scary Videos.
As per usual, I’ll be your horror host Jack Finch--as today, in our next entry of the
Lore Explored--we cast our gaze toward the impossibly mysterious--King In Yellow.
Roll the clip.
There it is again, that name--the Yellow King.
For the curious amongst you, that scene was from the seminal Season One of HBO series--True
Detective, which is, for lack of a better term--bloody brilliant.
I know I hark on about that series quite a lot, but really--Season One of True Detective
is one of the finest pieces of television ever created.
That’s not an overstatement, really--it’s that good.
But you might be thinking--hold on a minute Jack, what are you talking about?
What does a modern day HBO series about Louisianian detectives have to do with The King In Yellow?
You see, maybe it doesn’t.
But the point is--it poses a far more important question to be asked of us in this episode.
*Why* Do all of these writers, seemingly feel compelled to illustrate the exact same entity?
What is it about the Yellow King that has caused such a stir, and sent so many ripples
throughout the flat circle of time.
And well--it’s an important point to note--because this story has its fair share of twists and
turns--that it’s going to be hard *not* to lose your head.
But don’t worry, we’ll carefully read the tracks of this mysterious entity and hopefully
not alert him of our presence--and whilst perhaps his first titular appearance is a
good place to start, in Robert W. Chambers 1895 collection of short stories, aptly named
The King In Yellow--we have to first scale things back a few years earlier.
To 1893--and a writer by the name of Ambrose Bierce.
You see, whilst H.P Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe undoubtedly set the scene with their incarnations
of cosmic horror and weird fiction--it could be argued that the bizarre works and the even
more bizarre life of Ambrose Bierce lay the permafrost for the ensuing sanguination of
horror in literature to come.
Born in 1842 to Marcus Aurelius Bierce and Laura Sherwood Bierce--the father of the family
in question had quite the air for alliteration.
You see, Ambrose was the tenth of thirteen children--each of them given their names beginning
with the letter *A*.
Abigail, Amelia, Ann, Addison, Aurelius, Augustus, Almeda, Andrew, Albert, Arthur, Adelia, Aurelia--and
of course, Ambrose himself.
This mortal reminder of language would be a caveat in his writing career, and his financially
poor but incredibly literary parents instilled in young Ambrose a deep seated love for books
But it was later on in his life that Ambrose would forge his armory for horror fiction--and
in turn lay the seeds for the King in Yellow to step into our world.
You see, Ambrose Bierce drew the vast majority of his inspiration from his time as an Infantryman
in the American Civil War of 1861--but it was at the Battle of Shiloh of 1862 where
the scene was truly set--a bloody battle, and a terrifying experience in Bierce’s
life--that would have a profound influence on his literary career and his later life
as a war veteran.
This theme was perhaps most perfectly captured in one of Bierce’s most renowned short stories--An
Inhabitant of Carcosa--a place which would become incredibly important to The King In
Yellow--a story told as a weird tale first published in the San Francisco Newsletter
of December 25th 1886.
It details a young soldier--returned from the American Civil War--who awakens in the
ancient, far forgotten city of Carcosa.
But of course--though Bierce had a long and fruitful literary career, which ended with
one of the most infamous disappearances in literary history--one which has never been
solved, may I add--what we’re concerned with is a later story written by Bierce, first
published on January 24th 1891 in Wave.
A short story known as Haita the Shepherd--and the first ever written document of the name--Hastur,
the entity that forms the basis of the King In Yellow in both Cosmic Horror and the later
As Bierce would pen--In the heart of Haita the illusions of youth had not been supplanted
by those of age and experience.
His thoughts were pure and pleasant, for his life was simple and his soul devoid of ambition.
He rose with the sun and went forth to pray at the shrine of Hastur, the god of shepherds--who
heard and was pleased.
In this version, Hastur is a benign god--a benevolent entity that shepherds his flock
on a strange and forgotten world.
It was a theme that would embody the writings of Ambrose Bierce--a convention of men having
no sway over their own destinies, even in the presence of an all powerful god.
It would be a welcome reception then, when in 1895--Bierce’s contemporary--a man named
Robert William Chambers--would take up the mantle of Hastur, as well as the ancient,
forgotten city of Carcosa--and attribute them to a new, far more cosmic kind of form.
Chambers himself was a remarkable enough figure, particularly in the age of eccentrics so familiar
with the birth of weird fiction.
Although not exactly a household name, Chambers was a remarkable author--and although he never
earned the posthumous acclaim that his later weird fiction prodigies would gather--Chambers
laid the groundwork for The Yellow King and his Great Old Brethren.
His most renowned literary works--of course, is 1895’s The King In Yellow, a book of
ten short stories, first published by F Yennyson Neely--fictionally set within the confines
of a mysterious play.
The King In Yellow.
The vague, veiled story of Cassilda, Camilla--and The Stranger.
A play that, perhaps--has no final act.
A play that, as explained by Chambers--is cursed.
Now, although not all of the ten stories are built around the mysterious King In Yellow--the
image of this entity casts a long, otherworldly shadow over the book.
Characters explain throughout The King In Yellow, that they themselves had attempted
to read the play.
Some of them are forever warned away from it’s strange, cosmic allure--others, are
driven completely mad by it.
As explained by the character of Castaigne in the first short story of the series, The
Repairer of Reputations--
I remember after finishing the first act that it occured to me that I had better stop.
I started up and flung the book into the fireplace; the volume struck the barred grate and fell
open on the hearth in the firelight.
If I had not caught a glimpse of the opening words in the second act, I should never have
finished it, but as I stooped to pick it up, my eyes became riveted to the open page--and
with a cry of terror, or perhaps it was of joy so poignant that I suffered in every nerve,
I snatched the thing out of the coals and crept shaking to my bedroom, where I rear
and reread it, and wept and laughed and trembled with a horror which at times assails me yet.
Now that certainly sounds familiar.
The King In Yellow.
But perhaps the best demonstration of the mysterious figure in question, is with the
Fourth Story of the series--The Yellow Sign.
As the two protagonists of the tale detail, after having read The King In Yellow play
in its entirety--
Night fell and the hours dragged on, but still we murmured to each other of the King and
the Pallid Mask, and midnight sounded from the misty spires in the fog-wrapped city.
We spoke of Hastur and of Cassilda, while outside the fog rolled against the blank window--panes
as the cloud waves roll and break on the shores of Hali.
Again, sound familiar?
Or--better still, does that *seem* familiar?
Perhaps the strange, yellow silhouette in the corner of your vision is getting clearer--but
for Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Chambers story--and the many names that came with it, would be
the substance that he would huff--and scatter out the scented visions of his seminal works
of cosmic horror.
Lovecraft noted that he first read Chambers collection in January of 1927--where he collected
the many names and titles laid out before.
The Lake of Hali.
The Yellow Sign.
Names and places that would later become commonplace in the Cthulhu Mythos.
You see, perhaps the most important spark of synapse--was that Lovecraft borrowed Chambers
method of vaguely referring to supernatural events, entities and places--which he in turn
borrowed from Bierce--so on and so forth until the end of time.
Effectively, all of these stories--Haita the Shepherd, An Inhabitant of Carcosa--The King
In Yellow--retroactively became another key component in the occult literature that formed
the Cthulhu Mythos.
It was in Lovecraft’s 1931 novella, The Whisperer In Darkness, where they were ultimately
forged--where Lovecraft would link The Yellow Sign, to that of Hastur--offering an allusion
that Hastur was, in fact, an entity.
A cosmic entity.
A mystery of unfathomable scope--one that not even Lovecraft himself would attempt to
fully form--and in turn, pass it on to future generations of weird fiction writers to try
and comprehend, just like how it too had fallen into his lap.
In 1938, a far more unlikely candidate would pick up the mantle--if only briefly--with
Raymond Chandler’s detective short story, The King In Yellow--in which, Phillip Marlowe--or
Steve Grayce in earlier versions--finds a famous jazz trumpeter, dead in his bed wearing
As the detective finds the body, he mutters--The King In Yellow.
I read a book by that title once.
Although only small, and not connected to the Carcosa Mythos in the slightest--you could
argue that Raymond Chandler’s use of The Yellow Sign perhaps exemplifies exactly what
makes this incredibly unique literary anomaly so remarkably special.
It’s like a strange, cosmic joke that has been muttered through the ages--and no one
yet has spilled the punch line.
It also exemplifies why cosmic horror as a fictional vessel works so well--it’s based
upon pockets and deep seated seems of hidden knowledge, unknowable mechanics that are left
without explanation--sometimes for... forever.
An open ended mystery.
A yellow sign scrawled on the wall in a stray panel of a comic book series.
A Pallid Mask in mise en scene--hidden only to those that don’t recognise it.
The name of Carcosa on a map in the appendix of a graphic novel.
Still, to this day--Hastur and the Yellow Sign are the key components in the same transposed
mystery that has crawled from page to page ever since Ambrose Bierce first penned reference
to it in 1893.
And that’s where we arrive now--well, in the last decade, anyway.
Right back to our first clip--Season One of True Detective--a work of fiction, that seemingly,
would have no other reason to pick up the Yellow King than to further the mystery itself.
And, now, I’m certainly not in the business for every *trying* to attempt to spoil the
contents of that series, because really--really, it needs to be seen.
And, well--if you’re in the business of deciphering the next step in the age old cosmic
mystery of the King In Yellow--then it’s certainly the next place that you’ll have
Or, well, take my word for it--it's definitely a place to start.
The real question is though--What will be the next one?
What will be the next meaning of the Yellow Sign scrawled on a strange door down a dusty
Or perhaps an oddly familiar name in a video game--or the strange, decoded lines in the
lyrics of a song.
We human beings are curious creatures, and the King In Yellow certainly knows it.
Well, there we have it horror fans--our latest entry in this Lore Explored series.
And believe me, I enjoyed this one in particular.
Well, what did you guys think?
Do you have any other clues to offer in this age old cosmic mystery?
Or just any words of wisdom of your own?
Let us know your thoughts down in the comment section below.
Before we depart from today's video though, let’s first take a quick look at some of
your more creative comments from the last part of this Lore Explored Series.
You guys really crushed it on this one.
Historical context, lore, and great delivery.
What a quality channel.
SmacSBU--that’s the nicest thing I’ve heard in a while.
Thank you kindly, and I’m happy to deliver--hopefully it’s the same case with this one?
And finally, Tanya Pelowook says--
I have always thought monsters and spirits created by Indigenous people have been the
warning stories of how their people should NOT behave.
Thank you for an eclectic description of this myth.
I am Inupiaq from Alaska and appreciate any who try to firmly describe tribal roots of
That means the world to me, and I’m incredibly glad that I could even remotely try and explain
the incredible story of the Wendigo and give it the justice that it deserves, and hopefully
highlight the importance of indigenous people and the knowledge that they keep.
Well, on that note--unfortunately that’s all we’ve got time for in todays video,
cheers for sticking around all the way until the end…