It was from rumours of this book, the
(of which relatively few of the general public know) that R.W. Chambers is
said to have derived the idea of his early novel "
The King in Yellow
fictional king identified only by a color with an alchemical correspondence.
In this chapter we will explore the possible influence of Chambers and
Lovecraft in the work of Peter Sinfield, as well as the Yellow King's
similarities to Frederick II.
"Thus I mus'd when o'er the vision
Crept a red delirious change;
Hope dissolving to derision,
Beauty to distortion strange;
Hymnic chords in weird collision,
Spectral sights in endless range....
Crimson burn'd the star of madness..."
by H.P. Lovecraft
' in his writing, Lovecraft referred to "mysterious names or
unclarifed events, in the form of brief and elliptical hints, which says little
but lets the reader guess about gulfs of terror;"
Nonetheless, the title "
Court of the Crimson King
" is strikingly similar to "
Cult of the Crimson Altar
Lovecraft also held, in
History of Necronomicon
, that the work was written in a desert called the "Empty Space" of
the ancients or "Crimson desert of the modern Arabs."
"Mr. Chambers knows how to tell a story; and if you want to have the hair
raised on your head, read
The King In Yellow
The Makers of Moons
, for preference, all about a band of unscrupulous counterfeiters who have
discovered the alchemist's long-sought gold, moonshine gold that defies
chemical analyses... And there the dream-lady who appears to the hero, standing
beside a fairy fountain, speaking of a magic city beyond, the seat-scented
gardens, the pleasant noise of the summer wind, laden with bee music and the
music of bells."
A collection of short stories,
The King In Yellow
first appeared in 1895. A lizard or salamander design appeared on the front
cover. In the book, the
King in Yellow
is both a banned play and a malevolent supernatural entity referred to in some
of the stories.
The first story,
The Repairer of Reputations
, tells of how the fictional play (The King In Yellow) was banned by the
authorities, and how it "poisoned the minds of men with its terrible
History of the Necronomicon
" Lovecraft writes:
"The book (
) is rigidly suppressed by the authorities of most countries, and by all
branches of ornaised ecclesiasticism. Reading leads to terrible
Clearly, H.P. Lovecraft borrowed this idea of a forbidden text from Chambers
and meant for
to be equivalent to Chambers' fictional play The King In Yellow.
Also, Lovecraft's claim that
King In Yellow
was inspired by
is false. In fact, the reverse is true.
The King In Yellow
provided Lovecraft with inspiration for the Necronomicon
"The narrator first hears a note from the organ which sounds awfully wrong
and he remarks that churches built a long time ago were not always consecrated
completely, and thus were said to allow entry to wicked forces; "I
wondered...whether something not usually supposed to be at home in a Christian
church" might have entered the church. This would be one of the dark
forces that the churches usually protects against "
"Throughout the middle ages, and up to the Baroque period at least, the
Catholic Church had a strong influence on all music, and identified "the
Devil's Interval", which is an interval of six semitones, also called an
"augmented fourth" or "diminished fifth". (NB: not a
"minor fifth"). The "Devil's Interval" was banned in all
religious music, possibly because of the sound it makes
it is featured throughout King Crimson's musical catalogue, from
"21st Century Schizoid Man" (e.g.the cadenza), through
"Red", "Three of a Perfect Pair", and "Vrooom",
mostly in Mr. Fripp's compositions and performances."
"Crimson always had the monopoly to what we call 'devil's interval'. This
is a heavy sounding dissonant, gothic, black sound. In certain periods in
history it was forbidden to play this chord because if you played it in church
everything started to move due to the low sounds."
In Frederick II, whose guardian was Pope Innocent III, Catholicism had allowed
entry to "something not usually supposed to be at home in a Christian
church" One of the dark forces that the churches usually protects against.
"Innocent IV died in December, 1254. His epitaph declares the victory of
the pope over the dragon, Frederick II, the enemy of Christ."
Whatever the earthly identity of the
King In Yellow
, in the eyes of the church he, like Frederick II, has much to atone for.
Is atonality a form of atonement?
"Redemption is an actual event, and music is one of its voices."
- Robert Fripp
"The act of music is one of many possible actions through which the
inexpressible benevolence of the creative impulse may enter our lives, and
direct and shape them in a way and manner so radical and overwhelming that one
single note might change our world..."
- Robert Fripp 1994, Text from "David Sylvian and Robert Fripp: Redemption -
Chambers explored the notion of people from the past coming back as spirits or
somehow lingering in the present:
The Demoiselle d'Ys
, the demoiselle refers to herself and her strange longevity when she says:
"to go is different - and may take centuries." She is at least dimly
aware that she is a survival from the Middle Ages."
"Chambers' second collection of Short Stories
The Maker of Moons
The Thirty-Ninth Skull
. In this story, about a ghostly priest who comes to accomplish his vengeance
through the generations, we find brief hints to the Crimson Emperor."
"...among the Breton legends that she knows, the young narrator's wife
quotes one about "the Man in crimson rags", which is not without
reminding us of the tattered cloths of the
King in Yellow
"The Black Queen chants the funeral march"
"Although not a part of the Mythology of
The King in Yellow
, the Black Priest is still worth mentioning.
, the Black Priest is revealed for who he is: a priest who lived and died in
the seventeenth century. He betrayed the French fort where he lived to the
English, and then he betrayed the English soldiers sent to capture the fort.
The thirty-eight English soldiers were buried in a mass grave, along with the
Black Priest. He cast a curse upon the ancestors of Lys, and said that when his
skull, the thirty-ninth, was uncovered, he would rise from the grave and have
his revenge. And that he does."
The Pallid Mask
, the King In Yellow is described in terms reminiscent of the first King
Crimson album cover:
"The ghastliness of his face let us think that his
appearance might be the one of a cadaver or a skull."
"A character in one of the stories tells "the wonderful story of the
Last King". Perhaps the last king is the King in Yellow himself, ie. the
last true king ?"
Dante referred to Frederick II as "ultimo imperadore de li Romani"
"The last emperor of the Romans..."
"The final resting-place of Frederick II, according to Dante, is in a
fiery coffin, in circle six with the heretics, in book ten of the Inferno (Inf.
X 120). Dante asks Farinata to tell him who is in there with him, and Farinata
replies "Here I lie with more than a thousand. Here within is the second
Frederick, and the Cardinal, and of the rest I do not speak" (Inf. X
Note that, in the above passage, Frederick is not able to speak with Dante. He
is mute and in flames.
"This mute, disquieting and destructive monarch wears a flaming tattered
yellow gown. It is sometimes the reading of The King in Yellow which prompts
his coming. It is, in any case, always synonymous with horror: at the
coming of the King, reality topples over in an unspeakable nightmare and
irremediable decay. By some aspects, the King seems only an allegory, the
embodiment of madness and death; from other standpoints he seems almost
human, for example in his ambition for immoderate power ("seized the minds
of men and controlled even their unborn thoughts.")
"Perhaps what troubled Dante is that Frederick
treated heresy as a crime against the state, as treason, and assumed all
responsibility for it. This view is supported by a comment Benvenuto makes
about the emperor, that he tyrannically usurped all spiritual matters, "omnia
spiritualia tyrannice usurpavit" (3.443). Frederick did what Dante objected
to most strenuously in the popes, he claimed jurisdiction in the other sphere."
"Sound can do a lot of harm. That's one of the points that Spridgeon
raises... the Greeks knew it, Pythagorus knew it, even medieval musicians knew
it. That's why there's the Devil's Triad. a tritone or specific interval
between notes that is basically not good for you to hear. You have to remember
that when you listen to music your body is vibrating in sympathy with it. If
your body is vibrating at the wrong speed, all matter has a frequency at which
it can be destroyed. I mean, cancer is one of the immediate effects of
listening to a record with, say, very low tones - although they have to be very
consistent. And psychic harm as well - you can be made to think in a certain
"He seems to have some human traits, as did the gods of ancient Greece; he
"seized the minds of men and controlled even their unborn thoughts".
A character in one of the stories says, "He is a king whom emperors have
Frederick II (in the preamble to his
) characterized himself
"The Chosen One of the Lord who has been raised miraculously above the
princes of the earth."
- K. F. Reinhardt, Germany 2000 Years, p.95
"The ambition of Caesar and of Napoleon pales before that which could not
rest until it had seized the minds of men and controlled even their unborn
"To his Sicilian subjects there was nothing incongruous in Frederick's
references to himself as
or in his exaltation of himself by implication in referring to
magnificus ille Julius primus Caesar
- The Emperor Frederick II von Hohenstaufen
, by Thomas Curtis Van Cleve, p. 242
"Frederick is referred to as Caesar and Augustus by one of his most
intimate advisors, Pier Della Vigne in circle seven (Inf. XIII 59, 66)"
"Louis later examines Hildred's library, and remarks: "...have you
nothing but Napoleon there ?" ...Chambers was very much interested in
history, and wrote many historical novels.
That which makes Caesar and Napoleon pale before him ( or it ) is probably the
King in Yellow. Who else can control the thoughts of men before they are born ?
And it is worth noting that "He is a king whom emperors have served."
Exactly which emperors would this be ? Perhaps Napoleon; he was an emperor. And
why not even Caesar ? The ramifications are intriguing; has the King in fact
influenced mankind since the very beginning of time ?"
The colour yellow
"On the positive side, it is the same colour as gold, and the sun,
connected for this reason to the divine, and to the royal monarch or emperor
who in older times acted as a mediatory figure between gods and men, achieving
a synthesis between the two.
Somewhere between wealth and decay, good and evil, life and death, yellow
seemed to be well suited to clothe the disquieting monarch created by
As discussed in previous chapters, Frederick II achieved a synthesis of many
disparate elements. As a supernatural entity, one would expect him to exhibit
similar traits. Both yellow and red (crimson) represent stages of alchemical
development, with red being the final stage (perfection). As explained in
chapter three, yellow can represent a regression or decay from this highest
Stephen King has listed Lovecraft as a major influence and he is undoubtedly
intimately familiar with Chambers' work. Furthermore, the Crimson King has
appeared in at least two of King's novels,
, wherein Stephen King alludes to the fictional universe of H.P. Lovecraft, the
Crimson King performs a role similar to that of the King in
King in Yellow (the play)
"The play itself is the greatest mystery of all. It is apparently a work
of very high quality, but it destroys the soul and mind of its readers. To
quote Hildred Castaigne;
'I pray God will curse the writer, as the writer has cursed the world with this
beautiful, stupendous creation, terrible in its simplicity, irresistible in its
truth - a world which now trembles before the King in Yellow. When the French
government seized the translated copies which had just arrived in Paris,
London, of course, became eager to read it. It is well known how the book
spread like an infectious disease, from city to city, from continent to
continent, barred out here, confiscated there, denounced by press and pulpit,
censored even by the most advanced of literary anarchists.'
Note that he says that someone translated the book. Who translated it, and from
what language ?"
Lovecraft places the translation of his corollary work, the Necronomicon,
squarely in the court of Frederick II.
History of Necronomicon:
"For a century it impelled certain experimenters to terrible attempts,
when it was suppressed and burnt by the patriarch Michael. After this it is
only heard of furtively, but (1228) Olaus Wormius made a Latin translation
later in the Middle Ages, "
"The work, both Latin and Greek, was banned by Pope Gregory IX in 1232,
shortly after its Latin translation, which called attention to it."
During the reign of Pope Gregory IX, translations of Arabic texts were
undertaken primarily via the efforts of Frederick II.
"The Emperor Frederick II, though under the ban of the Pope (Gregory IX),
brought together in his various journeys, and especially in his crusading
expeditions, many Greek and Arabic manuscripts, and took special pains to have
those which concerned medicine preserved and studied."
Among the reasons Lovecraft linked Frederick to
1) Frederick II, like Chambers, was linked to a notorious fictional work.
"Pope Gregory IX accuses Frederick of being the author of a work
De Tribus Impostoribus
, which, if it ever existed, is no longer to be found."
- Gibbons in "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Chap. lix.,
And 2) Michael Scot:
The most famous sorcerer of his age, beginning in 1228, the Scottish alchemist
and necromancer worked exclusively for Frederick II, even accompanying him to
the Holy Land on the Sixth Crusade. Aside from being court astrologer, one of
his primary concerns was the translation of Arabic texts.
"As one might expect, the multilingual nature of the Palermo Court
attracted some of the most accomplished linguists from all over Europe. Under
Frederick II, particularly, a number of Christian and Jewish translators were
at work at Palermo, rendering Arabic texts (some of which were, themselves,
translations from the Greek!) into Latin. The Englishman, Michael Scott, was a
connecting link between the Sicilian Court and the great translation center
which had sprung up in Toledo, where he had worked between 1217 and 1220."
"He returned from Spain in command of innumerable demonic servants and in
possession of a tome called The Book of Might, which contained the spells to
release or restrain them."
"Michael Scot was frightening to the ordinary people around him. When he
died, he was burned with respect and The Book of Might was hung on the church
wall near his grave, but for centuries afterward, people refused to open the
book, or even to touch it, for fear of releasing the creatures its spells
The reason for their fear, of course, was that Scot was in league with the
enemy of the universe, imperiling himself, those near him and the very order of
"And one could never take away from me the idea that there is somewhere a
relation between the
King in Yellow
and another monarch, also symbol of
madness and death, but clothed in crimson: the one that we encounter in the
monumental first album of the British band King Crimson (1969). The last
verses of the title song,
In the Court of the Crimson King
"The yellow jester does not play, but gently pulls the strings
And smiles as the puppets dance, in the court of the Crimson King"
"At these words, the flames of the fire seem to momentarily darken and turn
red. Jack wishes he could believe that this is only a trick of his overstrained
mind, but cannot. "The Crimson King," he says.
"Yes. His physical being is pent in a cell at the top of the Tower, but he has
another manifestation, every bit as real, and this lives in Can-Tah Abbalah -
the Court of the Crimson King."
- Black House
by Stephen King and Peter Straub
- The King In Yellow
is available online at
The Messenger, the story concerning the "*Crimson Emperor", is available here.
*In one French edition of The Maker of Moons, the "The Messenger" is entitled "The Thirty-Ninth Skull" and the "Purple Emperor" is translated as the "Crimson Emperor".