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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, censured even by the most advanced of literary anarchists. No definite principles had been violated in those wicked pages, no doctrine promulgated, no convictions outraged. It could not be judged by any known standard, yet, although it was acknowledged that the supreme note of art had been struck in The King in Yellow, all felt that human nature could not bear the strain, nor thrive on words in which the essence of purest poison lurked.

The magical book is a recurring trope in fantasy and horror fiction. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon and Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story are two sides of the same coin, both describing a powerful tome that can contain whole worlds (the one a gateway to madness, the other escape from the cruelties of the ‘real world’). It is possible that this symbol of a book that is far more than a book is a reaction to the cultural perception of the Christian Bible, which is said to contain the word of God Himself – and is therefore far more than just a book. In recent years the trope has become almost a cliché. Everything from The Care Bears Movie to Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (and even Nicholas Gurewitch’s wicked Perry Bible Fellowship) have riffed on the notion of an ageless book that has magical properties. Before any of these, however, there was Robert Chambers’ The King in Yellow.

The titular book is never fully described, yet carries a dire reputation. Chambers features it within several stories in this collection, with the fateful encounter between a protagonist and The King in Yellow acting as a catalyst for the onset of madness. The title refers to a malevolent god, described as wearing a ‘Pallid Mask’ whose realm borders our own. The publication of the book is seen as an initial sortie, a sign of an inevitable assault on our world itself.

As an ex-patriate American art student in Paris, Chambers became enamoured with the Bohemian lifestyle of his fellow students. The protagonists of his stories are therefore also often artists and Americans, speaking French with a degree of fluency afforded to the well-educated upper class, but also vulnerable to flights of fancy that lead to the disintegration of reason.

Interestingly the first story of the collection, The Repairer of Reputations, is set in a projected future 1920’s New York. America has instituted tighter immigration controls, Europe is under the sway of Russia and legalised Lethal Chambers have been opened (is one of Sarah Palin’s advisors a Robert Chambers fan?). The protagonist Castaigne is a young man who after suffering a fall from a horse was committed to an asylum, mistakenly he believes. There, fittingly, he encounters a copy of The King in Yellow. Following his release he encounters a fellow devotee, Mr Wilde, who explains how his own future and that of the American nation itself, is bound to the vision of the book.

With each following story Chambers quotes from the opening chapter of The King in Yellow, revealing little of its content beyond names and places described featured out of context. The seeming innocuousness of such references – Carcosa, the Lake of Hali, the Pallid Mask, Hastur – disguises the true danger of reading the book, after which madness, and oftentimes death, is the inevitable result.

The Mask and The Yellow Sign both feature Americans abroad in Europe, enjoying the pursuit of artistic ideals. However, the stories end very differently, with the former’s protagonists enduring much suffering, but eventually discovering a curious kind of happiness. The latter, however, is a ghoulish tale of revenge from beyond the grave. Unlike in Lovecraft’s fiction, with its indiscriminate Outer Gods crushing the sanity of unwary explorers, Chambers seems to be suggesting that the King in Yellow subjugates with his dreadful yoke only those who deserve to be damned. Retreating to holy ground, such as a church, or hiding indoors provides no sanctuary from his touch.

The remaining stories are divided between more traditional ghost stories such as The Demoiselle d’Ys and romances, as well as a story of a besieged Paris in a future Franco-Prussian conflict. Chambers consistently writes with a beautifully descriptive manner, typical of his training as an artist.

A milestone in American horror fiction.

This is a very pleasant review for me. I have been following O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim books for several years now. Some criticized the art. I loved how the manga stylings soften the reader for the all-out video game inspired craziness of the climactic ‘versus’ battles. Then there were complaints that Pilgrim fans are nothing more than hipster doofuses. For that read it is a comic where the characters don’t wear their underwear over their trousers. I feel the reviews I have written for this blog don’t give proper due credit to the collaborative spirit of matching dialogue to sequential art in comics. With Scott Pilgrim there is no disjunct. This is O’Malley’s vision, from the words to the pencils, the complete package.

Scott is a twenty-four year old slacker living in Toronto, who plays bass in his friend Stephen Stills’ band Sex Bob-Omb. He shares a one-bedroom apartment with the sardonic Wallace Wells. Throughout the series he continues to experience strange flashbacks to a fight with a shadowy figure named Gideon. When he falls for American delivery girl Ramona, he becomes a target for the League of Evil Ex-Boyfriends. As the series progressed, with each volume ending with a versus battle against a videogame boss ex of Ramona’s, it became clear that Gideon is the mastermind behind all of Scott’s problems.

As this is the final volume of the series, I feel I cannot detail exactly what happens in this book. This is a spoiler free review. I will say that we finally find out why Scott cannot remember much from his past. What Ramona’s relationship with Gideon actually is. Will anyone ever notice Young Neil? Why does Ramona’s head suddenly light up with a mysterious glow?

The fifth title Scott Pilgrim Vs The Universe ended on a sweetly melancholic note, so I was curious as to how O’Malley would wrap this up, with a bang, or a whimper? I should not have worried. Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour ties up every loose end in a neat little bow. O’Malley’s art also continues to impress. There are plenty of references to old Nintendo game titles for nostalgia’s sake. I guess you either get the associations O’Malley packs his panels with, or you don’t. His pencils are deceptively childlike, similar to Nicholas Gurewitch’s Perry Bible Fellowship (which has also flirted with video game nostalgia), or Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha.

My only remaining concern now is, how will Edgar Wright top this for his film, which is due to be released later this month? See Bryan Lee O’Malley still had not finished writing the series when Wright came on board for the film version. So Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World starring Michael Cera as our slacker hero and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers, was scripted with a different ending. From what we have seen in trailers so far, Wright has nailed the video game visuals. The characters are also excellently cast, with Chris Evans as the egotistical actor Lucas Lee particularly inspired. However, I wonder if Wright realized that O’Malley intended for Scott and Ramona to team up, their romance finding its ultimate expression in a co-op battle with the Final Boss of the series.

With the final pages of this book Scott Pilgrim achieves that perfect balance between sentiment and fantasy. It’s a work of bathos, wryly humourous and packed with enough cartoonish violence to satisfy any action junkie. Like it, I loved it!

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