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Chambers, Robert W

Entry updated 16 January 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1865-1933) US author, author of over 70 novels in various genres, mostly historical and romantic works, increasingly popular but increasingly bad; in the first decade or so of his career, however, he wrote fantasy and horror and some sf of interest. His first successful work was The King in Yellow (coll 1895; cut 1902; with different cuts vt The Mask, and Other Stories 1929). The eponymous King in Yellow is the title character of a printed verse play, a book which functions as a mise en abîme or Basilisk that drives its readers to despair, madness and even Suicide (see Psychology). The play is set in the lost land of Carcosa, whose vistas are maddeningly unerasable from readers' minds. Chambers took the name Carcosa from Ambrose Bierce's story, "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" (25 December 1886 San Francisco Newsletter), and it was from Chambers's rendering that H P Lovecraft incorporated Carcosa into the Cthulhu Mythos as a magically charged name. Of the four King in Yellow tales in the book, "The Repairer of Reputations" is of particular sf interest, being set in 1920, after the successful conclusion of a Near Future war with Germany, in an America that has legalized Suicide (the Government Lethal Chamber for a sanitized New York abuts Washington Square); the Satirical strokes in which this Utopia is painted are simultaneously broad and ambivalent: the narrator, who was clearly insane before he read "The King in Yellow", at points sees the world about him with the stripped eyes of a child. Also of interest is "The Mask", which involves a sculptor who invents a chemical solution that turns living tissue into marble. "The Demoiselle D'Ys" features a protagonist who inadvertently visits the sixteenth century via Timeslip and becomes romantically entangled with a young woman there.

The Maker of Moons (coll 1896) also includes several stories of interest: the title story (July 1896 The English Illustrated Magazine) involves the counterfeiting of gold from its alleged component Elements, and "The Man at the Next Table" is a comic tale involving Telepathy, Teleportation and Reincarnation. The Mystery of Choice (coll 1897) contains – in addition to several superb Fantasies – "A Matter of Interest", a light romantic tale involving the capture of a dying Dinosaur, a "thermosaurus", off the coast of Long Island. Lorraine: A Romance (1898), one of Chambers's Franco-Prussian War tales, features the Invention of a Balloon powered by an aluminium engine. The Lost Species sequence – In Search of the Unknown (coll of linked stories 1904) and Police!!! (coll of linked stories 1915) – features the adventures of a philandering zoologist in his search for unknown beasts (see Biology); he finds them – sometimes in Lost Worlds where Monsters and ape-men (see Apes as Human) roam – but (feebly) loses them, along with various girls. "The Harbour-Master", from the first collection, anticipates The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Other stories in this sequence include reworked versions of "A Matter of Interest" and "The Man at the Next Table", plus tales featuring such animals as the "dingue", with one toe on each foot and a bell-like cry.

Later work is more frivolous: The Green Mouse (coll of linked stories 1910) connects various amorous youths by an Invention which unerringly links together those destined to spoon; The Gay Rebellion (stories May-September 1911 Hampton's Magazine; coll of linked stories 1913) consists of comical Satires in which women revolt in order to create a new society based on Eugenics, but reform and marry properly (see Women in SF); The Slayer of Souls (1920), which is loosely derived from the title story of The Maker of Moons (see above), somewhat less enervatingly pits a proto-Superhero girl with ESP facilities against the Asian cult (see Yellow Peril) which trained her, and plots to rule the world; in The Talkers (1923) a Mad Scientist not only Reincarnates a murdered woman but supplies her with a split personality. Chambers tends to irritate those who encounter him, not because he was incompetent but because he was a potentially gripping writer who repudiated his gift. [JC/LW]

see also: Arts; Suspended Animation.

Robert William Chambers

born Brooklyn, New York: 26 May 1865

died New York: 16 December 1933



Lost Species


  • Quick Action (New York: D Appleton and Company, 1914) [the protagonist is clairvoyant: Athalie: hb/Edmund Frederick]
  • Athalie (New York: D Appleton and Company, 1915) [afterlife experiences succeed the merely psychic: Athalie: hb/Frank Craig]

individual titles

posthumous collections and stories (selected)

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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