Tag Archives: h.p. lovecraft

Finding the Yellow Sign

Hunting The Yellow Sign

In 1895, Robert W. Chambers published The King in Yellow a collection of short stories. Over the years, it has become his seminal work, and due to Lovecraft’s interest in the book and his incorporations of Chamber’s ideas, The King in Yellow inevitably became connected to the mythos. Chamber’s eponymous King in Yellow, became Lovecraft’s Hastur, and the empty streets of dim Carcosa are now as familiar to cosmic horror fans as the sunken city of R’lyeh and the sagging gambrel roofs of Innsmouth.[1]


“Have you found the Yellow Sign?”

— Robert W. Chambers, The Yellow Sign, Chapter 14


For a long time, fans of Chambers’ work have hunted for The Yellow Sign. After all, it is important enough to justify a story within the book. But, unlike Lovecraft who was fond of random sketches, as far as we know Chambers never drew out the symbol. All we have are his descriptions. So what is the Yellow Sign? Did Chambers leave us any clues outside his story?

First, we need to address the Ross Sign. In 1989 Chaosium released The Call of Cthulhu 4th Edition, a role-playing game based on Lovecraft’s mythos. Within the supplemental book, The Great Old Ones, game designer Kevin A. Ross created a striking symbol of The Yellow Sign[2] for his adventure scenario entitled Tell Me, Have You Seen the Yellow Sign?

The Kevin A. Ross interpretation of The Yellow Sign
The Kevin A. Ross interpretation of The Yellow Sign

In the years since Ross’ symbol has become the go-to image whenever anyone evokes The Yellow Sign in popular media. A quick google image search will reveal a few variants, but most follow the same pattern. But, as engaging as it is, it’s important to note that the Ross Sign is not official. It’s not the mark described by Chambers, merely an interpretation by Ross adopted by the community at large. So what is The Yellow Sign? To find out, it’s best to return to the text where we find it described.


“…inside lay a clasp of black onyx, on which was inlaid a curious symbol or letter in gold. It was neither Arabic nor Chinese, nor, as I found afterwards, did it belong to any human script.”

— Robert W. Chambers, The Yellow Sign, Chapter 2


That quote taken from The Yellow Sign, (the fourth story in The King in Yellow), led me back to the original 1895 edition published by F. Tennyson Neely. They’re difficult to find physically, but most have been scanned are now available to read online. While the interiors were sparse, I found a few original covers of the first edition, which had a variety of printings featuring different covers.

The King in Yellow First Edition Covers
The King in Yellow First Edition Covers, starting left First Printing to Third

The books above are ordered by the print run. You’ll note, that each cover bears a similar symbol with strange angles and sweeping curls. At fist glance, it certainly fits the description. It’s script like, and could easily be reminiscent of non-English glyphs. I did some work to pull the icon from the old covers so we could see it without all the filigree.

The Neely The Yellow Sign.
The Neely Sign from the first editions

I’m dubbing this the Neely Sign, and I was ready to accept it as the official version. And I wasn’t alone, I’ve seen it used by others. It’s clear that it’s in the zeitgeist just not as popular as the Ross Sign. It is similar to the description, looking not unlike Arabic letterforms or Chinese hànzì, but it’s clearly not born of either. I can see the appeal. My own rendering of Aklo follows similar patterns, loops, dashes, and dots. (You can see the writing here, just scroll down to book IV, V, and VI.) However, after some digging, I came across another cover; a cover that ruined any assumption of the Neely Sign being our infamous Yellow Sign.

Father Stafford by Anthony Hope, published by F. Tennyson Neely
Father Stafford by Anthony Hope, published by F. Tennyson Neely

Anthony Hope’s Father Stafford features the same mark, and it’s important to note that this book isn’t connected to the mythos. It has been described as a “county-house comedy” which is far different from the grim nature of The King in Yellow. So if that is The Yellow Sign on the cover it would be wildly out of place. So what is it? The connection lies with the publisher. Both Father Stafford and The King in Yellow were published by F. Tennyson Neely under the Neely’s Prismatic Library imprint. You can easily see the letters F, T, and N in the symbol, and the periods clearly indicate initials. Further research found the symbol on other covers as well, including this copy of Master and Man by Tolstoy. So, it seems the Neely Sign was the publisher’s mark and not the official Yellow Sign as many have hoped. So I was back to square one… or was I?


“We talked on, unmindful of the gathering shadows, and she was begging me to throw away the clasp of black onyx quaintly inlaid with what we now knew to be the Yellow Sign.”

— Robert W. Chambers, The Yellow Sign, Chapter 18


I eventually found an old post from 2010 on of my favorite blogs, Propnomicon. It’s a fantastic site focused on documenting the creation of realistic props that evoke Lovecraftian mythos (and horror in general.) Within the post, they suggest that the image on the spine of third first-edition printing (and arguably the most memorable) might be The Yellow Sign. It begged a closer look.

The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers, published by F. Tennyson Neely
The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers, First Edition, Third Printing published by F. Tennyson Neely

It’s a remarkable symbol. You can see a similar object held by the figure. A torch consuming itself, or a burning scepter perhaps? When isolated it looks a bit like a caduceus turned upside down. Could this inverted caduceus, a symbol typically used to represent healing, be a representation of corruption? I think there is merit in that interpretation. After all, Hastur clads himself in yellow, which is opposite on the color wheel of purple, the standard color of royalty. Even Carcosa itself is often shown as a corrupted reflection of our world. Plus when stylized, the inverted torch looks like something you could see embroidered on the stoles and hoods of a Yellow King secret society. It has a symmetry, not unlike the Rebekah’s beehive or the Masonic square and compasses and that is advantageous in a symbol’s use. Effective symbols are easy to reproduce, and while the Ross and Neely signs are interesting, they’re overly complex.

Symbol on the spine of The King in Yellow
Symbol from the spine of Chambers’ The King in Yellow

By this point, I think it will be difficult to uncouple popular culture from the Ross Sign. But, personally, I’ve become a fan of the inverted torch and I will probably go forward using it to represent Hastur within my own work. I like that it has more connection with the original text than the Ross creation and it’s not a misinterpretation like the Neely Sign. Even if it doesn’t fully match the description it’s visually evocative.

While there have been other less grounded interpretations[3], there is no one definite answer. Chambers, for his part, was vague; I’d wager that was intentional. He left the titular Sign open to discussion and that is why it remains undiscovered. For me, that adds to the myth and it helps expand the world of cosmic horror. The mystery becomes a part of the draw and that is something I can appreciate.

Then again, there’s also this strange little mark…

A strange symbol on The King in Yellow's Dedication Page


1 It should be noted that Ambrose Bierce was the first to name both Hastur and Carcosa. They appeared in his short stories Haïta the Shepherd, and An Inhabitant of Carcosa found in his 1893 collection Can Such Things Be? Both stories were drawn upon by Chambers for The King in Yellow.

2 It’s important to note that the Ross Sign that we see today is actually a corruption of Ross’ initial design. Chaosium printed the image both upside-down and backward.

3 See True Detective’s use of the Archimedean spiral and deer antlers, objects more evocative of Ireland’s Newgrange than the standard “symbol from beyond” typically found in cosmic horror.


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Lessons from the Shadows

Lessons from the Shadows

Recently, I was asked by fellow author H.M. Jones if I’d write a guest post for her blog. She and I both enjoy writing darker fantasy, and I wanted to stay centered around that theme. The result was Lessons from the Shadows. Here’s how the post starts:

“It wasn’t until college that I discovered H.P. Lovecraft, but I had been reading authors influenced by his work for years, Robert E. Howard, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. The dark, weird, and mysterious always enchanted me. I was drawn to the shadows; something there tapped into my core emotions and excited me. Lovecraft and I are very different. He speaks of the “fear of the unknown,” which inspired him; for me, it was not fear but a fascination. I’m not scared of “things beyond.” When I started writing, I found myself attracted to those concepts…”

Be sure to read the rest of the post over at H.M. Jones’ blog. I talk anticipation, character, worldbuilding, and more. It was satisfying to take a moment to ponder on what I had learned since starting this process. I hope you enjoy the post (and find it useful.) We also did a little interview which is at the end of the article, if you want to know more about my literary heroes and inspirations don’t miss it.

Also, make sure to check out H.M.’s work including her latest novel: Monochrome. (Which is currently sitting on my Kindle.) While you’re at it be sure to look into her other work as well: short stories, poetry, and graphic novels.

H.P. Lovecraft's Creepy Christmas Poem

H.P. Lovecraft’s Creepy Christmas Poem

Over the last few years, I’ve shared Lovecraft’s fondness for writing cheesy Christmas poetry. But apparently, that didn’t keep him from getting all morose and writing a darker ’80s metal poem about the holiday.

Originally published in Weird Tales December 1926 under the title Yule Horror you can also find this piece titled Festival in recent collections. I have no idea why. Conceivably it could be inspired/a companion to Lovecraft’s short story, The Festival (commonly considered to be his first work in the Cthulhu Mythos); both pieces draw from similar themes and visuals. That’d be the simplest explanation, right?

But what if that’s not it at all! Maybe there is a whole “War on Yule” conspiracy, and we didn’t even realize? What if cosmic horror figureheads and weird fiction publishers are in on the plot? What if they’re rewarded handsomely for squelching references to “Yule” by the powers of Big Christmas. I mean, who can really say? *Audible gasping.* Thusly, #YuleGate began.

Oh yeah, the poem. Let’s get back to it. If things are just a bit too cheery for you this holiday season, if verse written for Frank Belknap Long’s cat just isn’t cutting it right now, then settle in and enjoy…


❅ Yule Horror ❅


There is snow on the ground,
  And the valleys are cold,
 And a midnight profound
  Blackly squats o’er the wold;
But a light on the hilltops half-seen hints of feastings unhallow’d and old.

 There is death in the clouds,
  There is fear in the night,
 For the dead in their shrouds
  Hail the sun’s turning flight,
And chant wild in the woods as they dance round a Yule-altar fungous and white.

 To no gale of earth’s kind
  Sways the forest of oak,
 Where the sick boughs entwin’d
  By mad mistletoes choke,
For these pow’rs are the pow’rs of the dark, from the graves of the lost Druid-folk.

 And mayst thou to such deeds
  Be an abbot and priest,
 Singing cannibal greeds
  At each devil-wrought feast,
And to all the incredulous world shewing dimly the sign of the beast.

Friday Link Pack 09/04/2015

Friday Link Pack — End of the Year Edition (2015)

Happy New Year! Well, we’re finally here, at the end of all things. Okay, not the end of all things, just the end of the Friday Link Pack. As I mentioned earlier in December, this will be the last Link Pack going forward. [Details Here.] We’ve reached number one-hundred, and it just so happens to be the official End of the Year Edition! [Previous years: 2014, 2013] In this, I compile the best-loved links I’ve shared over 2015 into one big post. As always, some of these I’ve mentioned on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Even though the Link Pack is ending on the blog I’ll still continue to share stuff I find interesting on Twitter.

All right, let’s see which links you liked the most:

My Most Popular Posts Of 2015:

Map of the Known Territories
The official map to the Bell Forging Cycle has been getting a bunch of interest ever since I shared it in August. The biggest version of the map was also one of the most clicked images on the entire site. Glad everyone likes it so much. [Attn: map contains some minor Old Broken Road spoilers.]

The 2015 Lovecraft-Inspired Gift Guide
Put together this post in early December and every loved it. (Big thanks to everyone over on r/Lovecraft and r/Cthulhu.) Gifts for the Lovecraft fan on your list, or of course, yourself. A whole slew of books, music, games, and a lot more. If you’re looking for a place to spend some of that Christmas cash, look no further.

Mad Max and the Art of Worldbuilding
I’m happy to see how much everyone enjoyed my look at worldbuilding from the viewpoint of one of my favorite movies of the year, Mad Max: Fury Road. I have another article in the works following this up.


Note: I also got a lot of traffic to my Mysterious Package posts. However after some emails and not wanting to spoil things for others I elected to remove them from my site. That is why they aren’t featured on today’s list.


Most Clicked Writing Links Of 2015:

What I Get Paid For My Novels: Or, Why I’m Not Quitting My Day Job
Novelist Kameron Hurley opens up and shares how much she has made on each of her books. It’s a fantastic post. Awesome to see transparency like this. I think this is good info for every author, indie or traditional, it helps set the record straight.

Cognition as Ideology: A Dialectic of SF Theory
In January, I shared this wonderful talk from China Miéville regarding the importance of fantasy in our modern society. I highly recommend it to anyone who reads or writes speculative fiction.

Why Horror Is Good For You (And Even Better For Your Kids)
Artist Greg Ruth gives us six fantastic reasons why we should all read horror. I’m really happy this was so well received, it’s still one of my favorite articles I shared this year.

Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing
I have long been a fan of writer’s personal lists of rules. It’s always good to glean what you can apply to your list (and yeah, we all have our personal list.) Neil Gaiman is no exception. (Note #5.)

10 Twenty-First Century Bestsellers People Tried to Ban (and Why)
The stories behind people trying to ban books are always fascinating to me. History has proven that when one tries to impose prohibition, the effect is usually opposite of the intent. What was it Mark Twain said? Oh yeah: “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits. Fanatics will never learn that, though it be written in letters of gold across the sky. It is the prohibition that makes anything precious.”


Most Clicked Art Links Of 2015:

Kari-Lise Alexander Paints Nordic Beauties In “A Lovelorn Theft”
Kari-Lise’s latest solo show opened at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco at the end of September, and a lot of folks were interested in seeing her work. In this post, High Fructose highlighted many of the pieces from that show. After watching the series develop throughout 2015, I was excited to see it in the wild. I’m sure you’ll agree this series is gorgeous.

Women Trying To Sleep Unsuccessfully In Western Art History
For hundreds of years,  women in art have been trying to take a break and catch some Zs. For whatever reason no one wants to let them. Art is weird.

Korean Artist Beautifully Illustrates What Real Love Looks Like
I loved these sweet little illustrations by Puuung, and so did you. Small touching moments rendered beautifully. Each tells its own story. [Thanks again to Stalara for sharing.]

I See Music Because I Have Synesthesia, So I Decided To Paint What I Hear
Painter Melissa McCracken is a synesthete. When she hears music it comes to her in a variety of colors. Instead of trying to describe what she sees she has decided to paint it instead. The results are fascinating.


Most Clicked Random Links of 2015:

20 Maps That Never Happened
From war plans for the invasion of Canada to the fifty states redrawn with equal populations, Vox explores twenty imaginary maps. You know, I’d be cool living in the state of Rainer.

Abandoned Indonesian Church Shaped Like a Massive Clucking Chicken
Some people do strange things to get messages from God; things like building a strangely shaped church in the middle of the jungle. Apparently the builder had intended it to look like a dove, but it’s clearly a chicken.

Arcology: Cutaways Of The Future City-Hives That Never Were
The futurist idea of arcologies is a mainstay of science fiction. I even play with the concept in the Bell Forging books. So when I saw this post from Cory Doctorow about Paolo Soleri’s 1969 book: Arcology: The City in the Image of Man. It was something I was very interested in. The book sounds fascinating, but the images… you need to see the images. [Thanks again to Steve for sharing this.]

I Won A $5,000 Magic: The Gathering Tournament On Shrooms
I’ve never done shrooms, but this article is hilarious regardless. As my friend Rob pointed out, this is the Magic: The Gathering version of James Blagden’s Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No. [Thanks to Rob for sharing this.]


Most Clicked Weird Wikipedia Link of 2015:

After watching the video, I’d wager it’s safe to say that this is probably one of the more creepy Weird Wikipedia links in 2015. Check out the article and make sure to turn the captions on, makes it that much more effective.

Max Headroom Broadcast Signal Intrusion
“The Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion was a television signal hijacking that occurred in Chicago, Illinois, United States on the evening of November 22, 1987. It is an example of what is known in the television business as broadcast signal intrusion. The intruder was successful in interrupting two broadcast television stations within the course of three hours. The hijackers were never identified.”

Make sure you watch the video as well:


Lovecraft Story Of The Year:

The Shadow over Innsmouth
Yay! My favorite Lovecraft story was also YOUR favorite. Happy to see this listed as the story of the year. It’s a good one. [Fun Fact: the Innsmouth folk served as the source of inspiration for the anur in my books.]


Animated GIF Of The Year:

I can't get enough GIFs of robot struggling to play soccer/football.

Friday Link Pack - Christmas

Friday Link Pack – Christmas

It’s Friday, and it’s Christmas! Merry Christmas! Hopefully, you’re done opening presents and full of delicious Christmas Dinner and ready to curl up with the Friday Link Pack, my weekly post covering topics such as writing, art, current events, and random weirdness. Some of these links I mentioned on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! This will be the last official Friday Link Pack for some time [Details here]. Next week we’ll finish up with a big year-end review. Let’s get to it.


WRITING:

Creating Fictional Holidays
One way to increase the believability of your fictional world is to pepper it with invented but engaging holidays. In this article Robert A. Sloan offers some advice on creating holidays unique to your world.

Worldbuilding: Creating Holidays
Sensing a theme here? Since today is Christmas, I thought it’d be fun to explore different aspects of holidays as it pertains to writing. In this article, author Elizabeth Briggs breaks down our holidays into five unique categories. (She also links the next link that I’ll embed below.)

Life Day!
The crew of Writing Excuses and author Dave Farland discusses holidays in this video taken at Superstars Writing Seminar 2011 in Salt Lake City. Click the link to watch it on YouTube or use the player below.

What Did Kindle Unlimited Pay for Pages Read in November, 2015?
Author Chris McMullen crunches the numbers from last month on the per-page payouts for Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program.

Boost Your Writing: 3 Things To Do Now To Start 2016 Off Right
The new year is right around the corner, and Angela Ackerman of Bookshelf Muse and Writers Helping Writers has some helpful housekeeping ideas to kickstart the upcoming New Year.


ART:

Krampus, The Yule Lord
In his new book, author and artist Brom has illustrated some of the characters surrounding the legend of Krampus. From Mrs. Clause to Krampus himself. Wonderfully creepy and as always amazingly imaginative. Today’s Featured Image is a detailed version of Brom’s Santa, make sure you check out the full version in the link. You can buy, Krampus, The Yule Lord at Amazon.

Constructual by Juana Gomez
Faded photographs of humans printed on fabric are embroidered with the internal anatomy, neural pathways, muscle structure, even the circulatory system. A unique and lovely look into the human body and the systems housed inside.

Paintings of Haphazardly Wrapped Gifts by Yrjö Edelmann
I stared at these images for a long time and just found myself shaking my head. Edelmann’s skill is undeniable, and it’s amazing to think these are simple oil paintings on canvas.


RANDOM:

2015: The Best Year in History for the Average Human Being
If you listen to the 24-hour news cycle, you’d think we’re spiraling down into a maelstrom of doom and gloom. However, that isn’t the case at all. Things are looking pretty awesome for humanity, despite what Fox News will tell you. (Spoiler: next years looking even better.)

Cthulhumas Wreath Creature
Next year, if you want to terrify your friends and neighbors, consider crafting this wonderful (and festive) Cthulhu-esque wreath.

Should We Keep A Low Profile In Space?
We have been so eager to discover intelligent life outside our planet, the New York Times questions whether or not that is a good idea. Some doors might best be left closed.

Cthulelf!
Artist Kate Leth created this adorable little Cthulhu for you to cut out and hang around your house. An easy (and terrifying) way to decorate your home or workspace for the holidays.

Time Travel Map
This map from 1914 has been making the rounds lately. The isochronic map shows the time it would take to travel from Europe to the far-flung edges of the world.


WEIRD WIKIPEDIA:

Caganer
“A Caganer is a figurine depicted in the act of defecation appearing in nativity scenes in Catalonia and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra, Valencia and Northern Catalonia (in southern France). It is most popular and widespread in these areas, but can also be found in other areas of Spain (Murcia), Portugal and southern Italy (Naples).

The name “El Caganer” literally means “the crapper” or “the shitter”. Traditionally, the figurine is depicted as a peasant, wearing the traditional Catalan red cap (the “barretina”) and with his trousers down, showing a bare backside, and defecating.”


H.P. LOVECRAFT STORY OF THE WEEK:

Christmas
Did you know Lovecraft wrote a super sappy Christmas poem? (Well, honestly, he wrote a bunch.) Last year I featured the poem Christmas on I Make Stories, and if you’re feeling jolly you should check it out.


GIF OF THE WEEK:

End on a high note

H. P. Lover-of-Christmas

More of H.P. Lovecraft’s Silly Christmas Poems

A lot of people don’t realize Lovecraft had a sentimental side. As I shared last year, it seems around Christmas he would often spend time writing some pretty sappy poetry. Well, thanks to the wonderful resource of the H.P. Lovecraft Archive this year I get to share a few more of his silly little Christmas poetry with you. In these Christmas Greetings, Lovecraft writes a few short poems for his friends and their cats.


Christmas Greetings To Eugene B. Kuntz et al.

May good St. Nick, like as a bird of night,
Bring thee rich blessings in his annual flight;
Long by thy chimney rest his pond’rous pack,
And leave with lessen’d weight upon his back!


Christmas Greetings to Laurie A. Sawyer

As Christmas snows (as yet a poet’s trope)
Call back one’s bygone days of youth and hope,
Four metrick lines I send—they’re quite enough
Tho’ once I fancy’d I could write the stuff!


Christmas Greetings to Sonia H. Greene

Once more the ancient feast returns,
And the bright hearth domestic burns
With Yuletide’s added blaze;
So, too, may all your joys increase
Midst floods of mem’ry, love, and peace,
And dreams of Halcyon days.


Christmas Greetings to Rheinhart Kleiner

St. John, whose art sublimely shines
In liquid odes and melting lines,
Let Theobald his regard express
In verse of lesser loveliness.
As now in regal state appear
The festive hours of Yuletide cheer,
My strongest wish is that you may
Feel ev’ry blessing of the day!


Christmas Greetings to Felis (Frank Belknap Long’s cat)

Little Tiger, burning bright
With a subtle Blakeish light,
Tell what visions have their home
In those eyes of flame and chrome!
Children vex thee—thoughtless, gay—
Holding when thou wouldst away:
What dark lore is that which thou,
Spitting, mixest with thy meow?


Christmas Greetings to Annie E. P. Gamwell

As when a pigeon, loos’d in realms remote,
Takes instant wing, and seeks his native cote,
So speed my blessings from a barb’rous clime
To thee and Providence at Christmas time!


Christmas Greetings to Felis (Frank Belknap Long’s cat) #2

Haughty Sphinx, whose amber eyes
Hold the secrets of the skies,
As thou ripplest in thy grace,
Round the chairs and chimney-place,
Scorn on thy patrician face:
Hiss not harsh, nor use thy claws
On the hand that gives applause—
Good-will only doth abide
In these lines at Christmastide!


Man, Lovecraft had a soft spot for Frank Belknap Long’s cat. Felis better have appreciated both those little poems. But, like most cats, I’m sure he was probably indifferent and a little smug.

I hope you enjoyed reading these silly little poems as much as I did. It’s always enjoyable looking into a different side of a writer like Lovecraft. So much of his work is mired in his xenophobic fears it’s always interesting to see something that is the complete opposite of his more known work. It shows the complexity inherent in a person.

[!] UPDATE: My rad little sister sent me a picture of Lovecraft holding his buddy Felis. I figured since we just read two poems for him, it’d be great to see a pic as well. So here they are broin’ down:

H. P. Lovecraft and Felis