We see only cryptic fragments of the KiY play at the heart of the story cycle. The song of black stars and towers behind the moon offers no explanation. Some of the mystery is Chambers' choice to invoke a sense of weirdness, but some, I think, comes from Chambers grabbing cool-sounding ideas from other authors without worrying about world design. Chambers liked good living and he made a lot of money by writing huge numbers of the Edwardian equivalent of supermarket paperbacks; a man with a ton of popular novels to crank out doesn't have time to overthink!
Personally, I like knowing how ideas go together when I draw. So I read the KiY stories a couple of times and looked at all the actual lines from and references to the KiY play script (very few). Then I looked for sources that could have inspired Chambers in the years before 1895, when the collected stories were published. Here are just a few...
Ambrose Bierce, "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" -- For the names Hali and Hastur, for seeing the stars in daylight, the sense of confusion, a glorious city now lost, and also the allusion (in the first lines) to another book (“the words of Hali (whom God rest)”) now lost.
Magazine illustration — For Chambers’ training as an artist and his brief work in that field. A quarter of the ghost/love story “A Pleasant Evening” (From “The Maker of Moons”) is spent complaining about the narrator’s job as a magazine illustrator. The magazine covers of the day often used the figure-on-a-white background design that Leyendecker took to brilliant levels in the early decades of the 20th Century. I love Leyendecker’s work and I found the graphic of a brilliant figure against an empty background resonates with the cryptic idea sans context of the play. Also, it gives me somewhere to put those black stars!
Art Nouveau — honestly, there’s a strong argument for Orientalism which was a very popular genre in its time but I’m not going there today. Let’s stick with Art Nouveau, which was in many ways influenced by the arrival of art from China and newly accessible Japan. It wound up influencing Western magazine covers, opera costumes and French postcards, all of which have found their way into my Carcosa.
Edgar Allen Poe's "The Mask of the Red Death” (1842) also features a masked ball, a decadent nobility, and a mysterious stranger who is not what he seems. And doom. Lots of doom.
The poetry of Bliss Carman — the four line of poetry that begin “The Yellow Sign” are from his “Songs of the Sea Children, XLVII. “Let the Red Dawn Surmise” and not from Chamber’s play within a play. I don’t know much about the poet in the context of his era, but the little I read has a carpe diem feel.
This a project about Chambers’ inspiration and my own. I shared an image of one of my paintings under construction so you can watch the work come together.