The Foundations of “The King in Yellow” and the “Necronomicon”

Article by Rick Lai.

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In “History of the Necronomicon,” H. P. Lovecraft remarked that his fictional tome of arcane lore inspired Robert W. Chambers to write The King in Yellow (1895). Of course, Lovecraft was joking. The short story collection by Chambers owed its inception to the supernatural tales of Ambrose Bierce. I suspect a secret meaning in Lovecraft’s jest. The same stories by Bierce that prompted Chambers to invent The King in Yellow spurred Lovecraft to create the Necronomicon. Although Bierce would be the primary influence on the imaginary tome, Lord Dunsany, Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Moore, and the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica all played significant roles in molding the cornerstone of Lovecraft’s artificial mythology. Similarly, Bierce mixed together with Poe, Moore, Masonic rituals and Breton legends would shape the Carcosa mythology of Chambers.

In Lovecraft: A Look behind the Cthulhu Mythos (Ballantine, 1972), Lin Carter erroneously speculated that The King in Yellow by Chambers motivated Lovecraft to fashion the Necronomicon. As S. T. Joshi pointed out in The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos (Mythos, 2008). Lovecraft didn’t read The King in Yellow until 1927, years after the first appearance of the Necronomicon. Abdul Alhazred, the author of the Necronomicon, first made his appearance in “The Nameless City” (Wolverine, November 1921), and the book itself then initially surfaced in The Hound (Weird Tales, February 1924). The first quote from the Necronomicon graced “The Festival” (Weird Tales, January 1925) ‘The Nameless City” was written in January 1921, “The Hound” around October 1922, and “The Festival” around October 1923.

According to third edition of S. T. Joshi’s Lovecraft’s Library: A Catalogue (Hippocampus Press, 2012), Lovecraft began to read Bierce in 1919. Figuring out which horror stories were read by Lovecraft in a particular year is more problematic. Lovecraft owned two collections of short stories by Bierce, a 1918 edition of Can Such Things Be? (purchased in 1922) and a 1927 edition of In the Midst of Life (purchased in 1927). Lovecraft read stories contained in those collections long before he purchased them. For example, In the Midst of Life includes “The Man and the Snake.” Lovecraft’s “The Festival” makes reference to that tale by Bierce. Obviously Lovecraft read “The Man and the Snake” before obtaining In the Midst of Life. Lovecraft’s Library: A Catalogue reveals that Lovecraft procured in 1922 ten volumes of The Lock and Key Library: Classic Mystery and Detective Stories (1909) edited by Julian Hawthorne. Volume 9 reprinted “A Man and a Snake,” and this anthology may be Lovecraft’s first contact with Bierce’s tale.

Less obvious is when Lovecraft first encountered Bierce’s “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” and “The Death of Halpin Frayser,” two stories which can be found in the 1918 version of Can Such Things Be? (the original 1893 collection of the same name has strikingly different contents). Lovecraft had certainly read these two stories by 1922. If he chanced upon them before January 1921, then the possibility that the two tales influenced “The Nameless City” arises.

“An Inhabitant of Carcosa” and “The Death of Halpin Frayser” both contained fictional passages from an Arab scribe named Hali, The similarities between Bierce’s Hali and Lovecraft’s Abdul Alhazred was noted by Robert M. Price in his introduction to “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” when the tale was reprinted in The Hastur Cycle (Chaosium, 1993):

“One wonders if Lovecraft’s ominous Necronomicon passages were inspired by these paragraphs in Bierce. Alhazred was apparently his own version of Hali. This is made all the more probable by the fact that Lovecraft first simply mentions Alhazred by name, as Bierce referred to Hali, with no reference to the Necronomicon (‘The Nameless City’). And in one of the first tales to mention the Necronomicon as the source of Alhazred’s sayings (‘The Festival’), Lovecraft also explicitly cites ‘old Morryster’s wild Marvells of Science, a creation of Bierce appearing in “The Man and the Snake” as the source of an epigram like those of Hali.Thus we can see that when he was thinking of Alhazred, he had Bierce on the brain.”

“An Inhabitant of Carcosa,” which was first published in the San Francisco Newsletter (December 26, 1886), began with a quote from Hali about the spirits of the dead haunting the places where their bodies decayed. The quote was cited by the tale’s narrator, Hosseib Alar Robardin. This spirit forgot his own death and attempted to return to his normal life. He realized the truth upon finding his own grave amid the ruins of the abandoned city of Carcosa near an unnamed desert.

Bierce is generally believed to have derived the name Carcosa from the town of Carcassonne in southern France. Marco Frenschowski’s “Hali”, an article that first appeared in Crypt of Cthulhu #93 (Eastertide, 1996) and was subsequently reprinted in S, T. Joshi’s Dissecting Cthulhu: Essays on the Cthulhu Mythos (Miskatonic River Press, 2011), puts forth the intriguing theory that Carcosa was really intended by Bierce to be Carcassonne, which was ruled by Arabs during 720-759 A. D. Supposedly Hosseib was an Arab resident who returned centuries later as a ghost when the city was populated by French citizens. The objection to this theory stems from the fact that Carcosa is in a desert and has no human population other than an enigmatic archer with a torch. An owl, a lynx, and wolves were also present among the ruins. Most readers of Bierce’s tale would assume that Carcosa was located in either North Africa or the Middle East. It could easily be located in the Arabian Desert.

Besides Cacassonne, another inspiration for Carcosa was suggested in the Cthulhu Mythos fiction of Richard L. Tierney. The House of the Toad (Fedogan and Bremer, 1993) placed Bierce’s original version of Carcosa in the Jordan Valley. This location probably owed its inception to Petra, the ancient Nabataen capital whose ruins were discovered by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. The destruction of the city’s water supply by earthquakes in the fourth century and the shifting of trade routes led to the voluntary abandonment of the city around 663 A. D. Petra is situated on the portion of the Jordan Valley that borders the Arabian Desert. The historical site was immortalized as “a rose-red city half as old as time” in “Petra” (1845), a poem by John William Burgon. The poem mentioned “graves” like those in Bierce’s story. Burgon also depicted how the Pleiades from the Taurus constellation could be viewed from Petra. Bierce had other stars from the Taurus constellation, Aldebaran and the Hyades, bring observed from Carcosa. In fact, Aldebaran’s name is Arabic for the “follower.” The star earned that designation by creating the illusion of chasing after the Pleiades.

There is another poem called “Petra” excerpted from Ruins of Many Lands (1849) by Nicholas Michell. This poem had the ruins of Petra being nocturnally prowled by an owl, a lone wolf and armed guides bearing torches. All of these intruders have a parallel in “An Inhabitant of Carcosa.” Rather than a bow and arrow like Bierce’s torchbearer, Michell’s guides carried knives to protects themselves against robbers. With the exception of the lynx, the animals in Bierce’s tale all surfaced earlier in Michell’s poem. While Carcosa drew its name from Carcassonne, its old attributes correspond to poetic portrayals of Petra. Tierney’s Jordan Valley location for Carcosa has a rock solid foundation.

The Arab narrator of “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” doesn’t recognize the language of the torch bearer. If Carcosa is meant to be Petra, then the torch bearer could be Turkish, Petra became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1516, and was still under Turkish rule when Bierce wrote his story.

Bierce may have devised the name Carcosa from a French poem that also influenced Lord Dunsany. Poems and Places: An Anthology (1879), edited by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was published seven years before “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” appeared. Inside Longfellow’s anthology was M. E. Sherwood’s translation of “Carcassonne,” a French poem by Gustav Nidaud. The poem concerned a dying man who regretted never visiting Carcassonne. Inspired by this poem. Lord Dunsany wrote “Carcassonne” in A Dreamer’s Tale and Other Stories (1910). The story concerned the tragic quest by a king and his knights to find the fabled metropolis of Carcassonne. Apparently unaware of the historical French city, Dunsany located his Carcassonne in a nebulously remote corner of either the Earth or its Dreamlands. Dunsany must have read the poem in some later reprinting because Longfellow identified Carcassonne as being in France. Lovecraft’s “He” (Weird Tales, September 1926) briefly mentioned Dunsany’s version of Carcassonne.

“The Death of Halpin Frayser,” first published in Ware (December 19, 1891), opened with a passage by Hali dealing with the physical resurrection of corpses as soulless monsters. A poet, Halpin Frayser, visited his mother’s grave and was slain by her reanimated cadaver. In the October 1934 issue of The Fantasy Fan, “The Death of Halpin Frayser” was listed with nine other tales by H. C. Koenig as “The Favorite Weird Stories of H. P. Lovecraft.”

“The Nameless City” had its narrator, a western explorer, investigating the ruins of a city in the Arabian Desert. He recalled a couplet by an Arab poet that spoke of a strange resurrection after death. The inhabitants of the city, a reptilian race, awakened from their tombs to threaten the narrator.

There are pointed similarities between “The Nameless City” and the two Hali stories. Both “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” and “The Nameless City” featured Arab writers obsessed with transmutation after death, and the resurrected inhabitants of an Arabian city, “The Death of Halpin Frayser” had a writer of poetry killed by a revived copse. “The Nameless City” had a reader of poetry attacked by revived corpses.

When ‘The Nameless City” was rejected by Weird Tales, Lovecraft allowed it to be published by the W olverine, an amateur journal. When the story was reprinted in Fanciful Tales (Fall 1936), a semi-professional magazine, Lovecraft revised it. In the annotations to ‘The Nameless City” in The Dreams in the Witch-House and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Books, 2004), S. T. Joshi noted an intriguing revision concerning a section about the narrator’s “cherished treasury of daemonic lore.” This passage referencing “paragraphs from the apocryphal nightmares of Damascius, and infamous lines from the delirious Image du Monde of Gauthier de Metz” in all subsequent re-printings was originally “paragraphs from Poe and Baudelaire, and thoughts from the venerable Ambrose Bierce.”

In a letter to Robert E. Howard (January 16, 1932), Lovecraft described how the name, Abdul Alhazred, was coined when he was a five year old boy conversing with the family lawyer. Years later Lovecraft would bestow that name on a character combining the arcane wisdom of Hali and the poetic skills of Halpin Frayser.

A letter to Frank Belknap Long (January 26, 1921), Lovecraft disclosed that “The Nameless City” had its foundation in “a dream, which in turn was probably caused by the peculiar suggestiveness of a phrase in Dunsany’s Book of Wonder – ‘the unreverberate blackness of the abyss.’ ” The “abyss” quote was from Lord Dunsany’s “Probable Adventure of the Three Literary Men” in The Book of Wonder (1912). Set in Arabia, the tale concerned a thief falling into a truly bottomless pit.

During 1916, Lovecraft and three literary friends, Rheinhart Kleiner, Maurice W. Moe and Ira A. Cole formed the Kleicomolo, a round-robin correspondence derived from the starting letters of the participants’ surnames (Kleiner, Cole, Moe, and Lovecraft). By 1919, the Kleicomolo was still going strong. In a letter to Kleiner (September 27), Lovecraft discusses an intended submission:

“In the ‘Kleicomolo,’ I am relating a dream of gruesome nature, induced by a reading of some of Ambrose Bierce’s horror stories. I shall also repeat my abyss dream in the K.- If you will pardon the repetition.”

Lovecraft’s 1919 contribution to the Kleicomolo is lost as well as any earlier communication describing the “abyss dream” in detail. This dream seems to be the same one alluded to in the letter to Long. Lovecraft was reading Dunsany by the fall of 1919. The September 27 letter to Kleiner also revealed that Lovecraft was reading Dunsany’s Plays of Gods and Men.(1917). Another letter to Kleiner (January 23. 1920) enclosed a recently completed poem, “On Reading Lord Dunsany’s Book of Wonder.” The fact that Lovecraft composed this poem in January 1920 does not preclude the possibility that he read Dunsany’s The Book of Wonder by September 1919.

If the abyss dream inspired by Dunsany was recorded in the Kleicomolo, then a totally separate dream sparked by Ambrose Bierce was documented alongside it. The two dreams could have become linked together in Lovecraft’s mind, and both nightmares could have served as the basis for “The Nameless City.”

After her resurrection, Halpin’s mother exhibited “a low, deliberate, soulless laugh, which had no more of joy than that of a hyena night-prowling in the desert . . .” The implication was that the woman’s soul had been supplanted by an animal’s. This implied transformation may have induced Lovecraft to write “The Hound” in which a cadaver physically transformed into a howling beast. When Lovecraft penned this tale, hyenas were falsely perceived as canines who primarily feasted on carrion. The monster in “The Hound” was a dog-like creature associated with the devouring of corpses.

The metamorphosis in “The Hound” was tied to a mystical amulet which was briefly described as “that damned thing.” This was an allusion to Bierce’s “The Damned Thing,” a tale about an invisible monster. It was contained alongside the two Hali tales in the same edition of Can Such Things Be? owned by Lovecraft. Although Lovecraft didn’t owe a copy of “The Damned Thing” until 1922, he had actually read it years earlier, Lovecraft commented on “The Damned Thing” in an April 1920 letter to Alfred Galpin. Assuming that Lovecraft read “The Damned Thing” in a Bierce collection, then he only could have read it before April 1920 in 1) the Putnam (New York, 1908) edition of In the Midst of Life, 2) the 1910 edition of Can Such Things Be? or 3) the 1918 re-issue of the same title (later purchased by Lovecraft in 1922). All three collections contain “An Inhabitant of Carcosa, and the last two contain “The Death of Halpin Frayser.” In Lovecraft’s Library: A Catalogue, Joshi theorized that Lovecraft derived the title for “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (Pine Cones, October 1919) from Bierce’s “Beyond the Wall” (Cosmopolitan, December 1907), a story only available in the 1910 and 1918 editions of Can Such Things Be? The evidence suggests that Lovecraft read Bierce’s Hali tales in 1919.

The properties of the Leng amulet were documented in Abdul Alhazred’s Necronomicon. The talisman belonged to a “corpse-eating cult” from the Plateau of Leng in Central Asia. In other stories by Lovecraft, Leng would be located in Antarctica and a world of dreams visited by sleeping mortals. The plateau was first depicted in “Celephais” (Rainbow, May 1922), which Lovecraft composed in November 1920. Lovecraft’s Library: A Catalogue documented that Lovecraft owned the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1875-1889). Joshi argued a strong case in his annotations that the “Arabia” entry prompted an allusion to the legendary citadel of Irem in “The Nameless City.” The name Leng is most likely derived from a passage in the entry for “Tibet:”

“The tableland of Tibet attains its maximum elevation, land. 17,600 feet above sea-level, on the 79th meridian, in the Lingzi-tang plateau of the northern zone; thence there is a gradual fall east, west, and south, the plateau level on the 97th meridian being about 13,500 feet in the northern zone and 10,000 in the southern.”

The “Lingzi-tang plateau” is the logical model for Leng. The same article mentions Tibetan province called Tsang, “The desert plateau of Tsang” appeared in Frank Belknap Long’s “The Horror from the Hills” (serialized in the January and February 1931 issues of Weird Tales), which was based on a dream by Lovecraft. The article also discusses the “Bonpa” priests referenced in “The Last Test” (Weird Tales, November 1928), a story Lovecraft rewrote for Adolphe de Castro; The “Tibet” entry also gives a possible rationale for “the corpse-eating cult:”

‘. . . The burial customs are peculiar. First the hair is plucked out from the top of the head, in order to facilitate transmigration. The corpse is not disposed of everywhere or always in the same way (lack of fuel sometimes preventing cremation), and the lamas decide whether it is to be put away by interment, by throwing into the river, by burning, or by exposure to beasts and birds of prey. The last-named mode (regarded as very honourable) has almost disappeared in the west, but is still practised in the central and eastern provinces; the body is cut in pieces and the bones broken into fragments by professional corpse butchers, and, when all the flesh has been devoured at the selected spot, called dúr krod, to which the body had been previously carried, it is not unusual to throw the remaining fragments of the broken bones into the river ; sometimes the phalanges of the fingers are preserved to be used in bead-rolls . . .”

Note that the corpses were devoured by birds and beasts rather than humans. There is also this discussion in the “Cannibalism” entry: ” As lately as the 13th century, William of Ruysbruck was told that the people of Tibet had till recently kept up this custom of eating their deceased parents, and still used their skulls as drinking-cups (Rubruquis in Pinkerton’s Coll. of Voyages, vol. vii. p. 54).”

Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft’s friend, implied a connection between “The Death of Halpin Frayser” and “The Hound” in “The Hounds of Tindalos” (Weird Tales, March 1929). In Long’s tale, a character named Halpin Chalmers was torn apart by dog-like beasts called the Hounds of Tindalos. In his notes from The Tindalos Cycle (Hippocampus Press, 2010), an anthology that reprinted both “The Death of Halpin Frayser” and “The Hounds of Tindalos,” Robert M. Price has thoroughly commented on the influence of Bierce’s story on Long’s. Those observations will not be repeated here. Instead I intend to present the evidence that the Hounds of Tindalos originated in Lovecraft’s “The Hound.”

Long never specify exactly what Tindalos was. It could have been a person or a place. Evidence in Lovecraft’s correspondence indicates that Tindalos was based on a real-life person. Lovecraft fashioned the alias of Lewis Theobald Junior in his letters. The name had been used as a pseudonym in the initial publication of his two collaborations with Winifred Virginia Jackson, “The Crawling Chaos” (United Co-operative, April 1921), and “The Green Meadow” (Vagrant, Spring 1927). The name was derived from Shakespearean scholar Lewis Theobald (1688-1744). Lovecraft created variations of the Theobald alias in his letters. Notable examples are Ludovicrus Theobaldus Secundus, Grandpa Theobald, Theobaldus Senectissimus, Theobaldus Avus, Theobaldus Ambulans, Theobaldus the Tearful, Theobaldus Anglissimus and Theobaldus Fantasticus. The Latin form of Lewis Theobald is Lollius Tibaldus. Letters to Alfred Galpin were signed “M. LOLLIVS” (September 30, 1919) and “M. LOLLIVS TIBALDVS” (December 11, 1919). The former letter also used the pseudonym of Tibaldus. In his April 1920 letter to Galpin, Lovecraft referred to himself as Tibaldus the Great and Grandpa Tibaldus. Long’s Tindalos is probably a pseudo-Greek version of Tibaldus, and the Hounds of Tindalos are essentially the Hounds of Lovecraft. Since Long had his variation on the Hound from Leng preying on a man named Halpin, Lovecraft may have communicated to his fellow writer that “The Hound” grew out of Bierce’s “The Death of Halpin Frayser.”

As noted in an earlier quoted passage by Robert M. Price, Bierce never ascribed a title to Hali’s writings, but created a tome called Morryster’s Marvells of Science in “The Man and the Snake,” a story first published the San Francisco Examiner (June 29, 1890). As Robert M. Price noted in The Hastur Cycle, the passages attributed to Hali and Morryster are written in a similar style.

Here is the Hali quote from “An Inhabitant of Carcosa:”

“For there be divers sorts of death — some wherein the body remaineth; and in some it vanisheth quite away with the spirit. This commonly occurreth only in solitude (such is God’s will) and, none seeing the end, we say the man is lost, or gone on a long journey — which indeed he hath; but sometimes it hath happened in sight of many, as abundant testimony showeth. In one kind of death the spirit also dieth, and this it hath been known to do while yet the body was in vigour for many years. Sometimes, as is veritably attested, it dieth with the body, but after a season is raised up again in that place where the body did decay.”

This is the quote from “The Death of Halpin Frayser:”

“For by death is wrought greater change than hath been shown. Whereas in general the spirit that removed cometh back upon occasion, and is sometimes seen of those in flesh (appearing in the form of the body it bore) yet it hath happened that the veritable body without the spirit hath walked. And it is attested of those encountering who have lived to speak thereon that a lich so raised up hath no natural affection, nor remembrance thereof, but only hate. Also, it is known that some spirits which in life were benign become by death evil altogether.”

This is the passage from Morryster’s Marvells of Science in “The Man and the Snake:”

It is of veritabyll report, and attested of so many that there be nowe of wyse and learned none to gaynsaye it, that ye serpente hys eye hath a magnetick propertie that whosoe falleth into its svasion is drawn forwards in despyte of his wille, and perisheth miserabyll by ye creature hys byte.”

The similarity of Hali’s “veritably attested” (“The Inhabitant of Carcosa”) and “it is attested” (“The Death of Happin Frayser”) to Morryster’s “of veritabyll report, and attested” has been pointed out by Robert M. Price, and his argument that Marvells of Science directly influenced the Necronomicon has a sound basis since both tomes appeared together in “The Festival.”

A cult led by a resurrected corpse was the focus of “The Festival.” The first acknowledged quote from the Necronomicon materialized in the same story:

“The nethermost caverns are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth’s pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.”

“The Nameless City” had earlier cited this poetic couplet by Abdul Alhazred;

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.”

“The Call of Cthulhu” (Weird Tales, February 1928) would later incorporate the couplet into the Necronomicon, and consequently created the impression that “the nethermost caverns” passage was actually the second quotation from Alhazred’s book to appear in Lovecraft’s fiction.

Like Hali’s bizarre fragments, the Necronomicon was initially intended to be a book about monstrous transitions after death. In a February 1937 letter to Harry O. Fischer, Lovecraft mistakenly translated the Greek title of Alhazred’s book as “An Image (or Picture) of the Law of the Dead.” S. T. Joshi’s annotations to “The Hound” in The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Books, 1999), argue that a more accurate rendering of Necronomicon is “A Study (or Classification) of the Dead.”

Bierce’s “Beyond the Wall” may have suggested the name Necronomicon to Lovecraft. That story related a legend that a man would perish after three visitations by a ghost (the “fatal triad”). The source of this lore was a Hali-like sage named Parapelius Necromantius. Parapelius may be a variation on Paracelsus, the fifteenth century alchemist and astrologer. Necromantius was derived from ”necromantis,” Latin for “necromantic,” relating to the raising of the dead. Lovecraft wrote Fischer that the name Necronomicon came to him in a dream. Perhaps the dream was sparked by contemplating the meaning of the name Parapelius Necromantius.

Besides the usage of Marvells of Science, another connection to Bierce in “The Festival” lies in the appearance of Aldebaran, the star that had hovered menacingly over the decaying city in “An Inhabitant of Carcosa.”

The same star appeared prominently in “The Yellow Sign,” the most famous story in The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers. The tale features a monstrous messenger who seemed to be a worm transformed into a human being. This character was a precursor of the worms merging with corpses in the later Necronomicon quote from ”The Festival.” However, Lovecraft didn’t read “The Yellow Sign” until four years after writing ”The Festival.” Is this pure coincidence or is there another explanation?

“The Festival” also mentioned “the terrible Saducismus Triumphatus of Joseph Glanvill, published in 1681.” This book is actually a defense of a belief in witchcraft. Joseph Glanvill (1636-1680) was a real-life philosopher whom Edgar Allan Poe utilized in two of his stories. “The Descent into the Maelstrom” opened with a modified quotation from Glanvill’s “Against Confidence in Philosophy and Matters of Speculation” (1676). Poe’s “Ligeia” featured a quotation attributed to Glanvill:

“And the will therein lieth, which dieth not. Who knoweth the mysteries of the will, with its vigor? For God is but a great will pervading all things by nature of its intentness. Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.

The first line about a mental force which “lieth” and “dieth not” may have inspired the first half of the Alhazred couplet (“That is not dead which can eternal lie”). This Glanvill quote is generally believed to be a total fabrication by Poe. I performed an internet search through twenty-two different works by Glanvill looking for “die,”, and couldn’t find any comparable text. Furthermore, I saw no instance of Glanvill applying “th” as a suffix to verbs. Besides influencing Lovecraft, the Glanvill passage from “Ligeia”may have inspired the resurrection lore sprouted by Bierce’s Hali.

The title character of “Ligeia” was a female poet. Her poem, “The Conqueror Worm” bemoaned the destiny of humans to be feasted upon by graveyard worms after death. Following her own demise, Ligeia’s spirit possessed the body of another woman. Ligeia was able to mold the flesh of the new host body to resemble her original one.

Lovecraft apparently altered Poe’s concept of the author of “The Conqueror Worm” molding human flesh into the premise of worms molding human flesh. This “Conqueror Worm” connection possibly prompted to choose the aptly named Olaus Worminus (1588 – 1654), a real-life Danish scholar, as the Latin translator of the Necronomicon in “The Festival.”

Saducismus Triumphatus was described in the entry for Joseph Glanvill in the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Lovecraft could have looked up Glanvill after reading Poe’s tale. In addition to the volumes by Morryster and Glanvill, there was another book buttressing the Necronomicon. This was Daemonolatreia by Remigius, a sixteenth century judge who tried witches, This book wasn’t mentioned at all in the ninth edition. Where did Lovecraft learn of Daemonolatreia?

The answer can be found in a letter to Robert E. Howard (November 2, 1933). Here Lovecraft disclosed that the ancient cult in “The Festival” wad inspired by Margaret A. Murray ‘s The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921). Murray frequently cited Daemonolatreia. Therefore, the three books were clustered with the Necronomicon for a reason. They all acknowledged that Lovecraft borrowed a major concept in “The Festival” from another writer. Glanvill, Remigius and Morryster were respective surrogates for Poe, Murray and Bierce.

Robert W. Chambers was also a student of Poe’s works. The opening scene of “The Mask” in The King in Yellow had a stranger at a masquerade ball shocking the other guests. This scene was inspired by a similar event in Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” Chambers probably extrapolated the idea of a worm metamorphosis from “Ligeia” as well. The poem incorporated into Poe’s story, “The Conqueror Worm,” is about “a play of hopes and fears” which featured a “Phantom” among its characters. The King in Yellow contains stories about a play which featured the Phantom of Truth among its characters.

The play in “The Conqueror Worm” seems to be a stage adaptation of “The Masque of the Red Death.” “The Conqueror Worm” described a scene in its untitled drama where a group of characters pursue the Phantom and were unable to catch him. This scene resembled the pursuit of the Red Death by Prince Prospero and his retainers. The play was also called “a motley drama,” which may be a reference to the multi-colored rooms in Prospero’s abbey. The unnamed play concluded with the appearance of “a blood-red thing,” a giant worm, which could be viewed as a monstrous avatar of the Red Death that emerged victorious in Poe’s tale.

Like Lovecraft, Chambers could have extrapolated the transformation of a worm into man from “Ligeia. Because of the similarities between “The Festival’ and “The Yellow Sign,” Cthulhu Mythos writers have often made the cultists of ‘The Festival” minions of the King in Yellow. One pastiche, “The Kingsport Desk” from Two Against Darkness (H.Harksen Productions, 2012) by Ron Shiflet and Glynn Barass, even revolved around the clever idea that Kingsport, the fictional New England town in “The Festival,” was named by its founders after the King in Yellow. Since Lovecraft first created Kingsport in “The Terrible Old Man” (written during January 1920), there probably wasn’t any sinister connotation originally intended in its name. When later reading The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, Lovecraft may have been intrigued by a reference that witches venerated the King of the Faeries. Therefore, he chose to transform his already existing town of Kingsport into the center of an ancient cult.

In his introduction to The Hastur Cycle, “The Mythology of Hastur,” Robert M. Price mistakenly made the argument that The King in Yellow inspired Lovecraft to create the recurring High Priest of Leng whose features were hidden by a mask of yellow silk.
Lovecraft created this sinister sage in “Celephais,” written in 1920, seven years before discovering The King in Yellow
. The priest was actually revealed to be one of the toad-like moon-beasts of the Dreamlands in “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” (written during October 1926-January 1927) . The origins of the High Priest more likely resides in two stories by Lord Dunsany from A Dreamer’s Tales (1910), “Bethmoora” and “The Hashish Man,” .

Both stories involved an imaginary city, Bethmoora, which was deserted by its inhabitants and overrun by the desert. The exact reasons for the abandonment of the metropolis, but one explanation was that it was due to the machinations of “Thuba Mleen, the mysterious Emperor of those lands, who is unseen by man.” He was a tyrant known to practice “torture” in “some private little room.” In this tale, Bethmoora was treated as a city on Earth. Numerous European travelers witnessed the mass exodus from Bethmoora.

In “The Hashish Man,” Bethmoora and its neighboring territories were uprooted from Earth and relocated in the Dreamlands. Only by taking hashish can a inhabitant of Earth visit Bethmoora. Thuba Mleen was implied to be half-human because “that fearful beast is somehow connected to the Desert on his mother’s side.” Physically the Emperor possessed “a nasty yellow face” and unblinking eyes. “The Hashish Man” also mentioned the Pleiades and “the ivory hills that are named the Mountains of Madness.”

Dunsany’s Bethmoora influenced the evolution of Lovecraft’s Plateau of Leng. Like Bethmoora, Leng existed both in the Dreamlands (“Celephais,” The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”) and Earth (“The Hound”). Lovecraft listed Bethmoora alongside Leng in “The Whisperer in Darkness” (Weird Tales, August 1931). Before its transference to the Dreamlands, Bethmoora was apparently located in some remote corner of Asia. In “The Hound,” Leng occupied a similar geographic position. Lovecraft moved Leng to Antarctica in “At the Mountains of Madness” (serialized in Astounding Stories, February, March and April 1936), a short novel whose title was directly inspired by “The Hashish Man,”

If the decaying ruins of Bierce’s Carcosa and Dunsany’s Bethmoora seem strangely similar, there is a very logical explanation. Both fictional cities were probably inspired by John William Burgon’s “Petra.” Like Bethmoora, Petra was voluntarily vacated by its populace. The passing reference to the Pleiades in “Bethmoora” implied a connection to Burgon’s poem, and there is ample evidence of Dunsany’s strong familiarity with that earlier work.

Dunsany wrote a long series of stories about Joseph Jorkens, a teller of tall tales. “The Club Secretary” from Jorkens Remembers Africa (1934) featured a club haunted by the ghosts of dead poets. The secretary of the club was the unnamed spirit of a man who wrote only a single line of memorable poetry during his entire lifetime: “A rose-red city half as old as time.” Of course, this is the famous line from “Petra,” and Burgon must be the club secretary. In the sequel, “The Expulsion” from The Fourth Book of Jorkens (1947), the club secretary was dismissed from his post when the other ghosts learned that he had plagiarized his famous line from another verse, “By many a temple half as old as time,” written by a poet named Rogers. Dunsany was parodying an actual literary controversy in which Burgon was accused of plagiarizing his 1845 “rose-red city” line from Samuel Rogers. The “By many a temple” line was penned by Rogers for Italy, a lengthy work that was partially published in1822 and finalized in 1830.

Emperor Thubla Mleen is the probable template for the High Priest of Leng. Dunsany’s half-human, yellow-faced despot was reworked by Lovecraft into a non-human, yellow-masked cleric. The reference to Thuba Mleen as a “beast” could have prompted the revelation that the High Priest was a moon-beast. Thuba Mleen’s appearance being unknown to the rest of mankind in “Bethmoora” may have suggested the mask motif to Lovecraft.

There exists an additional source from which Lovecraft could have drawn the mask. In “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” the High Priest of Leng isn’t the only character hiding his face. There is also the Veiled King of Inganok. His title is reminiscent of “The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan,” one of four narrative poems in Lalla Rookh (1817) by Thomas Moore, Lovecraft discussed Moore in “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (written in 1927). Lines from Moore’s Alciphron (1839), as poem about a Greek scholar seeking eternal life, were quoted in “The Nameless City” as well as “Under the Pyramids”, a tale ghost-written for Harry Houdini (first published as “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” (Weird Tales, May-June-July 1924)). Lovecraft had also read The Epicurean (1827), Moore’s earlier prose version of Alciphron.

The title villain of “The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan” is Mokanna, a fictionalized version of a historical Islamic heretic. Launching a rebellion against the Abbasid Caliphate, Mokanna briefly ruled despotically over a Persian province. In Moore’e poem, Mokanna wore his veil to hide a horrible face that he had borne since birth. A young woman and her lover became imperiled when the Veiled Prophet lusted after her. At one point in Moore’s lengthy poem, Mokanna uttered these lines threatening all mankind:

“Soon I shall plant this foot upon the neck
of your foul race and without fear or check,”

These lines of dialogue are similar to a portion of a Necronomicon passage from Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” (Weird Tales, April 1929). Abdul Alhazred warned about the invisible Old Ones: “As a foulness shall ye known Them. Their hand is at your throats…”

I couldn’t find any references to Lalla Rookh or “The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan” in Lovecraft’s letters. The discussion of Moore in “Supernatural Horror in Literature”‘ doesn’t cite Lalla Rookh either. Nevertheless, there is evidence that Lovecraft had access to this work by Moore in S. T. Joshi’s Lovecraft’s Library: A Catalogue. Joshi identified that Lovecraft possessed a copy of The Poetical Works of Thomas Moore, Including his Melodies, Ballads, etc. The compilation was published in Philadelphia by J. Crissy during 1843 or 1845. The contents are unlisted by Joshi, but the University of Toronto has a copy of the 1845 edition that is available online. Lalla Rookh is part of this collection.

Lalla Rookh was possibly Moore’s most famous work. It was widely translated into many foreign languages. The episode featuring Mokanna was adopted into a popular opera, The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan (1879) , by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. This opera about an ugly man hiding behind a mask was the likely inspiration for Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera (1910). Leroux hinted at the connection to Moore’s poem by giving his masked protagonist strong ties to Persia.

Lovecraft may have also consulted his Encyclopedia Britannica after reading Moore. The following entry uses the variant spelling of Khorasan for the Persian province depicted as Khorassan in Lalla Rookh:

“MOKANNA (Al-Mokanna\ ‘the veiled’) was, as explained above, p. 580, the surname given to Hakim, or Ata, a man of unknown parentage, originally a fuller in Merv, who posed as an incarnation of Deity, and headed a revolt in Khorasan against the caliph Mahdi. Much related of his magical arts, especially of a moonlike light visible for an enormous distance which he made to rise from a pit near Nakhshab. He died by poison in A.H. 163 (779-80 A.D.).”

The reference to “p.580” is to a prior article by Theodor Nöldeke (1836-1930) on “Mohammedism.” The following entry described how the rule of Caliph Madhi was disrupted in the eighth century:

“Whilst he was devoting himself to these pious labours, he was menaced by a dangerous revolt in Khorasan. Its leader was a sectary called Hakim, surnamed Al-Mokanna or the Veiled One, because he never appeared in public without having his face covered with a mask. Al-Mokanna hoped to gather a great number of adherents around him, and to govern the province as absolutely as Abu Moslim had formerly done. His religious teaching consisted in the assertion that God had several times become incarnate among men, and that his last incarnation was Mokanna himself. Many Persians were seduced by his words, and still more by the hope of plundering the property of the Moslems, which Mokanna promised to give up to them. The governor of Khorasan and several other generals who marched against these sectaries were defeated ; but at last the Caliph charged a skilful captain, Said al-Harashi, with the direction of operations, and Said, having compelled the impostor to throw himself into the city of Kash, soon reduced him to a choice between surrender and death. Mokanna preferred the latter alternative, and took poison.”

Moore described a different version of Mokanna’s demise. Instead of swallowing poison, he threw himself into a cistern filled with liquid fire. This alteration was inspired by the 1734 English translation of the Koran. The translator, George Sale (1697-1734), included extensive supplementary notes on the subsequent history of Islam. In a brief discussion of Mokanna’s life, Sale claimed that the Veiled Prophet “threw himself into the flames, or, as others say, into a tub of aqua fortis, or some other preparation.”

Mokanna wore a silver veil in Lalla Rookh, but Noldeke’s “Mohammedism” article had the Veiled One wearing a mask of unknown hue. The “Mokanna” entry portrayed the Persian as a man of unknown parentage. Lovecraft could easily have envisioned Mokanna a man hiding non-human ancestry behind a mask. He then merged Mokanna with Thuba Mleen to produce the High Priest of Leng.

Another link to the High Priest can be seen in Mokanna’s ability to create moonlight. Moore’s poem had the Veiled Prophet constructing a small artificial moon by magic. The remarks in the Encyclopedia Britannica confirmed the existence of this legendary ability by noting that Mokanna’s moonlight allegedly could be seen from an enormous distance. In “The Elder Pharos” from Fungi from Yuggoth (written during December 1929 and January 1930), Lovecraft had the High Priest of Leng manufacturing a far-reaching beacon of blue light in a stone tower. The High Priest could be creating blue moonlight.

Lovecraft’s early works had a tendency to combine the concepts of Dunsany and Moore. Leslie S. Klinger’s The New Annotated Lovecraft (Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2014) noted that the subterranean wanderings of the narrator in “The Nameless City” mirrored the journey of the Greek scholar in the underground labyrinth beneath a pyramid in Moore’s Alciphron and The Epicurean. Lovecraft’s tale also borrowed the abyss concept from Dunsany’s “Probable Adventure of Three Literary Men.” The portrayal of Queen Nitocris in “Under the Pyramids” was derived from Dunsany’s usage of the historical figure in “The Queen’s Enemies” from Plays of God and Men, and references to “the Lady of the Pyramid” in Alciphron and The Epicurean. The High Priest of Leng was just another example of Lovecraft merging Dunsany with Moore.

The High Priest wasn’t the only of Lovecraft’s characters to result from a union of ideas from “Bethmoora” and “The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan.” The old man from “The Festival’ had unblinking eyes like Thuba Mleen, and hid his monstrous origins behind a waxen mask. The scene where the narrator fainted upon seeing the old man’s real visage may have been inspired by Mokanna’s revelation of his true face to the heroine of Moore’s poem. The possession by Nyarlathotep of a disguising mask and robe (in “The Whisperer in Darkness”) was a variation on the paraphernalia employed by the unblinking cult leader and the High Priest of Leng.

In addition to The King in Yellow, Lovecraft also investigated other supernaturally themed works by Chambers during 1927. These included “The Maker of Moons” (from the 1896 short story collection of the same name) and The Slayer of Souls (1920). Both those works featured Yian, an Asian city populated by sorcerers. Besides citing Yian in “The Whisperer in Darkness,” Lovecraft would incorporate the fictional metropolis into his own mythology under the variant names of Yin from “The Gardens of Yin” sonnet in Fungi from Yuggoth (written during December 1929 and January 1930) and Yian-Ho in “Through the Gates of the Silver City” (Weird Tales, July 1934), a collaboration with E. Hoffmann Price, The latter tale depicted YianHo, a “dreadful and forbidden city,” as “the hidden legacy of eon-old Leng.”

This linkage between Leng and Yian is quite appropriate because Moore may have influenced Robert W. Chambers. The Chinese sorcerer of “The Maker of Moons” fashioned a miniature moon that resembled Mokanna’s in “The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan”.  In fact, Chambers may even have derived his story’s title from a footnote by Moore that depicted Mokanna as “the Moon-maker,” an alias first used by George Sale.  Could ‘The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan” be also connected to the stories about The King in Yellow?

Chambers had borrowed elements from Bierce’s fiction to construct a tapestry of cosmic horror. The metropolis of Carcosa was transplanted to outer space. Hali became a lake that functions as an extra-terrestrial Hell where souls drown forever rather than burn. The King in Yellow was implicitly Satan in outer space, but he openly pretends to be God. During The conclusion of “In the Court of the Dragon,” Chambers had the King refer to himself as “the living God.” Mokanna professed to be an incarnation of God living among mankind.

The corrupting play named after the monarch of Carcosa was written in verse. In other words, all its dialogue is poetic. Moore’s “The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan” is a narrative poem with large sections of dialogue. There was an actual stage adaptation of Moore’s poem by William Cooper, Mokanna or The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan (1843).

With the exception of the opening scenes in Cooper’s play, all the dialogue is in verse.

Pronounce “Khorossan” and then “Carcosa.” Don’t they sound like variant names for the same place? Chambers clearly derived Carcosa from Bierce, but he could have been drawn to Khorossan because of its similar sounding name. After taking the concept of a monstrous play from Poe’s “The Conqueror Worm,” Chambers incorporated elements from “The Masque of the Red Death” and “The Veiled Prophet of Khorossan” into the imaginary drama.

Chambers linked the King in Yellow to a Pallid Mask, but the despot wasn’t definitely identified as its wearer. Besides the King, it could be the any of the other characters in the fictional play bearing his name. The general assumption is that the King in Yellow wears the mask. If this is true, then both the King and Mokanna were masked rulers.

The excerpt from the verse play in Chambers’ “The Mask” indicted that there was a scene involving a masquerade ball. There is an actual masquerade ball associated with Mokanna, and it existed prior to Chambers’ story In 1878, a group of businessmen founded the annual Veiled Prophet Ball based on Thomas Moore’s poem in St. Louis, Missouri. To the present day, the dance is presided over by a prominent St. Louis businessman disguised as the Veiled Prophet. The traditional costume of the Veiled Prophet at this masquerade ball includes an encircling white veil. Many of the early versions of the veil had a phony white beard attached. This veil may be the basis for the Pallid Mask.

There is also a Masonic Lodge, the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm, that was founded in Hamilton, New York, during 1890. The Lodge openly acknowledges that its name is derived from Thomas Moore’s poetry. The Masonic connection to Mokanna suggests a possible explanation for the linkage between the King of Carcosa and the color yellow, The symbol of the diabolical sovereign is the Yellow Sign. The Masonic emblem is the square and compass sign. Its color is yellow. The Yellow Sign was depicted as “a clasp of black onyx, on which was inlaid a curious symbol or letter in gold . . . neither Arabic nor Chinese, nor, as I found afterwards, did it belong to any human script.” The yellow square and compass sign is generally placed against a black background. Instead of a letter of unknown origin, it contains the letter “G.” The Yellow Sign was probably a bizarre re-design of the square and compass Masonic sign.

Another point of significance is that Masonic Lodges trace their ancestry to the Temple of King Solomon, a Biblical ruler associated with idolatry and sorcery. Furthermore, a diadem (or crown) is one of the symbols of Freemasonry, and Chambers had a diadem belonging to disciples of the King in Yellow in “The Repairer of Reputations.” All the wild talk about “The Imperial Dynasty of America” in the same story could be a variation on the conspiracy theories arising from the fact that some of the Founding Fathers were Freemasons.

The Freemasons of Hamilton may have prompted some names from the King In Yellow stories. The ill-fated artist of “The Yellow Sign” lived in Hamilton Apartments. Major-General Hamilton and C. Hamilton Chester are characters in “The Repairer of Reputation.”

Details of Masonic rituals would have been available to Robert W. Chambers in Illustrations of Masonry (1826) by William Morgan (1774–1826?). The book is better known under a later title of The Mysteries of Free Masonry Containing All the Degrees of the Order Conferred in a Master’s Lodge. Morgan, a resident of Batavia, New York, mysteriously disappeared just before his expose of Freemasonry was published. The popular theory is that he was murdered by Freemasons. Morgan’s disappearance was a major controversy and led to accusations that the successful Presidential candidate of 1828, Andrew Jackson, belonged to a Masonic conspiracy. The color yellow appeared prominently in Morgan’s book. This passage may be the origins of the King in Yellow’s vestments:

Robe and Sceptre.—The Grand Master or Thrice Puissant, is named ‘Father Adam,’ who is placed in the East, vested in a robe of pale yellow, like the morning.”

The association of yellow with morning has a sinister connotation. The Devil’s name of Lucifer is Latin for “Morning Stsr.”

Chambers was a resident of New York state. He was very interested in the history of his home state as demonstrated by his historical novels like Cardigan (1901). The supposed murder of Morgan could easily have seized hold of his imagination and led to the creation of the King in Yellow.

Besides Freemasonry, there are additional explanations for the predominance of yellow in the Carcosa mythology. Sax Rohmer wrote a novel, The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), about the discovery of a fictional tomb of Mokanna. The storyline had no consistency with Moore’s poem. For example, Mokanna committed suicide by swallowing poison. Rohmer credited Mokanna with owning a golden mask, a concept borrowed from George Sale’s notes for his 1734 translation of the Koran. Sale stated that Mokanna owned a “gilded mask.” Moore’s footnotes to Lalla Rookh cite Sale multiple times. If Chambers researched Mokanna beyond Moore, he would have been led to Sale. Therefore, Chambers could have associated Mokanna with gold, a color akin to yellow.

The description of the raiment of the King in Yellow as tattered needs to be investigated. Chambers had a strong familiarity with the legends of French region of Brittany. Many of his tales, most notably “The Demoiselle d’Ys,” a non-Carcosa tale in The King in Yellow collection, were set in Brittany. “The Messenger” from The Mystery of Choice (1897) listed a few Breton legends: “the were-wolf, and Jeanne-La-Flamme, and the Man in Purple Tatters.” “The Sunken Land” from The Maker of Moons, a non-supernatural romance that mentioned the King of Carcosa twice, has a woman requesting her lover to tell her a legend. He suggested “the Were-wolf or the Man in Purple Tatters.” Jeanne-La-Flamme, the fourteenth century warrior Duchess also known as Joanna of Flanders, and werewolves are legitimate examples of Breton folklore. Is the same true of the Man in Purple Tatters?

He seems to be a character from “La Souris de Terre et le Corbeau Gris” (“The Field-Mouse and the Gray Raven”) in Emile Souvestre’s Le Foyer Breton, Contes et Récits (1800). In the story, a young woman’s dead fiancé returned to test her fidelity/ . During daylight, he was disguised as a handsome man dressed in velvet. Moonlight revealed his true appearance to be a skeleton under a tattered shroud. The color purple was never mentioned in the story, but it is often identified with velvet. By clothing the King of Carcosa in a tattered robe, Chambers suggested that his creation is synonymous with death.

Another tale from Souvestre’s collection, “Peronnik L’Idiot” (“Peronnik the Idiot”). featured a woman with a yellow countenance . Clothed in black satin, this yellow lady was call La Peste (“the Pestilence” or “the Plague”). Mortals perished from her mere touch. Thus, yellow in Breton lore also represented disease and decay. The yellow tatters of Carcosa’s autocrat symbolize pestilence as well as death.

Around 1860, a partial English translation of Souvestre’s collection was published as Breton Legends without crediting him as the author. One of the tales therein is “Peronnik the Idiot.” An earlier 1854 partial translation was Popular Legends of Brittany: An English Version of Souvestre’s “Foyer Breton,” from a German Translation by Heinrich Bode. There is a translation of “La Souris de Terre et le Corbeau Gris” called “Origin of the Bat.” In the course of its journey from French to German to English, some of the story got lost. All references to velvet clothing and a shroud were expunged. The fiancé became a husband. The full conclusion in which the story’s heroine entered a nunnery was missing. This same volume contained a translation of “Peronnik L’Idiot” entitled “Billy Peter.”

One of Lovecraft’s correspondents, Robert E. Howard, also created a character derived from Mokanna. In “Black Colossus” (Weird Tales, December 1933), Conan of Cimmeria had to thwart a rebellion in the fictional kingdom of Khoraja, The leader of the revolt was Natohk, the Veiled One. This masked insurgent was really Thugra Khotan, a resurrected sorcerer who had committed suicide by poison centuries earlier. Khoraja was based on Khorassan, and Thugra Khotan’s genuine resurrection stemmed from a fraudulent resurrection of Mokanna in The Mask of Fu Manchu. Howard’s usage of the Mokanna legend was earlier identified in Patrice Louinet’s “Hyborian Genesis,” published in Robert E. Howard’s The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Ballantine Books, 2003).

Ironically, Lovecraft’s probable transformation of the yellow-skinned Thuba Mleen into the yellow-robed High priest foreshadows a later development in the weird fiction of Robert W, Chambers. After abandoning the King in Yellow during the 1890’s, he returned to the theme of cosmic horror In The Dark Star (1916). The novel was primarily an espionage novel involving an intelligence operation to steal the plans of the Gallipoli fortifications on the eve of World War I. The book has a supernatural framing device. The title referred to a fictional star in outer space. Also known confusingly as the Phantom Planet, the Dark Star was explicitly identified as the realm of the Devil. Instead of using the more familiar names of Satan and Lucifer, Chambers referred to the Devil as Erlik, the God of the Underworld in Turkic and Mongolian mythology. Associated with Erlik was “the brooding Demon which men called Truth.” Moving perilously close to Earth, emanations from the Dark Star generated the hatred which led to World War I.

The physical appearance of Erlik was evident in an idol:

“Also there was a figure in bronze, encrusted with tarnished gold and faded traces of polychrome decoration.

Erlik, the Yellow Devil, as Herr Wilner called it, seemed too heavy to be a hollow casting, and yet, when shaken, something within rattled faintly, as though when the molten metal was cooling a fissure formed inside, into which formed inside, into which a few loose fragments of bronze had fallen. It apparently had not been made to represent any benign Chinese god; the aspect of the yellow figure was anything but benevolent. The features were terrific; scowls infested its grotesque countenance; threatening brows bent inward; angry eyes rolled in apparent fury; its double gesture with sword and javelin was violent and almost humorously menacing.”

After World War I concluded, Chambers would return to Erlik in The Slayer of Souls. The Dark Star was given the name of Yrimid and also called Erlik’s World and the Black Planet. The sorcerers of Yian from “The Maker of Moons” were revealed to be the minions of Erlik. Yian was now associated with a terrestrial location called the Lake of Ghosts.

The Dark Star and The Slayer of Souls represent a radical reworking of the Carcosa mythology into a parallel lore. The black stars over Carcosa have been converted into Yrimid. The King in Yellow and the Phantom of Truth was replaced by Erlik and the Demon of Truth. The extra-terrestrial Carcosa and Lake of Hali had been superseded by the Earth-bound Yian and Lake of Ghosts.

The Erlik mythology is an inferior variation on the Carcosa mythology. As the description of his idol demonstrated, the Yellow Devil is a racist caricature. This second version of an outer-worldly Satan has yellow skin rather than yellow robes.

There is no evidence that Lovecraft read The Dark Star, but he did read The Slayer of Stars. In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith (October 1, 1927), Lovecraft summed up the book as “a vast disappointment.” Despite this negative assessment, the Black Planet called Yrimid may have influenced Lovecraft to fashion the much superior Yuggoth in Fungi from Yuggoth.

“In the Court of the Dragon” referred to “the awful abode of lost souls” within the domains of the King in Yellow. The story implied that the “abode” was the Lake of Hali. Chambers apparently imagined his macabre lake to be swarming with the spirits of the dead. This interpretation was confirmed by the parallel Lake of Ghosts in The Slayer of Souls. The Lake of Hali may have been spawned by another poem of Thomas Moore.

Moore’s “The Lake of the Dismal Swamp” was based on an old legend of the Algonquin Indian tribe. The Great Dismal Swamp extends two thousand miles across the eastern border of Virginia and North Carolina. The title of the poem refers to Lake Drummond, which is located in the center of the swamp. Written during an 1803-4 tour of North America by the Irish poet, “The Lake of the Dismal Swamp” told of a young woman who died at an early age. Rising from her grave, she haunted Lake Drummond paddling a white canoe, Hearing of her resurrection, her distraught lover went searching for her. Dying in the swamp, he underwent his own resurrection and joined his beloved in the lake. They would paddle the white canoe for all eternity. The resurrection of the young lovers in Moore’s “The Lake of the Dismal Swamp” may have reminded Chambers of the revival of the Arab narrator in “An Inhabitant of Carcosa.” Consequently, Chambers fashioned a haunted lake similar to Moore’s, and christened it after the sage who wrote of unearthly survivals in Bierce’s story.

Other poems by Moore may have played a role in shaping the Lake of Hali. “I Wish I Was by That Dim Lake” was based on Patrick’s Purgatory, a pit on Station Island in Lough Derg, a lake in County Donegal. Ireland. Legends claimed that the pit was a doorway to Purgatory. The poem talked of “sinful souls” residing on the island in the lake. The concluding lines of “Rhymes on the Road: Extract 14. Rome–Fragment Of a Dream” also resonate with the image of lake imprisoning the souls of the departed:

“To join those other vanisht dreams

That now flit palely ‘mong the dead,–

The shadows of those shades that go.

Around Oblivion’s lake below!”

“The Repairer of Reputations” asserted that the Lake of Hali was on a world with two suns. Chambers may have based these dual suns on a passage from “The Light of the Haram,” the last of the four narrative poems in Lalla Rookh:

Then fare thee well–I’d rather make

My bower upon some icy lake

When thawing suns begin to shine

Than trust to love so false as thine.”

Since I cited Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera earlier, some astute reader may be wondering if that 1910 novel could have played a role in Lovecraft’s invention of the High Priest of Leng in 1920, The answer is a definitive no. Lovecraft’s letter to Lillian D. Clark (September 18, 1925) disclosed that Lovecraft’s first exposure to Leroux’s creation was the 1925 film version with Lon Chaney.

Phantom of the Opera drew upon the same sources as The King in Yellow. Besides Moore’s “The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan,” Leroux had his masked protagonist create a costume based on Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.”

Just as the Necronomicon and the play The King in Yellow have parallel literary influences, Bierce’s Hali and Abdul Alhazred have parallel historical counterparts. In the fall of 1927, Lovecraft wrote ” History of the Necronomicon ” in order to impose an internal consistency for his stories. Here Lovecraft documented a biography of Abdul Alhazred. The author of the Necronomicon “flourished during the period of the Ommiade caliphs, circa 700 A. D.” Alhazred was devoured by an invisible monster in Damascus during 738.

Lovecraft pretended that Alhazred’s biography was written by Ebn Khallikan (1211-1282). Also referred to as Ibn Khallikan and Aḥmad Ibn-Muḥammad Ibn-Ḫallikān, he served as chief judge of Damascus. He was the author of Deaths of Eminent Men and History of the Sons of the Epoch, a massive work consisting of four volumes.

Among the individuals profiled by Ebn Khallikan was a man listed as “Khalid Ibn Yazid the Omiade” in an 1843 English translation. Khalid (d. 704) was an expert on medicine and alchemy whose works were translated into Latin. For a brief period, he was even an Ommiade (alternately transliterated as “Omiade” or “Ummyad”) caliph. This historical scholar was thoroughly discussed in Marco Frensckowski’s “Hali” as the real-life basis for Ambrose Bierce’s Arab savant. Khalid’s name was Latinized as “Calid” or “Hali” or “Haly” by European writers.

Lovecraft wrote “History of the Necronomicon” not long after finishing “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” which contains numerous references to the Latin works of Renaissance alchemists and chemists. In the course of his historical research into alchemical literature, Lovecraft could have stumbled upon Khalid Ibn Yazid (alias Hali).

The ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Lovecraft’s invaluable reference tool, had an entry for “Alchemy” by Jules Andrieu (1838-1884). Lovecraft surely would have consulted Andrieu’s article while researching “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” Andrieu cited Khalid Ibn Yazid under his Calid alias:

“… With Calid, the author of the Book of the Three Words and of the Book of the Secrets of Alchemy, the parallelism between the metals and planets takes a retrograde step towards astrology. This Calid, a soi-disant king of Egypt, held that before engaging in any operation of alchemy the stars ought to be consulted. This recommendation was literally followed by the thaumaturgists of the middle ages and the Renaissance. The effect was fatal, if, when Calid or one of his school saw the metals obstinately refuse to be purified in his crucible, he did not wait for a happy conjunction of constellations above in order to try his chance again with the operations of inferior astrology.”

If Lovecraft read this, he would have been reminded of his own Necronomicon by the Book of the Three Words and the Book of the Secrets of Alchemy. Besides Khalid, there were three other Islamic savants known in Europe as Hali or Haly. They were 1) Ali Ibn el-Abbas (died c, 994), a Persian physician who authored the Kitab al-Maliki (“Complete Book of the Medical Art”) 2) Ali Ibn Ridwan (c. 988 – c. 1061), a physician and astrologer, and 3) Ali Ibn Rijal (or Haly Abenragel), an astrologer (died c. 1037). An article on “Medicine” by Joseph Frank Payne (1840-1910) in the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica references Ali Ibn el-Abbas under his Haly alias:

“Haly, i. e. Ali ibn el-Abbas (ob. 994), a Persian wrote a medical text-book, known as the “Royal Book,” which was the standard authority among the Arabs up to the time of Avicenna, and was more than once translated into Latin and printed.”

The Royal Book (in Latin Liber Regalis or Regalis Dispositio) was another title for Kitab al-Maliki. Two of the four historical Halis briefly appeared Richard L. Tierney’s The House of the Toad. The novel featured “the Liber Secretorum Artis of the 7th century alchemist Khalid ibn Jazif, and Hali’s De Judicius Astrorum.” Liber Secretorum Artis is the Latin title of the Book of the Secrets of Alchemy. De Judicius Astrorum (“Complete Book on Judgment of the Stars”) was authored by Ali Ibn Rijal.

As tempting as it is to imagine Lovecraft researching the life of a historical Hali, there is a far more plausible explanation for the similarities between Alhazred and Khalid in “History of the Necronomicon.

“The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” mentioned “Geber’s Liber Investigationis.” Geber was an eighth century alchemist who merited his own entry in the edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica owned by Lovecraft. Geber was an Arab from the eighth century. Besides being discussed in the “Alchemy” article, Geber merited his own entry (written by John Ferguson) m the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica:

After all the research and criticism that have been expended on this the first and most interesting personage in the modern history of chemistry, little is definitely known about him, and about the origin of the works which pass under his name. It has been a very general tradition to regard Geber as an Arabian, but until the publication in recent years by European scholars of the works of Arabian historians and bibliographers, the probable source of the tradition has not been known. It seems to be pretty generally believed that the Geber of Western Europe is the same as the person who is called in full Abu Musa Dschabir (or Jabir) Ben Haijan Ben Abdallah el-Sufi el-Tarsusi el-Kufl, who was reckoned the most illustrious of the alchemists by the Arabs, and who is mentioned in the Kitab-al-Fihrist (10th cent.), by Ibn Khallikan (13th cent.), by Haji Khalfa (17th cent.), and other writers. If this be correct, Geber must have flourished in the 8th century, for, according to Haji Khalfa, Dschabir Ben Haijan died in the 160th year of the Hegira, which corresponds with the year beginning October 19, 776 A.D. This date is incidentally confirmed by other writers, though there are difficulties arising from the date of his teacher Kalid Ben Jezid, and his patron Dschaafar ess-Sadik.”

Other reference sources referred to him as Jabir Ibn Hayyan (or Haiyan). Geber is a Latinized firm of Jabir. His works include the Kitab al-Zuhra (“Book of Venus”) and the Kitab Al-Ahjar (“Book of Stones”). The alleged teacher of Jabir, “Kalid Ben Jezidz” from the above passage is an alternate transliteration of Khalid Ibn Yazid The date of 776 or 777 A. D. for Jabir’s death is problematic because Khalid Ibn Yazid died seventy-two years before his pupil’s supposed date of death. Regardless of whether Jabir really studied under Khalid, he would have been alive during the final days of the Ommiade Caliphate (661-750), which was prominently featured in the “Arabia” entry from the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Lovecraft probably derived elements of his portrayal of Alhazred in “History of the Necronomicon” from Jabir (alias Geber). Lovecraft would have found Geber in Jules Andrieu’s “Alchemy” entry, and then cross-referenced the alchemist’s individual entry.

The Encyclopedia Britannica entry cited Geber’s works:

“The works which purport to have been written by Geber, and which have been printed, bear the following names : – Summa perfectionis ; Liber investigationis, or De investigatione perfectionis; De inventione veritatis; Liber Fomacum ; Testamentum. None of the editions appear to contain the whole of these tractates ; there are usually found only two or three of them, but the English translation contains them all except the Testament, which is considered spurious by some writers. The printed editions of these works are very numerous, but they are all uncommon, and some of them are exceedingly rare. No approximately complete list is contained in any bibliography, and very few writers have seen more than half a dozen at most. The most complete catalogue from personal inspection is given by Beckmann. It contains twelve editions, but that does not comprise nearly all those which are known. While some of the editions correspond exactly, being merely reprints, there are important differences among others, What light these variations may throw upon the origin of the text has never been investigated. A critical edition of the works with the various readings would be necessary before deciding that what is found in them is really Geber’s, and dates back eleven centuries.”

The passage is clearly the source for Lovecraft’s usage of “Geber’s Liber Investigationis” in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” Many other obscure historical tomes listed in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” can be found be in the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. For example, the “Alchemy” article referenced the Turba Philosophorum, Artephius’ Key of Wisdom, Robert Fludd’s Clavis Alchimiae, Trithermius’ De Lapide Philosophico, and Roger Bacon’s Thesaurus Chemicus (using the alternate spelling of “Chimicus”). Raymond Lully’s Ars Magna et Ultima was discussed in the Encyclopedia Britannica entry for that author. The Qanoon-e-Islam, which was used to hide a copy of the Necronomicon in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” was cited briefly in a footnote from the “Magic” entry by Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917). Joshi’s annotations for “The Dunwich Horror” in The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Tales proved that Lovecraft similarly raided rare books from the “Cryptography” entry in the ninth edition for that story.

Unbeknownst to the writer of the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on Geber, Jabir didn’t authored “Liber investigationis” or any of the other works listed alongside it. At least one anonymous impostor wrote books on alchemy and attributed them to Geber (Jabir). The initial fraudulent Geber was possibly a Spaniard in the fourteenth century, The existence of this trickster was briefly hinted at in the Geber entry available to Lovecraft: “Other writers have tried to show that Geber was a native of Spain, or at least lived at Seville, but this has probably arisen from confusing Geber the chemist with other persons of the same or similar name.”

The data in the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica has been superseded by later research. This is a summary of the facts ascertained from the current online Encyclopedia Britannica. One or more Geber impostors were responsible for the existence of four books published in 1678: De investigatonie perfectonis (The Investigation of Perfection“), Summa perfectionis magisterii (“The Sum of Perfection or the Perfect Magistery), Liber fornacum (“Book of Furnaces”), and De inventione veritatis (“The Invention of Verity”). Prior to 1678, various versions of these books existed with multiple titles and even contents. These fraudulent books bearing Geber’s name surfaced as early as the fourteenth century. Lovecraft’s citation of Liber Investigationis was to a supposed alternate title for De investigatonie perfectonis.

Probably Lovecraft in “History of the Necronomicon chose to model Abdul Alhazred on Jabir (alias Geber). Regardless of the facts concerning Geber, Lovecraft would have only believed the alchemist to be a savant flourishing in the eighth century and an eminent figure described by Ebn Khallikan. Although the Geber entry employs the alternate transliteration of Ibn Khallikan, the spelling used by Lovecraft can be found in the entry for “Arabia” from the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica: “Nor should we forget the judiciously-selected biographies of Mahometan celebrities by Ebn Khallikan, in the 12th century, or those of Koteybah of an earlier date; but of such compositions as these the Arab name is legion.” Unlike Khalid Ibn Yazid, his “student” does not have a separate biographical entry in Deaths of Eminent Men and History of the Sons of the Epoch. Jabir, the genuine Geber, was only mentioned in the entry for his patron, the Iman Jaafar As-Sadik (702–765). This is the same individual called “Dschaafar ess-Sadik” in the Geber entry. He was a leader of the Shi’ite Muslims. While the article from the ninth edition gives Jabir’s death as c. 776, the current online Encyclopedia Britannica gives the alchemist’s lifespan as “born c. 721″ and “died c. 815.” If those dates are correct, then the assertion that Jabir studied under Khalid is false.

There were two different Caliphates administering Arabia in the eighth century, the Ommiade and the Abassid. According to the “Arabia” article, the Ommiade Caliphs allowed freedom of expression while their successors were extremely oppressive. In order for Alhazred to be unhampered in his writing, his life had to fall within the Ommiade Caliphate which ended in 750. That fact would explain why Lovecraft would have Alhazred perish in 738, nearly four decades before Geber’s supposed demise in 776.

An extraordinary literary irony may have transpired. Ambrose Bierce most likely chanced upon some reference to Hali, and decided to bestow that name for a literary character, Whether Bierce was aware of Hali’s connection to Khalid Ibn Yazif is unknown. Bierce’s Hali influenced Lovecraft’s Abdul Alhazred. While fleshing out Alhazred, Lovecraft created a background derived from Jabir (Geber), a purported pupil of Khalid. Lovecraft was probably unaware of Khalid’s alias of Hali.

Lovecraft shared “History of the Necronomicon” with Clark Ashton Smith, who utilized portions of it in “The Return of the Sorcerer” (Strange Tales, September 1931). As Robert M. Price observed in “The Attestation Formula in the Necronomicon” from Crypt of Cthulhu #8 (Michaelmas, 1982), Smith recognized the parallels between Alhazred and Bierce’s scribes. Smith constructed a Necronomicon passage in the style of the fictional citations of Hali and Morryster:

It is verily known by few, but is nevertheless an attestable fact, that the will of a dead sorcerer hath power upon his own body and can raise it up from the tomb and perform therewith whatever action was unfulfilled in life. And such resurrections are invariably for the doing of malevolent deeds and for the detriment of others. Most readily can the corpse be animated if all its members have remained intact; and yet there are cases in which the excelling will of the wizard hath reared up from death the sundered pieces of a body hewn in many fragments, and hath caused them to serve his end, either separately or in a temporary reunion. But in every instance, after the action hath been completed, the body lapseth into its former state.”

The lines by Smith were a throwback to the early presentation of the Necronomicon as a text dealing with resurrections from the realm of the dead. By the time “The Return of the Sorcerer” was published, Lovecraft had already shifted Alhazred’s tome into a chronicle of rites and lore venerating dark gods from beyond the stars. The properties of the Necronomicon derived from Ambrose Bierce consequently receded in Lovecraft’s fiction. Alhazred had ceased to be an echo of Hali. Just as the genuine Geber became a more acclaimed alchemist than a real-life Hali (Khalid Ibn Yazd), Alhazred evolved into a more famous literary character than the fictional Hali.

Chambers’ transformation of Bierce’s Hali into a lake were very appropriate. Lakes are the sources of rivers. Bierce’s stories functioned as the primary source from which sprang two great literary streams navigated respectively by Chambers and Lovecraft.

Article by Rick Lai.


I would like to thank Matthew Carpenter and Jean-Marc Lofficier for assistance in preparing this article.

All of the dates for the composition of Lovecraft’s works are from The H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia (Hippocampus Press, 2001) by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz.. Lovecraft’s letter to Frank Belknap Long (January 26, 1921) about the dream basis for “The Nameless City” is from Selected Letters I: 1911-1924 (Arkham House, 1965), p. 122. The letter to Robert E. Howard (January 16, 1932) about the invention of Abdul Alhazred is from A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard Volume I:1930-1932 (Hippocampus Press, 2011), p. 265. The other letter by Howard (November 2, 1933) about The Witch-Cult in Western Europe influencing “The Festival” is in Volume II: 1933-1936, p. 655. The letter to Harry O. Fischer (February 1937) about translating the word “Necronomicon” is from Selected Letters V: 1934-1937 (Arkham House, 1976), p. 418. The letter to Lillian D. Clark (September 18, 1925) about seeing Lon Chaney play the Phantom of the Opera is from Lovecraft Letters Volume 2: Letters From New York (Nightshade Books, 2005), p.195.This correspondence from Letters to Alfred Galpin (Hippocampus , 2003) was cited: September 30, 1919 (“M. LOLLIVS,” p.61 ), December 11, 1919 (“M. LOLLIVS TILBALDUS,” p. 66), and April 1920 (“Tilbaldus the Great,” p.68, “Grandpa Tilbadus,” p. 70, “The Damned Thing,” p. 75). This correspondence from Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner (Hippocampus, Press, 2005) was cited : September 27. 1919 (dreams about abyss and Bierce, and reading Plays of God and Men, (p. 169), and January 23, 1920 (“On Reading Lord Dunsany’s Book of Wonder ,” p, 179). The letter to Clark Ashton Smith (October 1, 1927) can be found in

Selected Letters II: 1925-1929 (Arkham House, 1968), p. 174

Links to works discussed in the article:

1) Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ligeia” (including “The Conqueror Worm”)

2) Gustav Nidaud’s “Carcassonne”

3) John William Burgon’s “Petra” (full version):

4) Nicholas Michell’s “Petra” (short version)

5) Thomas Moore’s Lalla Rookh:

6) Thomas Moore’s “The Lake of the Dismal Swamp:”

7) Thomas Moore’s “I Wish I was by that Dim Lake:”

8) Thomas Moore’s Rhymes on the Road: Extract 14. Rome–Fragment Of A Dream:

18 responses to “The Foundations of “The King in Yellow” and the “Necronomicon”

  1. Dunsany did not read Nidaud’s poem, at least not before writing “Carcassonne”, hence would not have known that it was located in France. There is an introductory note to “Carcassonne” that reads:

    “In a letter from a friend whom I have never seen, one of those that read my books, this line was quoted—’But he, he never came to Carcassonne.’ I do not know the origin of the line, but I made this tale about it.”

    I have never seen “Carcassonne” reprinted without this introductory note.


  2. Reblogged this on Larissa Glasser and commented:
    I must admit, I’m currently reading “The King in Yellow” by Robert W. Chambers for the first time. The stories are widely considered essential reading for anyone interested in the legacy of SF/H. The title story brought to mind the forbidden knowledge contained in H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, and I wondered if TKiY had influenced HPL. According to this recent article in the Lovecraft eZine, that is not the case >


  3. Thank you M. Lai for this great essay!
    Two thoughts :
    -You wrote : “Pronounce “Khorossan” and then “Carcosa.” Don’t they sound like variant names for the same place?”
    You may try also “Khorassan” and “Chorazin”…

    -And in recent scholarship, William R. Newman makes a pretty solid case for Paul de Tarente being the medieval pseudo-Geber.

    Thanks again for the captivating read.


  4. Wonderful article. Rick, I hope you’re planning to do a collection of your Lovecraftian research pieces.


  5. Since submitting this article, I discovered something that altered the conclusions slightly. The text in the online link for Thomas Moore’s LALLA ROOKH is flawed. It is missing a key footnote that mentions Mokanna was known as “the Moon-maker.” This footnote strengthens the connection to Chambers’ “The Maker of Moons.” I was able to trace the source of that “Moon-maker” reference to George Sale’s extremely long introduction in his 1734 English translation of the KORAN. Sale’s introduction, which dealt with the history of Islam, was read by both Thomas Moore and Sax Rohmer. Sale was the source of two key variations on the Mokanna legend: 1) the suicide of the Veil Prophet in a fiery cistern (used in LALLAH ROOKH) and 2) the claim that Mokanna also owned “a gilded mask” (the basis for the golden mask in Rohmer’s THE MASK OF FU MANCHU). Therefore, there was s a logical reason to associate Mokanna with yellow or gold when Chanbers wrote THE KING IN YELLOW . This is a substitute link to the text of Moore’s poem.


  6. Truly, a monumental work! The paragraphs are dense with facts, derived from sources, most of which few of us will every have access to. I stand amazed, as Rick depth of research brings us closer to an understanding of the Lovecraft’s creativity and his methods. Thank you so much Rick for taking the time to brick and mortar this article!


  7. Truly, a monumental work! The paragraphs are dense with facts, derived from sources, most of which few of us will every have access to. I stand amazed, as Rick depth of research brings us closer to an understanding of the Lovecraft’s creativity and his methods. Thank you so much Rick for taking the time to brick and mortar this article!


  8. OK, it’s not clear to me whether this piece is by Mike or Rick Lai but in either case this is a most interesting and thorough read. Thank you. It’s got me on the hunt for many of the works referenced that I haven’t read.


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