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Carcosa is a fictional city in the Ambrose Bierce short story "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" (1891). In Bierce's story, the ancient and mysterious city is barely described, and is viewed only in hindsight (after its destruction) by a character who once lived there.
Its name may be derived from the medieval city of Carcassonne in southern France, whose Latin name was "Carcaso".
The King in Yellow
The city was later used more extensively in Robert W. Chambers' book of horror short stories published in 1895 entitled The King in Yellow. Chambers had read Bierce's work and had also borrowed a few other names (including Hali and Hastur) from Bierce's work.
In Chambers' stories, and within the apocryphal play (also titled The King in Yellow) which is mentioned several times within them, the city is a mysterious, ancient, and possibly cursed place. The most precise description of its location given is that it said to be located on the shores of Lake Hali in the Hyades. The descriptions given of it make it clear that it must be located on another planet, or possibly even in another universe.
- Along the shore the cloud waves break,
- The twin suns sink behind the lake,
- The shadows lengthen
- In Carcosa.
- Strange is the night where black stars rise,
- And strange moons circle through the skies,
- But stranger still is
- Lost Carcosa.
- Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
- Where flap the tatters of the King,
- Must die unheard in
- Dim Carcosa.
- Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
- Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
- Shall dry and die in
- Lost Carcosa.
- —"Cassilda's Song" in The King in Yellow Act 1, Scene 2
Lake Hali is a misty lake found near the city of Hastur. In the fictional play The King in Yellow (obliquely described by author Robert W. Chambers in the anthology of short stories of the same title), the mysterious cities of Alar and Carcosa stand beside the lake. As with Carcosa, it is referenced in the Cthulhu Mythos stories of Lovecraft and the authors who followed him.
The name Hali originated in Ambrose Bierce's "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" (1891) in which Hali is the author of a quote which prefaces the story. It is possible that the Hali referred to is the Urdu poet Maulana Hali. It is also possible that Hali refers to Haly Abenragel, a 10th-century astrologer. The narrator of the story implies that the person named Hali is now dead (at least in the timeline of the story).
Several other, nearly undescribed places are alluded to in Chambers' writing, among them Hastur, Yhtill, and Aldebaran. "Aldebaran" may refer to the star Aldebaran, likely as it is also associated with the mention of the Hyades star cluster, with which it shares space in the night sky. The Yellow Sign, described as a symbol not of any human script, is supposed to originate from the same place as Carcosa.
One other name associated is "Demhe" and its "cloudy depths" − this has never been explained either by Chambers or any famous pastiche-writer and so we do not know what or who exactly "Demhe" is.
Later writers, including H. P. Lovecraft and his many admirers, became great fans of Chambers' work and incorporated the name of Carcosa into their own stories, set in the Cthulhu Mythos. Robert W. Chambers' creation The King in Yellow and Carcosa have inspired many modern authors, including Karl Edward Wagner ("The River of Night's Dreaming"), Joseph S. Pulver ("Carl Lee & Cassilda"), Lin Carter, James Blish, Michael Cisco ("He Will Be There"), Ann K. Schwader, Robert M. Price and Galad Elflandsson.
Joseph S. Pulver has written nearly 30 tales and poems that are based on and/or include The King in Yellow, Carcosa, Thale, Cassilda, and other elements like the Court of the Dragon of Robert W. Chambers. Joseph S. Pulver is also editing an anthology of all new tales based upon The King in Yellow. The collection is called A Season in Carcosa. It was released in 2012 by Miskatonic River Press.
Marion Zimmer Bradley also used the name Carcosa for a city on her fictional planet Darkover. According to her, this usage and the appearance of other distinctive names from Chambers' work dated from her own youthful fascination with The King in Yellow and her ambitions to produce her own reconstruction of the play on the basis of the fragments in Chambers' works. Only later did she transform those early fantasy writings into science fiction by relocating them from a parallel earth to a distant world under a red sun.
In the short story "More Light", in which James Blish presented his version of a complete text of the play The King in Yellow, Carcosa was described as having four singularities: that it appeared overnight, that no one could tell whether it sat upon the waters of Lake Hali or beyond them on the unseen farther shore, that the rising moon appeared to be in front of the city's towers rather than behind them, and that one knew the city's name to be Carcosa the moment one looked upon it. In Blish's version, Carcosa was created as a city of exile for the King in Yellow, because he was not "king in Aldebaran".
John Tynes contributed to the mythology of Chambers' Carcosa in a series of novellas, "Broadalbin", "Ambrose", and "Sosostris", and essays in issue 1 of The Unspeakable Oath and in Delta Green.
Paul Edwin Zimmer also used Carcosa as the home of Istvan Divega—the great sword master in his Dark Border series, and a powerful race of benevolent beings known as the Hasturs. The series is set in a world where an ancient evil has been fenced in by mystic barriers maintained and watched over by the 'Hasturs'.
David Drake uses Carcosa as the name of the capital city for the island of Haft in his Lord of the Isles series. The Yellow King is also referenced throughout the series and in fact, makes an appearance in Mirror of Worlds.
The album Dim Carcosa by the Belgian metal band Ancient Rites is named after this city.
In 2002 Rainfall Records released a CD by The Society of The Yellow Sign (a name taken from a story by Joseph S. Pulver). The CD is called The King in Yellow. It contains spoken word pieces and songs based on Robert W. Chambers' creations. Mr. Pulver also lends his voice to several recitations on this recording.
Joseph Remy's webcomic "Lost Carcosa" uses the name. The comic (last updated October 31, 2011) has adapted several Lovecraft and Howard stories, including The Transition of Juan Romero, The Thing in the Moonlight and The Fire of Asshurbanipal. The current arc is Nyarlathotep.
In 2008, Geoffrey McKinney published a new book of optional rules for the 1974 edition of the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game entitled Supplement V: Carcosa. Carcosa is the name of the land described in the book, where evil sorcerers enact heinous rituals to summon powers granted by alien gods. Inspired largely by the work of Lovecraft, the book also includes an extract of Chamber's poetry.
A character in the science fiction novel Appleseed by John Clute laments the destruction of the planet Trencher with a reference to Carcosa: "My heart is breaking. To see advancing the anarch dark, O Trencher! Sad to see you go! Bye-bye, we must surmise. As of now-ish, an Eaten Land thou art, O memorious. God rot. I cannot forget Carcosa, where black stars hang in the heavens. O this is a savage downer."
In Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Carcosa is connected with an ancient civilization in the Gobi Desert, destroyed when the Illuminati arrived on Earth via flying saucers from the planet Vulcan.
In the stories of August Derleth and a few others, Carcosa is the residence of Hastur, identified as a Great Old One rather than a location. Occasionally, Hastur alters reality and merges parts of Earth into Carcosa, usually bringing along unwilling people as well.
In the 2012 video game Mass Effect 3, players can visit a planet called Carcosa, located in the Agaiou star system within the Nimbus Cluster. A brief description of the planet mentions a crumbling ruin overlooking a huge, dry lake bed. Additionally, one of the two stars that the planet orbits is called "Hali."
In maps of the world of George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, a city named Carcosa is labeled on the easternmost edge of the map along the coast of a large lake, near other magical cities such as Asshai. It is one of several references to Lovecraft in the series. It has not yet been mentioned in any of the books, however, and may not actually exist in the universe, as the maps are stated to have many inaccuracies on the eastern half of the mapped world.
Anders Fager's short story Miss Witt's Great Work of Art describes how performance artist My Witt is driven to madness and murder by an association called "The Carcosa Foundation." Out of her head, Witt is "trippin' to Hyades" and takes several walks in Carcosa, repeatedly visiting a place called "Ebion Alley."
In the HBO original series True Detective (season 1, episode 2), the work is referenced in the found diary notebook of serial murder victim Dora Kelly Lange. In episode 4 of season 1, under questioning, Charlie Lange relates how his former cellmate Reggie LeDoux told him about a place "down south" called Carcosa, where people go to practice devil worship. He also makes reference to The Yellow King (alternatively The King in Yellow). In episode 5 of season 1, a handcuffed LeDoux tells the detectives that they are "in Carcosa now" and repeatedly references "black stars rising." In the season's finale (episode 8), we walk with true detectives Cohle and Hart through the twisted chambers of Carcosa, which we learn is located on the property of the show's main villain, and discover his manifestation of the dark psyche: "Come on inside little priest... to the right little priest, take the bride's path, this is Carcosa."
Carcosa Seri Negara, a hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was built as the residence of Sir Frank Swettenham, the first British Resident-General of the Federated Malay States, in 1896-1897. He named it after the city in The King in Yellow.
Publishers using the name Carcosa
Two different publishers have used the name Carcosa.
Carcosa House was a science fiction specialty publishing firm formed by Frederick B. Shroyer, a boyhood friend of T. E. Dikty, and two Los Angeles science fiction fans, Russell Hodgkins and Paul Skeeters in 1947. Shroyer had secured a copy of the original newspaper appearance of the novel Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss which he wished to publish. Shroyer talked Hodgkins and Skeeters into going in on shares to form the publisher which issued the Serviss book in 1947. Dikty offered advice, and William L. Crawford of F.P.C.I. helped with production and distribution. Carcosa House announced one other book, Enter Ghost: A Study in Weird Fiction, by Sam Russell, but due to slow sales of the Serviss book, it was never published.
Works published by Carcosa House
Carcosa was a specialty publishing firm formed by David Drake, Karl Edward Wagner, and Jim Groce, who were concerned that Arkham House would cease publication after the death of its founder, August Derleth. Carcosa was founded in North Carolina in 1973 and put out four collections of pulp horror stories, all edited by Wagner. A fifth collection was planned, Death Stalks the Night, by Hugh B. Cave; Lee Brown Coye was working on illustrating it when he suffered a crippling stroke in 1977 and eventually died, causing Carcosa to abandon the project. The book was eventually published by Fedogan & Bremer. Carcosa also had plans to issue volumes by Leigh Brackett, H. Warner Munn and Jack Williamson; however, none of the projected volumes appeared. The Carcosa colophon depicts the silhouette of a towered city in front of three moons.
- 1976, World Fantasy Award, Special Award - Non-Professional to Karl Edward Wagner, David Drake & Jim Groce for Carcosa.
Works published by Carcosa
- Worse Things Waiting, by Manly Wade Wellman (1973)
- Far Lands, Other Days, by E. Hoffmann Price (1975)
- Murgunstrumm and Others, by Hugh B. Cave (1977)
- Lonely Vigils, by Manly Wade Wellman (1981)
- "Yhtill" is the name of the city where The King is Yellow is set. In post-Chambers writings, the word means "stranger" the language of Alar (a city in the play) and is the name used by the character wearing the "Pallid Mask". (Harms, "Yhtill", The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana, p. 341; cf. "The Repairer of Reputation", Chambers.)
- Tynes, John (1995). Broadalbin. Armitage House.
- Tynes, John (1996). Ambrose. Armitage House.
- Tynes, John (2000). Sosostris. Armitage House.
- Tynes, John (December 1990). "The Road to Hali". The Unspeakable Oath. Pagan Publishing. Retrieved 2008-06-20.
- Remy, Joseph. "Lost Carcosa WebComic - Robots, Rabbits, and Lovecraft, Oh My!". Lost Carcosa. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
- "1976 World Fantasy Award Winners and Nominees". World Fantasy Convention. Retrieved 2008-04-05.
- Chalker, Jack L.; Mark Owings (1998). The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Bibliographic History, 1923–1998. Westminster, MD and Baltimore: Mirage Press, Ltd. pp. 136–139.
- Harms, Daniel (1998). The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (2nd ed. ed.). Oakland, CA: Chaosium. ISBN 1-56882-119-0.
- Rehearsals for Oblivion: Act 1—Tales of The King in Yellow, edited by Peter A. Worthy, Elder Signs Press 2007
- Strange Aeons 3 (an issue dedicated to The King in Yellow), edited by Rick Tillman and K.L. Young, Autumn 2010
- The Hastur Cycle, edited by Robert M. Price, Chaosium 1993
- The Yellow Sign and Other Stories, edited by S.T. Joshi, Chaosium 2004
Joseph S. Pulver is editing an anthology of all new tales based upon The King in Yellow. The collection is called A Season in Carcosa. It will be released in 2012 by Miskatonic River Press.