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Carcosa is a fictional city in Ambrose Bierce's short story "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" (1886). 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."
American writer Robert W. Chambers borrowed the name "Carcosa" for his stories, inspiring generations of authors to similarly use Carcosa in their own works.
The King in Yellow
The city was later used more extensively in Robert W. Chambers' book of short horror stories published in 1895, titled The King in Yellow. Chambers had read Bierce's work and borrowed a few additional names from his work, including Hali and Hastur.
In Chambers' stories, and within the apocryphal play titled The King in Yellow, which is mentioned several times within them, the city of Carcosa is a mysterious, ancient, and possibly cursed place. The most precise description of its location is the shores of Lake Hali, in the star cluster Hyades, either on another planet, or 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 collection 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 H.P. Lovecraft and the authors who followed him.
The name Hali originated in Ambrose Bierce's "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" (1886) in which Hali is the author of a quote which prefaces the story. 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. 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, Galad Elflandsson, Simon Strantzas ("Beyond the Banks of the River Seine"), Charles Stross (in the Laundry Files series), Anders Fager and S. M. Stirling (in the Emberverse series).
Joseph S. Pulver has written nearly 30 tales and poems that are based on and/or include Carcosa, The King in Yellow, or other elements from Robert W. Chambers. Pulver also edited an anthology A Season in Carcosa of new tales based upon The King in Yellow, released by Miskatonic River Press in 2012.
John Scott 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.
In Paul Edwin Zimmer's Dark Border series, Carcosa is a city where humans mingle with their nearly-immortal allies, the Hastur.
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 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. In The World of Ice and Fire, it is mentioned that a sorcerer lord lives there who claims to be the sixty-ninth Yellow Emperor, from a dynasty fallen for a thousand years.
In the short story "Dinner in Carcosa," Western Canadian author Allan Williams re-imagines Carcosa as an abandoned Alberta prairie town with still-active insurance policies held by an ominous firm called "Hastur & Associates." The story revolves around a chance encounter between a young insurance adjuster and the Ambrosovich family.
In the satirical novel Kamus of Kadizhar: The Black Hole of Carcosa by John Shirley (St. Martin's Press, 1988), Carcosa is the name of a planet whose weird black hole physics figures in the story.
Swedish writer Anders Fager's "Miss Witt's Great Work of Art" features a Stockholm-based coterie known as "The Carcosa Foundation" that worships Hastur.
In the HBO original series True Detective, 'Carcosa' is presented as a man-made temple. Located in the back woods of Louisiana, the temple serves as a place of ritualistic sexual abuse of children and child murder organized by a group of wealthy Louisiana politicians and church leaders. The main characters, Rust Cohle and Marty Hart, storm the temple in the final episode of the season, where they confront a serial killer, who is the most active member of the cult. It is understood that the cult worships the "Yellow King", to whom an effigy is dedicated in the main chamber of 'Carcosa'. The series hints at a larger conspiracy which continues beyond the show, which is in line with Lovecraftian horror, as is a vision experienced by one character that underscores Lovecraftian themes like cosmic indifference. 
In Part 3 of the Netflix original series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the barker of the traveling amusement park and carnival is named Carcosa, and the carnival in turn named, presumably, after him. Throughout the season of the show, it becomes apparent that the workers at the carnival are all mythological beings of old, with Carcosa himself being the god Pan, his true form being that of a satyr, in the show understood to be the god of madness. The arc of the season revolves partially around the attempts of the carnival workers to resurrect an older deity identified as The Green Man. Themes of madness, death and resurrection parallel the works of Robert W. Chambers et al..
In the 1988 album "Passage to Arcturo" by Rotting Christ, the song "Inside The Eye of Algond" nominates the Mystical Carcosa as part of the singer's journey.
Maria, a film by King Abalos, takes place in a mysterious mountain called Carcosa.
In the Mass Effect 3 universe there is a planet named Carcosa.
In the early 2000s, a Mysterious Package Company experience called The King in Yellow was introduced, heavily inspired by story and title. Later, a sequel experience entitled Carcosa: Rise of the Cult was created, obviously connected to this shared universe, and connected to the original 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 in 1947 by Frederick B. Shroyer, a boyhood friend of T. E. Dikty, and two Los Angeles science fiction fans, Russell Hodgkins and Paul Skeeters. 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. Their first book was a huge omnibus volume of the best non-series weird fiction by Manly Wade Wellman. It was enhanced by a group of chilling illustrations by noted fantasy artists Lee Brown Coye. Their other three volumes were also giant omnibus collections (of work by Hugh B. Cave, E. Hoffman Price, and again by Manly Wade Wellman). 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)
Places called Carcosa
In 1896-7 the Carcosa mansion was built as the official residence of the Resident-General of the Federated Malay States for the first holder of that office, Sir Frank Swettenham. It is currently in use as a luxury hotel, the Carcosa Seri Negara. Swettenham took the name from The King in Yellow.
In the Quebec-based geopolitical/live action role play game Bicolline, Carcosa is a kingdom in the west. It was established upon principles of freedom and is populated by pirates, gypsies, escaped slaves, and religious exiles.
Carcosa is borrowed by George R. R. Martin in The Lands of Ice and Fire, fictional maps detailing the known world in his A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series. Carcosa is the easternmost city of the known world, said to be ruled by a sorcerer lord.
- "Yhtill" is the name of the city where The King in Yellow is set. In post-Chambers writings, the word means "stranger" in 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 Reputations," Chambers.)
- Joseph S. Pulver Sr., A Season in Carcosa Archived 2014-08-16 at the Wayback Machine, Miskatonic River Press, 2012 (accessed 27 June 2014). ISBN 978-1937408008
- 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.
- George R.R. Martin, Elio M. García Jr., Linda Antonsson, The World of Ice and Fire, Bantam, 2014.
- "Audio Excerpt from "Dinner in Carcosa"". 2015-05-02.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2015-08-04.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Map of the Isles – David Drake".
- Watt-Evans, Lawrence (November 2001). The Lure of the Basilisk. ISBN 9781587155871.
- "Oh, The Sin Of Writing Such Words: The Infinite Horror Labyrinth Of The Carcosa Mythos", Shudder Magazine, by Derek Fisher, August 25, 2020
- "DigiTech Carcosa Fuzz". DigiTech Guitar Effects. Retrieved 2016-07-20.
- "On the Shores of Hali".
- "Cassilda and Carcosa".
- "1976 World Fantasy Award Winners and Nominees". World Fantasy Convention. Archived from the original on 2008-05-09. Retrieved 2008-04-05.
- Barlow, Henry S. (1995). Swettenham. Kuala Lumpur: Southdene. p. 479.
- Chalker, Jack L.; Owings, Mark (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.). 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