Friday, May 28, 2010

The Yellow Sign

This is a roughly inked version of the Yellow Sign, based on the design from the early printings of "The King in Yellow" by Robert W. Chambers. The depiction of the King on the cover of those editions has been copied by hundreds of artists, but only a handful have used the inverted torch featured on both the front cover and the spine. Based on it's historical usage I think there's a strong case to be made that it's not just a random decorative element, but a depiction of the Yellow Sign. You can find more information on the subject, including the Sign's uncanny resemblance to an inverted Rod of Asclepius, in the Arkham Sanitarium post from earlier this week.

Before anybody asks, yes, I'm familiar with the three armed design created by the very talented Kevin Ross. He's a wonderful artist and I greatly admire his work, but he's open about the fact that his depiction is solely the product of his imagination. I prefer this alternate interpretation solely because of it's historical ties to Chambers' work.


josefk said...

Brilliant! All this time and it was right before our eyes. As much as I like the Ross design, I've always been reluctant to accept it as 'the sign', knowing that it was a fairly recent creation.

Rev. Marx said...

It looks somewhat... suggestive, to me.

Raven said...

Perhaps, like an inverted crucifix, it represents the polar opposite of its upright form's referent?

As the Rod of Asclepius is a symbol of health, so the Yellow Sign -- its inversion -- is a symbol of (physical and mental) sickness?

Propnomicon said...

@ josefk

One of the things I find so intriguing about this interpretation of the Yellow Sign is the fact that it was there all along.

@ Rev. Marx

Somewhat? Heh.

@ Raven

That duality is something I like, although it does border on the Derlethian. One creepy parallel is the suggestion that the Rod of Asclepius doesn't depict a snake, but a worm. Treating patients infected with the guinea worm required slowly wrapping it around a stick over a period of weeks until it was finally pulled from the body.

If the Sign really is an inversion of that, the rumors of people being exposed to it being tainted become even more ominous. The Rod draws away unclean and unwholesome things, but the Sign does quite the opposite.

Raven said...

Re duality of opposing / inverted symbols: please recall that it was Lovecraft and not Derleth who prominently featured such a pair of symbols in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, with the "Dragon's Head" (caput draconis) for calling up, and the "Dragon's Tail" (cauda draconis) for putting down, the dead from/to their ashes.

Raven said...

Re Rod of Asclepius as worm-puller: it has some plausibility (if no hard evidence), and certainly a pleasing creepy-chilly factor for Mythos use.

The serpent, on the other hand, is well-attested in classical art and language. Asclepius is memorialized among the stars as the constellation Ophiuchus (aka Serpentarius), the Serpent-Bearer, holding a huge serpent separately and not around a rod. Wikipedia's "Rod of Asclepius" gives citations that "In early statues of Asclepius the rod and serpent were represented separately." (The "rod" was his walking staff.) The serpent's shedding skin to apparently regain youth and health made it emblematic of the healer's art.

How Asclepius was represented -- from having a full statue seated, with his staff in one hand and the serpent coiled beneath the other, to having just those two attributes combined without him there at all -- is just like what happened with other god-symbols, for instance the spear-and-shield of Ares/Mars that is further simplified to the symbol for "male", or the mirror of Aphrodite/Venus that is now the symbol for "female".

Propnomicon said...

@ Raven

This is just brilliant stuff.

L said...

I've always said that a lot of the imagery and story painted the King in Yellow and Hastur as sort of a backwards land. Yellow is across the color wheel from purple--what a king should usually wear. He is in tatters instead of finery. In the book, what you would expect in the stories is in varying degrees set on its head.