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.

DarkShadows said...

I really do like this design and your logic for it possibly being the Yellow Sign is sound, but I disagree with your assertion that it's intended to be THE Sign, mostly for the same reason that I disagree with the Ross interpretation being THE Sign (even though I quite like the design itself) - that being that neither this design nor the Ross design fit with what very little Chambers did give us for the Sign's description... It's true that Chambers never does fully describe it, but there's one particular quote from him in "The Yellow Sign" that DOES point out that the Sign is somewhat letter-like, more like a calligraphy glyph or an Arabic letter. Something more akin to a katakana symbol or a calligraphy-looking image would therefore be more appropriate if we go based on the story... perhaps change the design a bit; make it more stylized yet? I could see a rod, interlaced with the loops of the 'tentacle'... more like a letter or symbol and not a stylistic design.

I myself have been trying to figure out a design for the Sign that fits... I've done a lot of different sketching of Yellow Sign ideas for my own CoC campaigns... I must have at least 20 different designs by now. I suppose the King's driven me a bit mad in that regard. ;)

On the spine glyph - considering how Chambers uses the King and his influence in the stories, it would definitely make sense that he included an inverted Caudacus design on the book's spine, based solely on the logic you give. My theory is simply that Chambers was trying to bring up the ideas your theory brings up. It's an excellent and well-thought-out theory though; you've clearly done your research on this.