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April 22, 2013

Manufactured Runs

The King in Cubbie Blue

by Colin Wyers


Robert W. Chambers was one of the more successful authors in what may well have been the heyday of written fiction in America at the turn of the previous century, and he’s an interesting example of how writers were far less constrained to a single genre back then. During his lifetime, Chambers was mostly known (and read) for his romantic fiction, which produced several bestsellers. He also wrote war stories and historical fiction, as well as a handful of illustrated children’s books.

Nowadays, to the extent he’s remembered at all, it’s for his contributions to the field of horror. His best-remembered work is a collection of short stories called “The King In Yellow,” which contains several stories about a play titled (yes) “The King In Yellow.” Chambers only ever quotes from the first act, which characters describe as banal and innocent. The second act, however, is so terrifying and horrible (and so filled with awful truths) that it drives those who read its text or see it performed utterly insane. Chambers never reveals the contents of the second act in full, only hinting at its contents obliquely:

He mentioned the establishment of the Dynasty in Carcosa, the lakes which connected Hastur, Aldebaran and the mystery of the Hyades. He spoke of Cassilda and Camilla, and sounded the cloudy depths of Demhe, and the Lake of Hali. "The scolloped tatters of the King in Yellow must hide Yhtill forever," he muttered, but I do not believe Vance heard him. Then by degrees he led Vance along the ramifications of the Imperial family, to Uoht and Thale, from Naotalba and Phantom of Truth, to Aldones, and then tossing aside his manuscript and notes, he began the wonderful story of the Last King.

The idea of a book or performance that can drive one mad has been borrowed and tweaked by countless horror writers since, most notably H.P. Lovecraft and his legions of imitators. Now, most tropes in horror literature can be linked to real-life phenomena that serve as inspiration. Stories of vampires, for instance, draw their inspiration from diseases like anemia and porphyria, and also the pre-Victorian practice of burying people before they had in fact actually died. The notion of the haunted house owes much to the sounds houses make as temperatures shift, as different building materials expand and contract at different rates and make creaking noises in the night. Stories like “The King in Yellow,” then, seem to find their closest real-life analogue in Cubs baseball.

I would be accused of many things (not least of which is a lack of self-awareness) if I were to say that the madness produced by Cubs baseball affects only the team’s managers, but it seems to affect them with a particular ferocity. There is of course Lee Elia’s profanity-laced tirade (if you’re somewhere where Elia’s tirade will not cause problems with co-workers or family, you can listen here). Dusty Baker made comments that at best caused raised eyebrows, like when he talked about how African-American and Latin-American baseball players could withstand warm weather better than white players. A beleaguered Lou Piniella coined the term “Cubbie occurrence” to describe the numerous problems that befell the team during his tenure. At one point, it was decided that one man was simply not enough to manage the Cubs and an entire college of coaches was tried (rather disastrously it should be noted).

Now the insanity bug seems to have hit manager Dale Sveum. When asked about his team’s two key players, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, he talked about how if players don’t perform they “lose their jobs.” Sveum continued to talk in this vein:

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Related Content:  Cubs,  Dale Sveum

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