They talk in hushed whispers. “Hey, did you watch last night?” Suddenly, the volume drops and all I hear is a low buzz over the cube wall. I hear enough to know they’re taking about McConaughey and that new HBO show — and they’re obviously riveted.
I haven’t seen it. Did see the cool ad and noticed how vastly different McConaughey looked, all gaunt in a suit. He’s really turned into an Actor’s Actor, what with terrific recent performances in Mud and Dallas Buyers Club. Although my favorite McConaughey film is probably Sahara. Man, my kids still spout quotes from that movie. Every day I hear, “Sit down… I’ll get the check.” (And, “Of course I brought the dynamite!”)
Anyway. I’ve been seeing a strange flurry of articles about Robert W. Chambers’s brilliant collection The King in Yellow crop up on Facebook recently, and I saw the headline of that io9 piece, “The One Literary Reference You Must Know to Appreciate True Detective.” But I didn’t really make the connection until I saw this article at The Daily Beast, “Read The King in Yellow, the True Detective Reference That’s the Key to the Show.”
The key to understanding HBO’s enthralling series True Detective might be the references to the Yellow King and Carcosa, which the killer Reggie Ledoux talks about and the show hints at to be figures and symbols of a satanic cult of some sort. But the Yellow King is an allusion to The King in Yellow, an 1895 book of horror and supernatural short stories by the writer Robert W. Chambers…
Holy cow… True Detective is based on The King in Yellow?
Maybe “based on” is too strong. It couldn’t be a direct adaptation of any of the stories. Not to spoil the book (or the show) for you, but… in the stories, pretty much everybody dies. You come into contact with the forbidden play The King in Yellow, and it’s over for you. It’s like library anthrax.
The article goes on to say:
There are a total of 10 stories, the first four (“The Repairer of Reputations,” “The Mask,” “In the Court of the Dragon,” and “The Yellow Sign”) of which feature a fictional lost play called “The King in Yellow”…
The King in Yellow has influenced writers like H.P. Lovecraft (who used it in his own stories), Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin — and now Nic Pizzolatto, the creator of True Detective and the writer of its dark, labyrinthine screenplay.
Apparently, yes. The Wall Street Journal took notice after Robert W. Chambers’s original volume rocketed into the top best seller lists on Amazon this week and reported on the connection in their online edition this morning:
How did an obscure collection of supernatural short stories from 1895 become an Amazon bestseller seemingly overnight? Well, Matthew McConaughey doesn’t hurt.
HBO’s True Detective, which stars Mr. McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as detectives investigating a ritualistic murder, has a distinctive literary bent. The show’s writer, novelist Nic Pizzolatto, has sewn steady references to The King in Yellow, a collection of short stories by Robert Chambers, into the show’s early episodes. From verbatim quotes to a motif of black stars, the links have already been obsessively chronicled by fans.
Yesterday on Amazon, The King in Yellow, shot up 71% over 24 hours to number seven on Amazon’s bestselling books list. The paperback version was published by Amazon’s CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform in September, 2013, and the company has seen the book on the Kindle bestseller list.
Robert W. Chambers’s The King in Yellow is a classic of supernatural fiction. Lovecraft read it in 1927 and was so taken with the concept of “The Yellow King” — and the Lake of Hali and the Yellow Sign — that he co-opted them for his Cthulhu Mythos, mentioning them in “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1931).
Our roving reporter Matthew David Surridge reviewed the book for us in October of last year — proving that we’re more hip than HBO (by three whole months!). Kandi, send a basket of Macadamia nuts to Mr. Surridge. The chocolaty ones.
If you’re interested in reading The King in Yellow, it’s currently in the public domain in the US, and is available as a free ebook. Of course, we recommend you get the 1980 Ace edition (above right; click for bigger version), or better yet the 1965 Ace paperback. Because it’s beautiful.
You can also read the first four stories in their entirety at The Daily Beast link above. But be warned — don’t read them at night.