A little over a year ago, a new television show imprinted itself on the collective consciousness: HBO’s True Detective. Series One starred Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, and was hailed as ‘the best detective show since the Wire’ (reasonably high praise, we’re sure you’d agree).
The Twittersphere was full of excitement at the quality of the show – and equally fascinated by an osbcure old book that seemed central to the show’s mythology: The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers, a (sometimes linked) collection of short stories published in 1895 and a huge influence on H. P. Lovecraft and many others. It’s a chilling series of shorts, the first four of which reference ‘The King in Yellow’, a play which will drive anyone who reads beyond the first act mad. They’re a little dated now, but then so much fiction is, but the worlds the stories show us – some an imagined America of the future (well, 1920) and some set in Paris – is a recognisable and well-depicted one, and there are some lovely chills and creepy moments.
True Detective leaned heavily on The King in Yellow, with multiple references to the book scattered throughout the first series’ episodes, and Gateway published an edition to tie-in with the show’s screening. As well as the ten short stories, we included a short story by Ambrose Bierce, from which Chambers took the name of his fictional city of Carcosa and which was clearly an influence on The King in Yellow, and Chambers’ entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.
And today – yes, this very day – is the 150th anniversary of Robert W. Chambers’ birth. Happy Birthday, Mr Chambers. Cohle and Hart say ‘Hi’.