The secret history of the book behind True Detective

Illustration for article titled The secret history of the book behind True Detective

Over the past week, we've been looking at references from True Detective to the book The King in Yellow published in 1895. But, the world The King in Yellow was building actually began years before that, with another book published in 1893.


TRUE DETECTIVE SPOILERS (and literary analysis) ahead, people.

After True Detective's references to The King in Yellow were laid out in this article, the book surged up the bestseller list. But, some commenters pointed out that The King in Yellow actually also references another earlier book, Ambrose Bierce's Can Such Things Be:


Ambrose Bierce's Can Such Things Be is also free on Kindle if you also want to check out "An Inhabitant of Carcosa", which is the first fictional reference to the place that The King In Yellow focuses on.


Also worth mentioning that Bierce's "Haita the Shepherd" names Hastur as the "god of shepherds". I'm not entirely caught up on the show so I'm not sure if the name Hastur has been spoken yet, but I imagine it will be... Certainly anyone who's read The King in Yellow will recognize that name.

As far as I remember, Chambers just borrowed the names, but I may be wrong—either way, I think it's time for me to revisit Bierce.


Well, Bierce's Haita the Shepherd mentions the name of Hastur, but in a completely different context of The King in Yellow. Mind you, TKiY is extremely ambiguous with the name, as well. From the context in most places it's mentioned it seems to refer to a place rather than a deity, while in one short story it's the name of a perfectly ordinary human servant.


Meanwhile, other commenters also pointed out some of the H.P. Lovecraft references in the show:

Matt Barbo

One of the killers has a Hastur tattoo and there was a reference to a child being chased by someone with "a face like spaghetti."


It's definitely inspired by a lot of Lovecraftian themes of nihilism and cosmic alienation, but the jury is still out on whether the show is going to make the leap to outright supernatural horror.

Regardless of whether it does or not, it's still a phenomenally well made show with incredible central performances and masses of depth and subtext to get your teeth into. I recommend it unreservedly.


So just what do all these literary references mean? We're not quite sure yet — but we welcome your theories in the comments.



Does anyone have a ... say, non-HBO source for watching this? That won't nuke my computer? My moral objection to erm ... privateering this media is less than my objections to HBO.