Sunday, March 30, 2014

True Detective and Robert W. Chambers

It isn't often that an obscure collection of stories from the nineteenth century draws the attention of twenty-first century television viewers, but such a thing has happened. The collection is The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers, from 1895. The television viewers are the people who watched the HBO series True Detective, which premiered on January 12, 2014, and ended its first run on March 9. I say "obscure," but fans of fantasy fiction and weird fiction are and have been well acquainted with The King in Yellow for a long, long time, since H.P. Lovecraft wrote about it in his seminal study, "Supernatural Horror in Literature" (1927), if not before. I regret to say that I haven't seen the show, but I would like to have a look.

The creator of True Detective is Nic Pizzolatto, a writer and teacher from New Orleans. I'm happy to say that Mr. Pizzolatto has a connection to my home state of Indiana, for he taught at DePauw University in Greencastle, only a few blocks away from where I used to live. DePauw also gave us John Jakes, creator of Brak the Barbarian and countless other genre characters.

Nic Pizzolatto seems to be pretty familiar with genre fiction himself. His TV show is named after a pulp magazine first published by Bernarr Macfadden in 1924--ninety years ago this year. He has drawn on The King in Yellow in his plotting and writing for his show, which is set in the author's native Louisiana, the same country haunted by the cult of Cthulhu in Lovecraft's "Call of Cthulhu." One of the characters in that story is--like Mr. Pizzolatto's protagonists--a Louisiana detective, John Raymond Lagrasse. Lovecraft's fictional grimoire, The Necronomicon, doesn't make an appearance in "The Call of Cthulhu," but Lovecraft may very well have based the idea of a book that drives men mad upon reading it on Robert W. Chambers' fictional drama "The King in Yellow." In any case, I wish Mr. Pizzolatto and the makers of his show further success.

Text copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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