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HBO’s True Detective Series Revives Interest in 120 Year Old Book


HBO’s True Detective crime series, starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, has sparked interest in a rather forgotten collection of short horror stories published in 1895, reports the Daily Telegraph.

The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers is one the hottest titles in North America right now, thanks to several obscure literary references in the series that tells the story of a 17-year hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana.

The King in Yellow is a collection of short stories, several of which incorporate the recurring motif of a fictional play, also called The King in Yellow, which will supposedly send any reader who gets past the first act into insanity.

Last month TV viewers in the US picked up on the subtle references in episode two of the eight-part series – quotations in a murder victim’s diary, recurring black star and spiral symbols that appear as tattoos and doodles, references to a mysterious character known only as ‘The Yellow King’, and an unknown place called Carcosa.

The first four stories in the book are macabre, including supernatural elements, and are forerunners of HP Lovecraft’s Weird Fiction genre. The most expensive copy on AbeBooks is a first edition, complete with a dust jacket, priced at $3,746. With the exception of connisseurs of the history of horror, The King in Yellow is not widely remembered.

Chambers (1865-1933) also wrote romance, adventure, historical fiction, and war stories, and was highly successfully during this career. His work sold well, frequently achieving best-seller status, and was often serialized in magazines. His 1911 novel The Common Law inspired three films, in 1916, 1923, and 1931, and his 1906 novel The Tracer of Lost Persons was adapted into a radio crime drama that ran from 1937-54. More recently, one of the stories from The King in Yellow, The Yellow Sign, inspired a film of the same name in 2001.

More from Robert W. Chambers:

The Crimson Tide
The Slayer of Souls
In the Quarter
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