I had always meant to read The King In Yellow. Robert W. Chambers' collection of fantasy fiction has been long touted as one of the most formative works for modern genre, and now it's at the center of HBO's brilliant new show True Detective. The show makes numerous references to elements from Chambers' work, including the titular Yellow King and the mystical, mythical city of Carcosa (actually plucked by Chambers from the deeply seminal work of Ambrose Bierce). This gap in my literary education is about to be closed, as Amazon is offering an ebook version of The King In Yellow for free today.
The book is a collection of fantasy stories, loosely connected by a lost play called The King In Yellow. Act One is readable, but once you get to Act Two the terrible secrets of the universe revealed within will drive you mad. You can see the influence this book had on HP Lovecraft, among others. And you can see the structural influence on True Detective; writer Nic Pizzolatto has said that we have entered Act Two of the series and we're about to find out just what it is that drove Rust Cohle into long-haired madness.
I know that many are hoping the show dives into absolute fantasy territory in coming instalments; I like the line they're walking right now. The tone of Chambers' work has been described as weird, and that's definitely where True Detective sits. I don't need monsters or Ancient Ones or cities that exist in other dimensions, I just need the existential dread that Chambers and Lovecraft tapped into, an existential dread that has found a scientific face in M-Theory. The unknowable darkness of these old tales is now reflected in the unknowable quantum nature of the universe.
If you don't want to read The King In Yellow you can go to io9, where they have published an exhaustive essay talking about the book and the ways it is reflected in True Detective. I highly recommend it.
The link to The King In Yellow is below. If you can't see it that's because you're blocking ads and that makes me sad.