As the mythology of the first season of True Detective unfolded, I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to consume as much of this world as possible. I hung on every word that came out of Matthew McConaughey’s mouth, seeking some additional meaning, hoping to unlock the secrets of this world.
Every came back to the yellow king. That was the answer — or an answer — to this mystery. It didn’t take long for the internet to link it to The King in Yellow, a short story from the late 1800s by Robert W. Chalmers. No stranger to classic literature — I’ve taken more than my fair share of English courses — I dove in, ready to uncover the key to unlock the season’s mystery and creator Nic Pizzolatto’s mind.
Except reality couldn’t be farther away from my expectations. The King in Yellow — this 200+ page novella — is actually a collection of stories. The “most important” one is the titular story… which only runs about 60 or so pages. The rest of the 200 pages are filled with short stories that are frustratingly bland and inconsequential.
Even The King in Yellow itself, the short story, fell far shy of my expectations. While it was a little eerie and ominous, it wasn’t anything I hadn’t read before by Poe or Bierce or some other far better writer than Chalmers. It quickly became clear that True Detective’s yellow king bore no resemblance to the one in this story, other than in name alone.
The King in Yellow has its moments — albeit very few and far between — but doesn’t come anywhere close to a book I’d ever consider picking up again. Because it’s in the public domain, I was able to pick it up on Kindle for free — and even that was too much money for the enjoyment I got from it. Whether you’re talking about the short story or the collection, The King in Yellow is not worth your time.
(While reading The King in Yellow had no effect on my opinion of the first season of True Detective, I truly believe the second season is nearly as good — if not better! — than the first.)