Ah, Fair Carcosa: True Detective’s Weird Horror Connections

It took me a while, but I finally got around to watching HBO’s True Detective. Wow. This gritty, eight-episode detective series adroitly moves back and forward in time between 1995, 2002, and 2012. It focuses on two protagonists, Rustin “Rust” Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson), investigators for the Louisiana state police department. The story hinges on a 1995 murder investigation whose bizarre occult  overtones deepen with the discovery of the victim’s diary. In it she writes of strange rituals, and a place called Carcosa. Any fan of the weird fiction of H. P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos watching the show when Rust and Marty discover the journal would likely have stood up and taken notice of this immediately. “Did he just say ‘Carcosa‘?” Yes, he did.

The macabre nature of the focal crime scene, that word Carcosa, and the Southern Gothic flavor of creator Nic Pizzolatto’s vision of Louisiana combine to deliver an eerie mystery that takes its time unraveling and entertains you through every moment. So what is Carcosa? H. P. Lovecraft did not invent the term. Carcosa is a fictional place invented by Ambrose Bierce, and later adopted by Robert W. Chambers for his 1895 collection of short fiction entitled The King In Yellow. In it Mr. Chambers further detailed the “other-realm” of Carcosa and its chief inhabitant, The King In Yellow, an eponymous story in the collection. The idea of the King manifests in True Detective in the guise of the mysterious killer committing these hideous crimes.

I’ve read some of the material that inspired the show’s more macabre elements, and I thought I might share them here so folks could give them a try.

American Gothic: From Salem Witchcraft To H. P. Lovecraft, An Anthology edited by Charles L. Crow

The King In Yellow by Robert W. Chambers

The Yellow Sign And Other Stories: The Complete Weird Tales Of Robert W. Chambers by Robert W. Chambers

The Thing On The Doorstep And Other Weird Stories by H. P. Lovecraft

The Watchers Out Of Time by H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth

The White People And Other Stories by Arthur Machen

I’m also suffering from True Detective-withdrawal! So if anyone can recommend me a series like it, please do so in the comments field! Thanks!

–Scott P.


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12 responses to “Ah, Fair Carcosa: True Detective’s Weird Horror Connections

  1. Don

    Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn … Though there is, of course, nothing really like True Detective (Twin Peaks?), have you seen the recent film “Call of Cthulhu“, which marries the old silent film style with German Expressionism a la The Cabinet of Dr. Caliguri? It will give you something to think about untill the next season of TD! Don

  2. Thanks, Don! Kayla also suggested _The Following_, so I have added that to my queue. Much obliged!

  3. lectorconstans

    I was an early fan of Lovecraft. My favorite story – not in the Cthulhu mythos – was “The Outsider”. I don’t remember Carcosa, though.

    One f Lovecraft’s problems was that as a writer, he had to write about “unspeakable, unnameable horrors” – something that might limit one’s output.

    Nowadays, a writer might describe something like Yog-Sothoth as a creature from another dimension.

    I haven’t seen True Detective, but from what you write, it sounds a bit like Mike Hammer meets Aleister Crowley.

  4. Sheila

    Don’t your feel like an insider when you get a cultural reference that goes over most folks heads? One feels, smart!

  5. Beth L

    I’d suggest the TV series “The Killing” from 2012…takes place in Seattle and very gritty, dark. The acting is phenomenal and the characters are flawed and human as the investigation unfolds…including the police detectives.

  6. Patty

    Check out the Red Riding Trilogy.

  7. You should check out Broadchurch. It’s a British series that I caught on BBC America last summer. Series two just ended. It can be streamed on Amazon Prime, I do believe.

  8. Scott

    Just finished it! Excellent! Thx!


  9. Pingback: Gli angeli di Mons | Lankelot | HyperHouse

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