The King in Yellow: Analysis and Plot Summary of the Book that Inspired HBO’s True Detective


HBO has a monster hit on its hands with True Detective, a very dark Southern Noir cop show that takes place in Louisiana. The show is littered with references to the 1875 book by Robert Chambers entitled The King in Yellow. The connections between the show and the book are sometimes blunt and direct, such as similar place names, and at times obscure and thematic. But what is The King in Yellow about? has a plot summary and brief analysis. Here’s quick excerpt to get you familiar with the basic concepts of the book:

The King in Yellow is a combination of fantasy and romance fiction; the fantasy pieces have won and maintained the works reputation. These stories have two central themes. One is the existence of a sinister, banned book, also known as The King in Yellow, that has the ability to morally corrupt or spiritually destroy all those who read it. The second theme is that the fictional book within Robert Chambers’ work is based on the almost unknown truth that there is an actual “King in Yellow” who comes from beyond the stars and whose unseen, baleful influence on human life is more pervasive than can be imagined.

But what about specific connections between the book and the show? Using the amazing Homework Help section, we were able to surface some pretty amazing connections. Here’s a short excerpt from Educator KarythCara’s in-depth answer:

Both True Detective (2014) and The King in Yellow  (1895) are “tales of madness,” to borrow the words of True Detective writer, Nic Pizzolatto. He and Chambers–whose short stories in the collection The King in Yellow, which is the same title as the fictional play that courses its way through the short stories, provide allusions and pivotal plot elements for True Detectiveboth address the idea, expressed in Chambers’ opening short story “The Repairer of Reputations,” that human nature has limits of endurance for the darkness that is the strain, that is the poison, of humans’ souls.

Check out the complete answers here, and if you have your own connections to add, we invite you to do so!