Unless you've been watching TV under a rock, you probably know that HBO's dark and gritty True Detective is the best show airing. The series, which may be the most gorgeously shot TV show of all time, follows detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) as they try to solve a case of brutal murders with occult overtones in Louisiana. The show is fairly unique in having only one director (Cary Joji Fukunaga) and one writer (Nic Pizzolatto). This has allowed the show to be more stylistically daring than even other great HBO shows, and has allowed Pizzolatto to infuse his Southern gothic noir narrative with two literary traditions that rarely make it to the mainstream: weird fiction and pessimistic existentialist philosophy.
Viewers and critics have been puzzling about the strange references to "Carcosa," "the yellow king," and "black stars," as well as Cohle's rambling depressing comments about the horror of existence and the aberration that is humanity. The former are direct references to a book called The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers that was a huge influence on writers like H. P. Lovecraft. The latter are not, as some critics have said, incoherent freshman dorm-room nonsense. Instead, Cohle's comments are infused with a strain of existentialist philosophy that runs from Friedrich Nietzsche to E.M. Cioran to Thomas Ligotti.
Below, I recommend readings to understand the mythology and philosophy of True Detective, as well as some other works in the Southern gothic, noir, and/or weird fiction vein that fans might enjoy.
The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
The Complete Short Stories by Ambrose Bierce
H. P. Lovecraft: Tales by H. P. Lovecraft
The Imago Sequence & Other Stories by Laird Barron
The Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti
The Temptation to Exist by E. M. Cioran
Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down by William Gay
The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Big Machine by Victor LaValle
Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
2666 by Roberto Bolaño
The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson
Last Days by Brian Evenson
Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
Lincoln Michel's fiction appears in Tin House, Electric Literature, Unstuck, NOON, and elsewhere. He is a co-editor of Gigantic magazine and Gigantic Worlds, a forthcoming anthology of science flash fiction. Sometimes he draws authors as monsters. He tweets at @thelincoln.