Firstly, this week marks the release of the first issue of FLAPPERHOUSE, a new magazine from editor Joe O’Brien. Joe is a long time visitor to the site, and I was honored that he asked me to submit. My story, “Axis Mundi”, (sample here!) is a sci-fi/horror story about derelict spaceships and divinity, is one of several new stories and poems to grace the pages of the first issue. It’s a terrific collection of varied voices, and the more I read, the more proud I am to be a part of it.
Secondly, I just finished True Detective last week. I wanted to hold off on the last episode for several years, just to inhabit the liminal space forever, but my wife demanded that we finish it. I’ve been enormously taken by the show, from the deliberate reference to the philosophy of Thomas Ligotti and other antinatalists in the first 15 minutes, to the series-wide use of weird fiction in general and Robert Chambers’ “The King in Yellow”in specific, the show was not only expertly written, shot and acted, it was also directly created to please me. Or, that’s how it felt across most of the 8 episodes. I’m fairly certain that this is, and will remain for some time, my favorite series on television, ever.
Since the show ended, I’ve been chewing on some things. One thing I’m maybe mildly disappointed with is that a lot of the intricacy of symbolism in set and costume design turned out to be coincidental more than intentional, but the show still has the feel of a puzzle box. And I adore puzzle boxes. With the writer mentioning that he’s a fan of some of my weird fiction authors (Ligotti, Barron, and Langan among them), and that he’s drawn direct inspiration from the genre (beyond the overarching King in Yellow references within the story), it had me on high alert for references, metaphors and symbolism. So, this is me pulling on threads and seeing what tumbles out.
I’ll try, Rust. Here’s my thoughts on one of the repeating images and concepts from the show: Black Stars…
“Black Stars” comes from several locations in the play “King in Yellow”, as in the fictional work inside the collection of stories “The King in Yellow.” It appears as some of the only printed text of the play in the collection of stories:Strange is the night where black stars rise, And strange moons circle through the skies, But stranger still is Lost Carcosa.
(Also, Carcosa, but I’m not there yet. Incidentally, you should read the King in Yellow. It’s free on Kindle.)
A similar motif shows up in future weird fiction, including this famous poem, Nemesis from Lovecraft:I have seen the dark universe yawning, Where the black planets roll without aim; Where they roll in their horror unheeded, without knowledge or lustre or name.
(Incidentally, here’s an unrelated modern weird story that takes some inspiration from these poems, from an excellent magazine)
I’d say it’s safe to assume “Black Planets Roll” was a reference to “Black Stars Rise” (Lovecraft was not shy about aping his influences, which is funny from the future, where a thousand authors ape him). “Black Stars” is one of those phrases that resonates, especially for me, in the realm of horror. It’s a nice obvious metaphor for hopelessness, where not even the stars give light. It embodies the “Cosmic” horror of Lovecraft and Ligotti, one that’s a strong undercurrent for Rust’s philosophy. The universe is cold, mechanistic, and heartless. Also it gives the title to this phenomenal album that is one of my most played writing soundtracks:
Now, Black Stars appear with regularity in True Detective…
Marty’s Daughter’s art:
Dora’s Diary (words and pics):
Also, Reggie Ledoux, that creepy sumbitch , and the moment of his death:
Is it time?
(This would be a GIF of Reggie being shot in the head, but it was shockingly NSFW)
And here’s a nice one in the maybe pile, Black Stars… as flowers? (Ew.) Looks to be the same star Errol drew at the school….
So we have a fantastic relevant visual metaphor that both underlines themes from the show, as well as pays nice homage to the King in Yellow as well as a whole bunch of other writers. Well done.
But don’t forget this: Cohle’s last vision. A spiral, in the cosmos, swirling around Black Fucking Stars. Like, cold, dead black coals in a dead universe. It’s pure Rust, and pure True Detective:
I’m not stretching on this one, the director confirmed this vision was supposed to wrap multiple symbols and metaphors together. It’s a brilliant blend of characters and themes. And I am kind of in awe about how integral it was to the show, and how serious they took it. Black Stars are the symbol of the show for me, as much as Deer Antlers and Spirals. So, that makes the last conversation of the show something special.
Now, as it relates to Stars: I’ve read a lot of guff about Rust’s “Religious Conversion” at the end, about how it feels sudden, inappropriately happy or out of character. I respectfully say Bullshit.
Rust is a bleak dude, for sure, but his cool and calm and nihilism, while coming from a logical place, are still a mask for his continuing loss. He justifies the fucked-up nature of the world by telling himself it’s meaningless and cold. But just like he checks his pulse each time he gets into a high-intensity situation, it’s a mask, one that requires effort to maintain. Just before Childress dies, what does he say to Rust? “Take off your mask.” (Itself a reference to the “King in Yellow“)
Rust’s teary admission of his own humanity is not out of character, it’s just a part of him we’ve not yet seen. Rust almost dies, and he sinks into a warm darkness that doesn’t scare him. There’s love, and his daughter there, if he only lets go. (I wonder if Rust realizes, when he was unconscious that it was Marty who was holding him….) He’s not feeling a conversion, he’s admitting to Marty that he felt something he can’t explain, and that it made him happy. It’s a personal subjective anecdote, Rust is smart enough to know it proves nothing, but that it still MEANS something. It has meaning to him. That’s enough, and that’s important.
Then they talk about stars, and telling stories to yourself about the stars.
Stars in the dark, that represent hope, and resisting the dark. They completely flip a central metaphor. Inside out. I would wager the whole Black Stars metaphor was planned to lead to this moment from its initial conception. (Actually, no need to wager, as I just found that the writer admitted as much.) Rust rejects the darkness and identifies himself with the light that resists. It’s the only possible and appropriate happy ending. And, really, it’s not terribly happy. But it’s elegant and honest, and I love it.
I suppose on some level, I was disappointed that we never went truly supernatural, but they so expertly used the thematic elements of supernatural fiction to tell an incredible natural, human story. Which is so perfect for this show. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.
So… The spiral Rust saw outside the church? Black Star-lings. Too much?
(You mean raid a hidden complex of houses in the bayou inhabited by two creepy siblings involved in occult murders? Probably.)