No, Nic Pizzolatto is Not a Plagiarist (True Detective)

ligg_pizz Jon Padgett, who runs the website Thomas Ligotti Online, has accused True Detective writer/creator Nic Pizzolatto of plagiarism—in particular, of plagiarizing the works of Thomas Ligotti.

I understand Padgett's obvious and heartfelt passion for Ligotti, a fantastic writer with a singular and compelling authorial voice, but what Pizzolatto did is not plagiarism.

Here is an example Padgett uses to illustrate the alleged plagiarism, with Cohle's dialogue compared to snippets from Ligotti's The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (CATHR) [the bolded text is his emphasis]:

COHLE: I think about the hubris it must take to yank a soul out of nonexistence into this meat… Force a life into this thresher.


“Whatever else we may be as creatures that go to and fro on the earth and walk up and down upon it, we are meat.” (CATHR, p. 165)

“Why should generations unborn be spared entry into the human thresher?” (CATHR, p. 74)

“…nonexistence never hurt anyone and existence hurts everyone.” (CATHR, p. 75)

“Every one of us, having been stolen from nonexistence, opens his eyes on the world and looks down the road at a few convulsions and a final obliteration.” (CATHR, p. 167)

“…this new Adam and Eve are only being readied for the meat grinder of existence…” (CATHR, p. 164)

The rest of Padgett's examples are similar.

If exact lines of Ligotti’s text had been duplicated, sure—that would be plagiarism. But what Pizzolatto did was to take the ideas and diction and style of Ligotti's works and put them in Cohle’s mouth. Yes, there are similar phrases, but no direct plagiarism. It would never stand up in court.

Taking a line of Cohle's dialogue and shoehorning them into a collection of individual lines from Ligotti is not a fair way to make a case for plagiarism.

If I were Ligotti I’d be pleased that someone created a very Ligottian character and gave my ideas such an enormous audience. My io9 article, which recently passed 1 million page views, noted the obvious nods to Ligotti and Laird Barron (which were confirmed by Pizzolatto in a number of interviews). And I’m sure Ligotti and Barron both got a nice spike in book sales and probably a lot of new fans. As they should.

It’s particularly strange to me that someone familiar with Lovecraftian fiction would find Pizzolatto’s homage to be unethical. It’s no different than what hundreds, maybe thousands, of writers have done in drawing on the style, vocabulary, and ideas of a certain man from Providence.

See also: my True Detective Archives