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Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe Paperback – October 6, 2015
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"Thomas Ligotti is a master of a different order, practically a different species. He probably couldn’t fake it if he tried, and he never tries. He writes like horror incarnate.”
—Terrence Rafferty, New York Times Book Review
"Mr. Ligotti, winner of three Bram Stoker Awards, is one of our finest writers of short horror, and this volume, reprinting his first two collections (1985, 1991), is an excellent introduction to the sustained storm of dread that is his universe."
—New York Times Book Review
“Songs of a Dead Dreamer is full of inexplicable and alarming delights. . . . Put this volume on the shelf right between H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. Where it belongs.”
—The Washington Post
"Regarded by many as the only contemporary American writer who can be spoken of in the same breath as Poe and H.P. Lovecraft...No matter how nightmarish the events described, Ligotti’s prose is always precise and beautifully controlled.
—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
"Experimental and absurdist, he spins worlds of decaying humanity, unreachable madness, and nightmare worthy of any horror movie . . . You may never sleep again after reading these, but it’ll be worth it."
“Thomas Ligotti has had one of the most quietly extraordinary careers in the history of horror fiction. He is a dense, witty, and enormously inventive writer.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
"A cult figure or 'secret' of contemporary horror, Ligotti will become a household name with the release of this collection, which brings together his first two books of 'philosophical horror.' "
"[An] underground horror master...Ligotti writes philosophical horror that eschews the spurts of gore for a torrent of existential dread. For decades, Ligotti has been a horror writer's horror writer, but he may be finally getting his due."
"Ligotti is a brilliant prose stylist whose immersive gothic fictions make most horror stories seem as harmless as wind-up toys."
—The Seattle Times
"Fugues of the creeping unknown."
"Both [collections] are groundbreaking works and are must-reads for fans of cosmic horror...And yet, it is not only horror audiences (myself included) who can appreciate Thomas Ligotti, for he also displays magnificent literary sensibilities, his prose being of the sort that often demands numerous re-reads to fully savor its structural elegance and evocative, even sensuous delights. He is every bit as deserving of the critical praise lavished upon the likes of Joyce Carol Oates, William Gay, and even non-genre authors Jonathan Lethem and Haruki Murakami."
About the Author
Thomas Ligotti was born in Detroit in 1953. Among the most acclaimed horror writers of the past thirty years, he has received three Bram Stoker Awards, a British Fantasy Award, and an International Horror Guild Award. He lives in South Florida.
Jeff VanderMeer is the author of the New York Times–bestselling Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance). He is a three-time World Fantasy Award winner.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
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Due to the elements of suspense that pervade his stories, I will not substantiate my opinions by giving examples from his writings because I do not want to give away plots lines that would serve as spoilers.
Suffice it to say that his writings are psychologically disturbing at an existential level because the experiences of the characters in his stories challenge conventional conceptions of reality.
Ligotti does so not merely by employing naïve subjectivism, which is based on the idea that perception is reality, a view that is preposterous because perceptions often vary from person to person and whatever is to count as “reality” must at least be inter-subjective, i.e., be the same for all.
Nor does Ligotti incorporate the more plausible realist viewpoint that objectively interpreted perception is reality, a position designed to preserve a univocal reality, and attempt to create the sense of existential disorientation on quirky psychological interpretations of the characters .
Rather, his stories have a Postmodern cosmological twist with mind-bending epistemological implications: these stories are based on the notion that there are no criteria for determining what is real, for what are called “objective interpretations” of perceptions are merely perceptions of perceptions, i.e., there is no way to break out of the realm of perceptions to discover some underlying reality.
As a result, the stories are truly horrific because, in the final analysis, they leave his characters, and so too the reader, with the ultimate nightmarish vision of life as a series of experiences that we call people, places, and things that cannot be trusted to actually represent anyone, anywhere, or anything.
The Frolic • (1982)
Les Fleurs • (1981)
Alice's Last Adventure • (1985)
Dream of a Manikin • (1982)
The Nyctalops Trilogy, consisting of The Chymist • (1981), Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes • (1982), and Eye of the Lynx • (1983)
Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story • (1985)
The Christmas Eves of Aunt Elise: A Tale of Possession in Old Grosse Pointe • (1983)
The Lost Art of Twilight • (1986)
The Troubles of Dr. Thoss • (1985)
Masquerade of a Dead Sword: A Tragedie • (1986
Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech • (1983)
Professor Nobody's Little Lectures on Supernatural Horror • (1985)
Dr. Locrian's Asylum • (1987)
The Sect of the Idiot • (1988)
The Greater Festival of Masks • (1985)
The Music of the Moon • (1987)
The Journal of J.P. Drapeau • (1987)
Vastarien • (1987)
Songs of a Dead Dreamer first appeared in 1985 as Thomas Ligotti's first short-story collection. Its contents changed in different editions over the years. In this Penguin 'Double,' paired with Grimscribe, his second collection, Songs of a Dead Dreamer uses the same contents as the 2010 Subterranean Press edition.
Ligotti is a relatively unknown quantity outside horror fiction -- his biggest career exposure came as people on-line debated whether or not he'd been plagiarized in the first season of True Detective to supply Matthew McConaughey's Rust Cohle with all his best lines.
Prior to that, Ligotti was a mysterious figure. After that, he was also a mysterious figure. His reclusiveness isn't at the level of Pynchon or Salinger, but it's still remarkable in today's media-saturated age. His stories and essays tell the story. He doesn't write novels, though he has written one fairly long novella (My Work is Not Yet Done). He's certainly not for everybody, but then again, what writer is?
Ligotti's literary universe, already distinctly Ligottian early in his career, resembles something assembled in a laboratory from pieces of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Franz Kafka, and Jorge Luis Borges. Then someone threw in an obsession with puppets, mannequins, and marionettes. Then someone set Phasers to Nihilism and roasted everything for about an hour. And that doesn't really describe his corpus all that well. He's got a more noticeable sense of humour than the four named authors, for one. Poe occasionally had a similar sense of humour in his blackly comic stories, but he didn't tend to exhibit that sense of humour in his horror stories. Ligotti often does.
But while there will always be attempts to classify Ligotti as Weird (including one by Weird spokesman Jeff VanderMeer in his clumsy, vague introduction to this Penguin volume), he's horror all the way down. His narrative structure and voice sometimes seem more Absurdist than horrific, but next to Ligotti, Kafka and other absurdists look like Pollyannas.
There are no happy endings in these stories. There aren't even any points where one can imagine that anyone, anywhere is happy, or fulfilled, or anything other than Totally Damned except when that person is fulfilled by doing terrible things to other people. The biggest positive moral triumph in any of these stories comes when a mind-blasted person manages to kill himself, leaving a "victorious corpse" as a rebuke to his nemesis, a nemesis which is in actuality the personification of the Universe as a malign chaos at eternal play with everything that composes its body. That's a happy ending.
For all that nihilism, the stories are exhilarating, witty, unique, intellectually challenging, aesthetically pleasing, and often bleakly hilarious. Ligotti riffs on predecessors such as H.P. Lovecraft and genre tropes such as vampirism at certain points ("The Cult of the Idiot" posits a cult devoted to Lovecraft's burbling, bubbling, atomic chaos of an idiot god Azathoth; "Alice's Last Adventure" bounces Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl and several other writers off some very hard and unforgiving walls; "The Lost Art of Twilight" makes vampires both horrible and absurd).
Throughout, Ligotti offers short stories with enough Big Ideas to support entire novels. Ligotti may not write novels, but he certainly doesn't write miniatures. Stories such as "Vastarien" and "Les Fleurs" supply massive mythologies in Fun-Size form. And "The Frolic" presents one of the most annoying and tired of modern horror tropes, the antic and seemingly omniscient serial killer, in such a fresh and sinister way that in other hands it would have supported a trilogy.
"the Frolic" is the first story in the collection and it's a killer -- a serial killer who makes Hannibal Lecter and his ilk look like the tired pop contrivances that they are and a horror mostly implied that clutches the heart. "The Frolic" also showcases a relative rarity for Ligotti as 'normal' suburban characters are set off against the horror of the world. It could almost be a Charles Beaumont or T.E.D. Klein story except for the bleak, nihilistic cosmic vistas described by the serial killer.
Songs of a Dead Dreamer is an extraordinary collection, one that does indeed make one nervous about the realities of, well, reality. If your perfect model of horror runs to Stephen King (or John Saul, gods help you), then one should probably avoid this collection -- or buy it and shake yourself up. To lift Buzz Aldrin's phrase about the Moon, this is Magnificent Desolation. But Jesus, does Ligotti love puppets. Highly recommended.
Grimscribe: His Lives and Works (1991/This edition 2015) by Thomas Ligotti, containing the following stories:
Introduction: Grimscribe: His Lives and Works (1991): Janus-like, the introduction peers toward pomposity and parody.
The Last Feast of Harlequin (1990): Almost certainly Ligotti's most-reprinted work, a novella that is both somewhat obliquely an homage to H.P. Lovecraft's "The Festival" and its very own thing, a striking, funny, droll, disturbing journey through a small town and its mysterious festival and the narrator who gets pulled into stranger and stranger situations as he investigates the town for anthropological reasons. Ligotti takes a number of horror tropes and makes them seem new and horrible again through the sheer force and inventiveness of his imagination and his narrative POV. One of the all-time great stories of cosmic horror, and perhaps Ligotti's most accessible major work.
The Spectacles in the Drawer (1987): Quintessential Ligotti in its combination of reality-busting and extraordinarily idiosyncratic characters.
Flowers of the Abyss (1991): Another tale of a polluted reality and its peculiar attraction for people who should probably know better.
Nethescurial (1991): Another oft-reprinted piece of Ligotti's Major Arcana. Vaguely Lovecraftian in tone and content, but distinctly a working-through of these things from Ligotti's assured, unique perspective. Puppet alert.
The Dreaming in Nortown (1991): Reality breaks down in disturbing ways, all narrated by Ligotti's most Poe-esque protagonist.
The Mystics of Muelenburg (1987): Oblique, bleak reality-bender.
In the Shadow of Another World (1991): Very strange and distinctive tale takes the haunted-house story and utterly scrambles it.
The Cocoons (1991): Very, very horrific piece of absurdism, or at least near-absurdism. One of Ligotti's stories that disturbs without offering anything in the way of an attempt to frame things within a rational explanation.
The Night School (1991): Worst night class ever.
The Glamour (1991): A trip to a movie becomes a nightmarish, inexplicable tour of some peculiar, horrible sights and sounds. One of Ligotti's stories that leaves one shaken without any real way to parse what has happened in the story.
The Library of Byzantium (1988): Sinister drawings, sinister priests, a sinister book, and a surprisingly traditional use of holy water.
Miss Plarr (1991): Nothing really terrible happens in this tale of a boy and his nanny, yet the story defies simple explanation while it constructs a world that alternates between claustrophobic interior spaces and fog-erased exterior spaces.
The Shadow at the Bottom of the World (1990): One of Ligotti's more straightforward stories in terms of its construction of what Evil is and what position it occupies in the universe. Another horror trope (the scary scarecrow) becomes revitalized by Ligotti's imagination.
In all: a great collection of Ligotti's late 1980's and early 1990's work with all its cosmic, absurdist, horrific, comic, infernal devices. Highly recommended.