Authors: Thomas Ligotti
Thomas Ligotti was born in 1953 in Detroit, Michigan. One critic has written of his power as a storyteller: ‘It’s a skilled writer indeed who can suggest a horror so shocking that one is grateful it was kept offstage.’ His work has appeared regularly in a host of horror and fantasy magazines, earning him high esteem from followers of weird and macabre fiction everywhere. His previous books include
Noctuary, Grimscribe: His Lives and Works
Songs of a Dead Dreamer
Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc.
260 Fifth Avenue
First published in the UK by Robinson Publishing 1996
First Carroll & Graf edition 1996
Some of the stories in this collection first appeared in the following publications:
Fantasy Tales, Dark Horizons, Eldritch Tales, Nyctalops, Grimwire, Weird Tales, Heroic Visions II, Grue, Crypt of Cthulhu, Fantasy Macabre, Dagon, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Tiamat, Tekelili! Fear All the Devils Are Here, Horror Mag, Deathrealm, The Urbanite,
A Whisper of Blood
Songs of a Dead Dreamer
copyright © Thomas Ligotti 1989
copyright © Thomas Ligotti 1991
copyright © Thomas Ligotti 1994
Introduction and all stories in Part 4: Teatro Grottesco copyright © Thomas Ligotti 1996
Preface copyright © Poppy Z. Brite 1996
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Printed and bound in the United Kingdom
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Poppy Z. Brite
re you out there, Thomas Ligotti?
You have a lot to answer for, but I’ve never been able to discover anything of substance about you. That’s the way you seem to want it. Even in the single interview I managed to glean from the wasteland of the small press, you spoke exclusively about the craft of writing. Don’t mistake my meaning; there is no one I’d rather read upon the craft. But not a scrap of personal information escaped those lines of print. As someone who gives numerous, messy, highly personal interviews that I suspect I may yet live to regret, I wonder how you are able to do it.
I was twenty, on my first trip to San Francisco, when a friend first handed me your work
Songs of a Dead Dreamer
, the Silver Scarab limited edition with Harry O. Morris illustrations that approached the fabulousness of the stories. My interest was aroused at least partly by the fact that Ramsey Campbell, then and now one of my favourite writers, had seen fit to pen an introduction; so being asked to write this introduction has a certain poignancy.
Riding stoned in the back seat of a car across the Bay Bridge, I opened the book at random and read a sentence that will haunt me all my days, a sentence I’d give a thumb to have written:
We leave this behind in your capable hands, for in the black-foaming gutters and back alleys of paradise, in the dank windowless gloom of some galactic cellar, in the hollow pearly whorls found in sewerlike seas, in starless cities of insanity, and in their slums…my awe-struck little deer and I have gone frolicking.
from ‘The Frolic’
The glittering panorama of San Francisco, a city I already suspected of harbouring deep mystery from Fritz Leiber’s
Our Lady of Darkness
, became inextricably linked in my mind with this prose jewel. For me, those black-foaming gutters and back alleys (not to mention the Street of Wavering Peaks) will always be just across the bay from Berkeley.
Will you hate me if I confess that I photocopied the entire book? I’d promised to send it back to my friend, and I am no book thief. But I could not bear to part with your words, and I could not find another copy anywhere; those few precious copies had been snapped up and hoarded.
Songs of a Dead Dreamer
has since been released by major publishers on at least two continents. I have three editions myself. But, until it was destroyed in a flood last year, I still had the looseleaf binder with that pathetic photocopy in it too.
I have followed your career since then—nearly a decade—and I still know nothing more of you than your fiction reveals. Though I know that fictional self-revelation can be considerable, I also know that it is frequently misinterpreted by the reader. If you were to call up and invite me over for coffee, I would expect to meet a slightly dissipated aesthete, sarcastic and decadent and wry, given to odd word-associations, with a taste not just for the macabre but for the truly, nakedly gruesome. (Let the critics blather on about subtle half-hidden horrors; you make
see it all.) But perhaps I would encounter someone else entirely. I suspect I’ll never know.
You have a lot to answer for, Thomas Ligotti. For every score of horrorheads who don’t ‘get’ your work, there will always be the one who is profoundly impressed and appalled by it, for it seems as though you have reached into his dreaming brain and pulled out the stuff of intensely private nightmares. I am one of those readers. Upon reading your stories, I often experience two distinct sensations: a faint
, not as if I’ve read the words before, but as if the images have already appeared somewhere in the murk of my subconscious; and a sense of Lovecraftian awe shading into existential nausea. More than any other author I can think of, you write decidedly
fiction. And I can only marvel. Are you out there, Thomas Ligotti?
I believe I’ve just answered my own question.
THE CONSOLATIONS OF HORROR
Darkness, we welcome and embrace you
Horror, at least in its artistic presentations, can be a comfort. And, like any agent of enlightenment, it may even confer—if briefly—a sense of power, wisdom, and transcendence, especially if the conferee is a willing one with a true feeling for ancient mysteries and a true fear of the skullduggery which a willing heart usually senses in the unknown.
Clearly we (just the willing conferees, remember) want to know the worst, both about ourselves and the world. The oldest, possibly the only theme is that of forbidden knowledge. And no forbidden knowledge ever consoled its possessor. (Which is probably why it’s forbidden.) At best it is one of the more sardonic gifts bestowed upon the individual (for knowledge of the forbidden is first and foremost an individual ordeal). It is particularly forbidden because the mere possibility of such knowledge introduces a monstrous and perverse temptation to trade the quiet pleasures of mundane existence for the bright lights of alienage, doom, and, in some rare cases, eternal damnation.
So we not only wish to
the worst, but to experience it as well.
Hence that arena of artificial experience, supposedly of the worst kind—the horror story—where gruesome conspiracies may be trumped up to our soul’s satisfaction, where the deck is stacked with shivers, shocks, and dismembered hands for every player; and, most importantly, where one, at a safe distance, can come to grips (after a fashion) with death, pain, and loss in the, quote, real world, unquote.
But does it ever work the way we would like it to?
A test case
I am watching
Night of the Living Dead
. I see the ranks of the deceased reanimated by a double-edged marvel of the modern age (atomic radiation, I think. Or is it some wonder chemical which found its way into the water supply? And does this detail even matter?). I see a group of average, almost documentary types holed up in a house, fighting off wave after wave of hungry ghouls. I see the group hopelessly losing their ground and succumb each one of them to the same disease as their sleepwalking attackers: A husband tries to eat his wife (or is it mother tries to eat child?), a daughter stabs her father with a gardener’s trowel (or perhaps brother stabs sister with a bricklayer’s trowel). In any case, they all die, and horribly. This is the important thing.
When the movie is over, I am invigorated by the sense of having rung the ear-shattering changes of harrowing horror; I’ve got another bad one under my belt that will serve to bolster my nerves for whatever shocking days and nights are to come; I have, in a phrase,
an expanded capacity for fear.
I can really take it!
At the movies, that is.
The fearful truth is that all of the above brutalities can be “taken” only too well. And then, at some point, one starts to adopt unnatural strategies to ward off not the bogey but the sand man. Talking to the characters in a horror film, for instance: Hi, Mr. Decomposing Corpse lapping up a lump of sticky entrails, Hi! But even this tactic loses its charm after a while, especially if you’re watching some “shocker” by yourself and lack an accomplice to share your latest stage of jadedness and immunity to primitive fright. (At the movies, I mean. Otherwise you’re the same old vulnerable self.)