31 thoughts on “Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe – Thomas Ligotti

  1. Very excited to receive my copy yesterday.
    I look forward to re-living the stories and re-assessing them below – while bringing to bear my real-time techniques that have evolved since first reading these stories.
    It is bound to be a positive review of the fiction, I am confident, but I must say at this stage that I do dislike its front cover. I can’t put my finger on exactly why that should be, but I certainly find it off-putting.

    • THE FROLIC

      “An amiable genie seemed to be on standby.”

      Opportune that, yesterday, too, I finished reading Salman Rushdie’s new 2015 novel (my review of it HERE) which is about putting the genie or jinn back in the bottle, and I assumed this was the genie of today, the IS State, the Internet trolling and rivalries, and other modern day madnesses and strangenesses, the Fantastical embedded in the Quotidian – but when layered with this 1980s premonitory classic story by Ligotti, one knows it is the genie of what some do with or think about our children, a worsening plague that has become more and more obvious since those ignorant 1980s, arguably worse than any other plague, giving birth to anti-natalism as a renewal of an older pessimist philosophy in order to protect our children not only from birth itself but from those waiting for them on this side of birth?
      On a more superficial level, this is a truly frightening story of a beautifully conveyed gloomy town whose main ‘industry’ is a prison. A psychologist, home in the evening from working at that prison, is debating about what he considers to be a wrong decision in taking that job. He tells his wife about a prisoner, with no name except John Doe, one who is imprisoned for multi child-murdering, who seems to develop an inferred uncanny link with that psychologist’s little daughter (after earlier talk between the psychologist and the prisoner during the working day), the daughter supposedly safe in her bedroom with her new Bambi toy, the window open…
      That genie of a link between the Fantastic and the Quotidian, the Impossible and the Possible, the Lower and Upper Worlds, as Rushdie now puts it, is tied in with that prisoner’s “…attempt on his part to recast the traumatic memories of his childhood into a realm that cross-breeds a mean-street reality with a fantasy world of his imagination, a phantasmagoric mingling of heaven and hell. This is where he does his ‘frolicking’…”
      A momentous work. It will haunt you.

      As an aside, “When told me about…” on page 12, is this a typo? I hope it is the first and last typo in this Penguin Classics book.

  2. Is this a Ligotti quotation –

    “You can just forget everything you thought you knew about yourselves and everything else in the universe. You know nothing. You are nothing. And the choices you have for dealing with this reality are to go insane or kill yourselves. How about them apples?”

    or words he imagined someone else saying?

  3. LES FLEURS

    “It’s strange how you’re sometimes forced to assume an unsympathetic view of yourself through borrowed eyes.”

    Similarly, as with that quote, the unreliable ‘narrator’ (is he a good apple in the barrel or a bad one?) makes his descriptions and divulgences public here for the borrowed eyes of his readers, a Diary appropriately about his relationship with Day aka Daisy.

    As with Ligotti in general, the prose is immaculately textured ‘al dente’, full of dark implication and an upon-the-edge feeling. In this story that feeling is of esoteric patterns underlying or transcending our perceived world (physical, natural, psychological and spiritual). This makes an interesting comparison with another book I happen to be concurrently reviewing HERE (i.e. The Collected Connoisseur by Mark Valentine and John Howard).
    The Ligotti is a dreading upon-the edge feeling (also one here with a sense of being pursued by a detective) whilst the Connoisseur’s is a yearning one. Both are replete with a patterned sense of secret groups and (syn)Aesthetics. In the Ligotti, the latter is represented, inter alia, by a cactus-like sculpture as ‘objective correlative’.

  4. ALICE’S LAST ADVENTURE

    “…that peculiar drunkenness of a child’s brain,…”

    Which is ironic as Alice in late life replaces that natural drunkenness with an unnatural sort.
    A wonderful character study of a woman whose Dad used to read to her Lewis Carroll’s Looking Glass, and now she reads to children at each Hallowe’en her own famous stories of a boy character… Two selves: herself as this story’s projected narrator and the authoress Alice self whom the first self almost mocks, among the Joycean epiphanies that lead to the striking finale and yet another self. A Sunset Boulevard of masks and mirrors. Quite chilling as well as poignant.
    When this work was first written it would have been seen as experimental, I guess, despite its Horror story trappings. Now it is an exhibit of great seasoned or traditional literature. The story is broadly the same text as it always was, I assume, but it is now a different story altogether in the light of changing times, emerging mores and new undercurrents.
    ‘Stories’ is a good word for what we compose as our separate selves, the linear or, even, overlapping exhibits of each one of us. Within or set against these panoplies of perceived identity we hope that our latest adventure in active projection is indeed the last one, fixed and certain and eternal – but it never is.

  5. DREAM OF A MANIKIN

    “And just what are the boundaries of the self? Is there a secret communion of seemingly separate things?”

    Well, Proust’s narrator had those questions sussed in his massive novel. Meanwhile, this work’s narrator is unreliable inasmuch as we do not know whether this is a letter to a woman doctor or psychologist trying to trap the narrator (or letter-writer if taken as read), trapped by the narrator’s own patient, Miss Locher, or is it a genuine stream of epiphanies as a monologue to self about the narrator’s own game of ontologies? The narrator explores various aspects of dreaming interconnected with death, dolls, manikins, business rivalry, shopping locales, and much else that truly draws the reader into its web. The apotheosis of what I said above yesterday: a Ligotti story a day lets the Doctor stay.
    I am trying to remember how this work would have stunned me all those years ago when I first read it, but today I am myself a new self stunned anew, but differently, while still “firing up my sense of strange revelation.”
    But I feel more in control, I guess, less susceptible to its wiles, and that’s maybe because the world itself has become more like this story. But is this cause and effect, from this story to today’s world? Or are they ‘the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’ (my phrase, not this story’s) that I have seen playing within fiction in the years since reading this work.
    I note that Miss Locher, in ‘real life’, is a Loan Processor while she is a Manikin Dresser in her supposed dream or dream within a dream. A sense of one lending reality to the other? This remarkably echoes my comments on Olan and Loan in my erstwhile review of ‘The Spectral Link’ HERE. The implications of this are more than just frightening. Or, as this story has it, is this “transcendent nonsense”? The truly New Nonsense that was yet to materialise when I first read it.

    “Life and lies and ‘this dream of flesh'”? Or “The mystical conspiracy of a treacherous universe”? Or insidious “dream telepathy” generated by my own Proustian self?

  6. THE NYCTALOPS TRILOGY

    I. THE CHYMIST

    Decrepitude, Ro. It has your pit in it and a lot more besides.”

    ….such as due creed?
    This story is remarkable for me, in two ways. One, it is another unreliable but hypnotising stream of monologue to a woman (as the stream of consciousness ‘letter’ or monologue in the previous ‘Dream of a Manikin’), but the initiator is inimical to the recipient, whilst, before, arguably, the recipient was inimical to the initiator.
    Two, it contains a scene(#) that preternaturally carries a morphed snapshot from a story called ‘The Black Eros’ that I reviewed earlier today HERE, as if this act of Dreamcatching on my part is one of becoming not only actively sensitive but also passively attractive to such patterns.
    THE CHYMIST is another version of the abuse that featured in THE FROLIC, but here on an adult to adult level, and now we are in the mind of the abuser, a salesman of pharmaceuticals and investments. A con man with the gift of the gab. But a gab that takes hold of you as if you are the victim, an alchemy from words to sheer insidiousness. One where the con man eventually claims in his stream of grooming that he has dreamt his victim into existence — possibly in tune with the earlier ‘Dream of the Manikin’ that created Miss Locher as the manikin for real within another dream that has now become a symptom of my own Dreamcatching!
    The real dope. Ending with a Joycean BLOOM!

    ————-

    (#) “Yes, up a flight of stairs inside an old burlesque house is a high echoey hall with a leftover Deco interior of arching mirrors and chrome chandeliers. And there the giant painted silhouettes of bony flappers and gaunt Gatsbys sport about the curving ballroom walls, towering over the dance floor, their funereal elegance mocking the awkward gyrations of the living.”

  7. II. DRINK TO ME ONLY WITH LABYRINTHINE EYES

    A new grooming, a new con trick, after that of the Chymist. This is again a narrator clear to us about the narration’s own tricks, a hypnotist, illusionist and memory-mesmerist, with a beautiful somnambule as an assistant. (This first section of the book headed ‘Songs of a Dead Dreamer’ is entitled ‘Dreams for Sleepwalkers’.)
    Here the narrator’s stage show is, for me, an immaculately textured word-ballet akin to a cinematic Last Year at Marienbad, with ‘singular optic organs’ at the end of windshield-like metronome spokes, and other eyes’ descriptions owned by the narrator’s sight, too, as well the somnambule’s.
    But the grooming does not stop there, as if even the story’s freehold author himself, I infer, is preparing himself for a lifetime of such prestidigitation of illusion, such, dare I say, horror-grooming, because he knew, even back then, when this story was first published, that –

    “They wanted the death stuff, the pain stuff. All that flashy junk. They wanted cartwheels of agony; somersaults through fires of doom; nosedives of vulnerable flesh into the meat grinder of life.”

    And then the reader sees what is sunken beyond those eyes: a “rotting profundity”. And worse.
    Who is deceiving the deceiver, illuding the illusionist? Is it Death or “Dr. Reaper”? Whose self is unselfing whose self?
    This may be a significantly amazing story about which I had completely forgotten over the two generations between my first encounter with it and just a few minutes ago.

    • That important quote above from the Penguin Classics collection I have now checked in the publication of this story in Robinson Publishing 1989, as shown below:

      “They wanted the death stuff, the pain stuff. All that flashy junk. They wanted cartwheels of agonized passion; somersaults into fires of doom; nosedives, if you will, into the frenzied pageant of vulnerable flesh.”

      Interesting changes.

  8. III. EYE OF THE LYNX

    “See the funny clown! Or rather jester in a jingly cap.”

    A story written by a more youthful YellowJester (if possibly edited by an older one), a story that is the stunning apotheosis of the gothic – and of the age’s experimental in baroque gothic literary style (if those are not contradictions in style terms).
    Here, too, we at first assume that we are in the mind of this trilogy’s abusive or grooming leasehold narrator (“The underground world in which I move was on the alert: don’t talk to strangers and so on.”)
    There are a million forking paths or potential allusions in that ‘and so on’, and we never know for certain which free-wheeling or didactic route we should follow next. But here’s my take –

    The perceived abuser of this book (so far) is no longer in inimical power over the proposed victims, here visiting a sort of crummy-doorwayed bordello (The House of Chains). The presiding woman and the narrator in fact seem in mutual symbiosis, each echoing the other’s thoughts, as if this promises to be a resolution where powers are evened out or reversed – a Horror Without Victims?
    Neither of the two protagonists is “a dabbler in darkness and degeneracy, but a real pro”, as one might perceive the freehold author feels about himself, if one looks back today with hindsight at his later literary and philosophical audit trail. But that comes too close to the Intentional Fallacy for my taste.

    POSSIBLE SPOILERS: That balance or symbiosis does reach a culmination, the ‘hybrid harmony’ shattered as the narrator prevails. No mere dabbler, nor pathetic puppet, whatever competing forces that narrator happens to meet, forces vying to outdo his darkness. No “tacky sideshow” for the narrator. This story surely disturbs. No mere display window in a storefront. Not a self dying into dolls, but dolls dying into a self, “in flesh as well as dreams.” The Trilogy prevails.
    “I’ll be keeping a keen eye out for those who walk this world in glad submission to gloom.”
    image

  9. NOTES ON THE WRITING OF HORROR: A STORY

    “…as awkward and stupid as a rosy-cheeked farm lad in a den of reeking degenerates. (Amend this, possibly, to rosy-cheeked degenerate … reeking farm lads.)”

    Now, you need to transcend the irony of this amusing style-experimental story about itself as well as other styles like gothic and realistic. (I had written the previous review above about story styles before re-reading this story, one that I consciously recalled nothing about until finishing it just a few minutes ago). Yes, you need to transcend the irony of this wrapped-around tale of a young man called Nathan wooing a young lady called Laura, his trousers putrefying his legs… and other themes and variations upon that original scenario and upon those character names. In fact the imputed author of this story in the form of an essay also has various names like H. J. Wicker and Dr. Riggers (please see my earlier thoughts on the word ‘ligotti’ being a synonym for ‘knots’ HERE).
    So, why do you need to transcend the irony of this story, a story that itself contains such chatty questions to the reader as this chatty question I am currently asking YOU? Because it’s a cover for this concocted narrator grooming you the reader towards some later cause, softly, softly, catch the monkey (“In brief, Nathan should never have been born…”), just as the leasehold narrator of many of these stories so far has groomed others, even abused them.
    It has to be said, meanwhile, that this is all done very entertainingly, and I have no hesitation in recommending this work to your attention for that reason, as long as you keep your guard against it. No irony on my part intended.

    “Go away, Dr. Dream.”

  10. DREAMS FOR SLEEPWALKERS having ended, we now enter DREAMS FOR INSOMNIACS. The first on the brink of waking, the second sleeping, each at a different end of the space between.

    THE CHRISTMAS EVES OF AUNT ELISE

    “This room I never saw except as a fantasy of ornamentation, a hallucinatorium in holiday dress.”

    A haunting tale of Christmas Eves past when Jack used to listen to his aunt tell her own tale within this tale, the one about the house nearby, and the ragged shadows and the visitor to the house with its owner still there even when he and the house were gone — blending almost unnoticeably into Jack’s old age and another Christmas Eve and its tale within the earlier tale within a tale.
    A story that starts like a Capote early novel and ends with the promise of death and its euphemism of being ‘at ease’ just like his uncle at the beginning. And “gardens of mistletoe”, not garlands…and a sock-puppet Santa.

    Dark of death and light of life together –
    A nostalgic intermission, but between what and what? And can nostalgia work in both directions of passing memory and once excited anticipation?

  11. THE LOST ART OF TWILIGHT

    “…for my existence took the form of one seamless moment, without forgettable yesterdays or expectant tomorrows.”

    This starts with another Aunt, one born as an Aunt years after she was born, who we later find out is named Terese. Remarkably the above quote echoes the last line of my previous review about Aunt Elise, remarkable in the sense that I have just read this substantive Twilight story without remembering it at all from 1989 when I must have read it for the first and only time.

    And indeed it is a revelation. A horror story in the tradition of Lovecraft and Poe, the prose supremely gothic and manipulative with perfect turns of phrase and quotabilities (far too many to which to do justice here), and also decidedly making the reader feel almost ‘dirty’ with a permeating evil or nastiness, coupled with modernistic tones that remind me of many writers I have read in recent years including someone I read for the first time recently, Clarice Lispector, i.e. In this Ligotti we read: “This was simply a family reunion, a sentimental gathering.” The prehensility of understatement. Human as animal, here blood-yearning vampires.

    The work is enticingly imbued with painterly Aesthetics, abstract as well as representational, and the concept of endless twilight in this context. This carries a touch of Clark Ashton Smith in my eyes. Modern music, too (“a slow, throbbing drone like the lethargic pumping of a premature heart.”) Adumbrations of Cezanne, who lived where the protagonist’s French roots centred. The Endless Twilight artist protagonist sees himself, both literally and metaphorically, as “an offspring of the dead” (cf Ligotti’s later overt espousal of anti-Natalism in CATHR). And the protagonist’s family hinterland is seen with the distaste of Lovecraftian xenophobia, the French tongue being seen as “loathsome”. An ‘aristocracy of blood’.

    More “labyrinthine eyes.” I feel with these Dreamcatching reviews, I, too, am feasting at Ligotti’s “astral banquet of Art.” The shocking ending makes me think this is a mass abuse, to echo the earlier individual abusers in this book, a gang bang of abuse to the protagonist and his Aunt as well as to our sensitivities, a gang bang implemented ironically by sensitive literary decadence and aesthetic wordage, amid “A vista of contradiction and ambivalence, a tragicomical haze…” A chess match where the reader thinks he is winning, till the author calls checkmate, “a discourse in hell on the subject of sin”, “an opera of iniquity” – an endless twilight as a staging-post for anti-natalism, as “the prospect of eternal life in eternal death seduces me more and more.”

    “I said no to life and death. No, Mr. Springbud. No, Mr. Worm.”

  12. THE TROUBLES OF DR. THOSS

    “Nothing was in the window but the pure whiteness of the page, the pale abyss of unshut eyes.”

    The insomnia theme of this section of stories comes home to roost with this truly disturbing one, and is it any wonder, with the quote above, that Alb Indys, the main protagonist, has a name that has the mixed-up middle letters of the word Blind?
    He sits sketching in his bed – to avoid such insomnia or to make it worse? – with a lump in the bed that might be his own trousers (or Nathan’s, I ask?)

    He is sketching today, for the umpteenth time, the window in his room, one of his regular subjects of artistry by continuously depicting the interior objects of his room. His other discipline of artistry is when ‘collaborating’ with pictures by other people that he finds in various publications and old picture books, using their images separately or together, morphing them, plagiarising them, cohering their leitmotifs into a new and sometimes disturbing image that he calls his own. (I try to ignore any specious thought that I might be accused of doing much the same thing with my Dreamcatching real-time book reviews!!)

    Today, he hears, outside his window, a garbled conversation recurrently mentioning a Dr. Thoss. This name continues to crop up in the story until we reach one of the most frightening endings to a story you are ever likely to read. That is no idle claim. In the artfully built-up context, it really is.

    But, for me, the most intriguing aspect — of this highly textured and evocative style of a prose fiction — is when Alb Indys leaves his seedy PInteresque or Beckettian room (in this downtrodden town that is vaguely a seaside one), giving the impression that he is triangulating various leitmotifs of his surroundings and the people, including the mysterious Doctor, to cohere his own gestalt, which process is a highly methodical, close-knitted, almost autistic, approach very much like the characters in ‘Report on Probability A’ by Brian Aldiss (reviewed HERE), and that thought releases all manner of new dimensions to this story.

    Which again brings me back to Dr. Thoss.

  13. MASQUERADE OF A DEAD SWORD: A TRAGEDIE

    A review with possible spoilers, but I contend it is impossible to spoil this story.

    “There are things which only madmen fear because only madmen may truly conceive of them.”

    This story is an “ugsome hilarity” in a swords and sorcery setting? Or a completely mad or confused exercise in masks and false jesters? If the latter, I guess, it is only madmen who can fathom it, so I make myself mad, for the nonce, to see if I can fathom it. To fathom its ulterior motives and to fashion a path, a subliminal exercise with gaps left for spying the true intent, a path towards this story’s “fabulous hoax” or the serious philosophical area where its author is today? Probably both, I guess. A grooming of the world for real and for fun.

    At first it seems as if it presents, to use the coinage from The Lost Art of Twilight, an “opera of iniquity”, one composed by Rossini or Mozart, where Faliol is that opera’s Figaro. But soon we stumble on clues to something else. The spectacles, an objective correlative like Nathan’s trousers, allowing Faliol both to blur matters into madness and to focus them into truth. (By the way, did you notice above in my review of Eye of the Lynx, the image of the jester that I used to illustrate it had spectacles?) We watch people spying on Faliol, as the Figaro-type plot thickens with a mage and a sorcerer that he trusts one minute and is betrayed by the next, as they betray each other. As the author with his reader – and now vice versa?

    All of this is thrust around – in Ligotti’s beautiful gothic/experimental style – with the confusion of carnival night, but it is an inopportune time for Faliol to try untangling his puppet strings or undo his oneiric “envelope of sleep”. The mage with sagging eyelid, who I take to be the freehold author himself, who holds the madman in a Torture Citadel threatening him, merely by means of explanation, with the Anima Mundi, something that needs destroying, but it won’t let itself be destroyed by actually BEING the madman. Then the masked carnival where identities become even more confused, more confused indeed than this arguably mad review.

    The jester eventually becomes “composed and methodical.” The mage destroys himself, as “a heroic act”. Faliol destroys himself, too, at the end, in a “crimson glory”. The Anima Mundi is both the jester and the mage, as one, I propose, as I pick myself out of this fantastical morass and become myself “composed and methodical”, like them or, rather, like him. The synchronised shards of random truth and fiction, as I have long called them, in an audit trail from here to CATHR. A trageDIE.

    Or it is just a mad swords and sorcery story, after all – one with a brilliant scene for which alone it is worth reading this controversial work: a scene that the text states goes “beyond the most gruesome”.

    “From the highest to the lowest, they are all my children and through their eyes I see my own glory.”

  14. DR. VOKE AND MR. VEECH

    “Behind the door is Voke’s loft, which appears to be a cross between a playroom and a place of torture.”

    And if this book had a loft, it would be a similar cross to bear or enjoy, I guess. But the book does now have a loft of its own as created by this aura of autonymity as a story, one that is again methodical and insistent and obsessive and object-triangulating and slow motion as if the loft is viewed by a periscope trying to find its feet. “…a certain kind of repose: the repose of ruin.”

    I can only mention again ‘Report on Probability A‘ by Brian Aldiss for further reading. I had never thought of it as Ligottian before, but now it seems obvious that it is.

    Meanwhile, this story itself emits a sense of madness, as some people emit the word ‘nonsense’ as a tetchy expletive. The loft and its denizen, the keeper of the manipulated or autonomous wooden dummy called Ticket Man with a mechanical laugh, the other two people mentioned Prena and Lamm, configuring within words like lame, pram, name (“Their names, like your name, and mine for that matter, are of no actual importance.”) A sense of Nemonymity. People with whom Veech needs to deal if he is not to be absorbed by them, Voke advises…

    The Street of Wavering Peaks that seems “all roof”, and then there is a human body with too much of everything. A sense that the images and objective correlatives in this text are crammed together with no space between to move about or gather their meaning. The poignant ending seems perfect, as if the periscope or camera obscura can only view itself.

    I seemingly lived with this story’s “mad marbles” during my childhood and some of my youth and beyond. I feel a connection with this story that I cannot explain, because the connection has not yet even begun to articulate itself. “Wood waking up.” Like this story’s coffin? This is my thinking aloud. Or laughing aloud. Lolling in that ‘repose of ruin’.

  15. PROFESSOR NOBODY’S LITTLE LECTURES ON SUPERNATURAL HORROR

    I don’t usually review non-fiction and I consider this entertaining and thought-provoking work to be non-fiction; arguably, as published in the 1980s, it is a precursor of CATHR.

    Just a few quotes below that Nemonymous feels are worth quoting even while he gives a nod of the head towards his oldest monster of all, the one called The Intentional Fallacy:-

    ——————–

    “You see, even in a stronghold of our fellow beings we may be subject to abnormal fears that would land us in an asylum if we voiced them to another.”

    “Not even the solar brilliance of a summer day will harbor you from horror. For horror eats the light and digests it into darkness.”

    “So it is that supernatural horror is the product of a profoundly divided species of being. It is not the pastime of even our closest relations in the wholly natural world: we gained it, as part of our gloomy inheritance, when we became what we are.”

    “But one must take into account the shocking fact that we live on a world that SPINS. After considering this truth, nothing should come as a surprise.”

    “After all, is it not wondrous that we are allowed to be both witnesses and victims of the sepulchral pomp of wasting tissue?”

  16. The next section of SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER is entitled DREAMS FOR THE DEAD

    DR. LOCRIAN’S ASYLUM

    Just as its Prison is the avatar of the town where it was situated in ‘The Frolic’, the town in this story is defined by its Asylum. Arguably, this is a theme and variations on Poe’s Tarr and Fether fiction, Mann’s sanatorium (ostensibly a lung disease one) in the Magic Mountain and Aickman’s ‘Into the Wood’, but here the text also radiates, ‘exasperates’, paradoxicalises madness as a positive through a Locrian who remembers his grandfather Locrian’s views of the Asylum establishment that he ran, a building where faces could be seen at windows even after it became derelict, soon for such faces to become a diaspora into the top storeys of the town’s buildings surrounding it, upon the Asylum’s perhaps unwise demolishment as a sinister blot on the landscape. What is indeed unleashed, in tune with its puppets as stars and planets, and vice versa, has a power that presents a path, I feel, towards a preternaturally premonitory vision of Asylum-seekers or migrants from the “ashen rubble” of, say, Syria, almost an acceptance by this enticingly dark poetic sermon in the shape of fiction that there can no longer be an Asylum anywhere from Asylums, nor should there be. Another step along this dark prophet’s path towards the present day.

    “Day and night we became sleepless vagrants, strangers in our own town.”

  17. THE SECT OF THE IDIOT

    “I was no more than an irrelevant parcel of living tissue caught in a place I should not be, threatened with being snared in some great dredging net of doom, an incidental shred of flesh pulled out of its element of light and into an icy blackness.”

    A “wasting” tissue called, by Professor Nobody earlier in this book, a “sepulchral pomp”. There is a genuine pomp to this story and perhaps to the whole book so far, a knowingness, even a condescension towards mere readers and others who revel in these dark texts with a hopeful sense of comfort that Horror fiction often provides, a sense that the Horror is happening to the protagonists but not happening to the readers. Except here there is no such comfort. A paradox that we read of The Sect of the Idiot, and then we begin to realise that we are a composite of that same Idiot. A recurrent multiple bluff, that we are not going to win.

    The text itself glories in its own compositional riches – and it is indeed full of textured language riches – comprising the single roofed precincts of the town, the uncanny angles as a mixture of endlessness and claustrophobia, with our becoming the faces (while manipulating Lovecraftian claws and tentacles from our sleeves), the same faces from the previous Locrian asylum story as we share the protagonist’s own views from the high rooms and the top storeys of those strange buildings, hypnotised by those who are themselves hypnotised, and there is no escaping such pomp and circumstance.

    Just as, for me, the Idiot God Azathoth sits at the claustrophobic centre of the Earth as well as of the endless Nemonymous Night…

    (But which of us is the biggest Idiot? Nobody can be visionary without being trapped by their own vision. Vision battling vision, book battling book, author battling author in our Facebook world, Rush-to-Die in his bejinned convergence of the fantastical and the quotidian, Ligotti entrammelled by his own synonymous knots?)

  18. THE GREATER FESTIVAL OF MASKS

    “Reliquiae of the hatless, the faceless, the impetuously groomed.”

    That quote seems significant in the light of what I trust I have identified in some of the earlier stories – and the story’s title as well as the story itself from the 1980s, seem to be dark prophecy of Facebook and other Internet grooming, trolling and flaming.
    “…the avalanche of false faces.”
    A “pranksterism” akin to the earlier hybrid authorial mage in a jester’s hat and spectacles.
    However, on another level, it is an apotheosis of the earlier vision in this book of the roofs, corners and dead-ends of the Ligottian town, with some truly wonderful descriptions, as well as the need for Noss (us?) to buy a mask for the festival, in a very intriguing shop where Noss somehow morphs into the shopkeeper himself as commissioned to do so by the original shopkeeper – or Moderator? One mask fits perfectly so that we are likely to forget that we are wearing it. Another mask that doesn’t fit at all, would be most uncomfortable to wear, but one we soon find fitting well. If the face fits wear it. A new maxim for our times. A superb tale that is not only subject to The Intentional Fallacy but also is a theme and variations upon it.

    “But here, on this night, the only sound is the soft creaking of new faces breaking through old flesh.”

  19. THE MUSIC OF THE MOON

    “As Tressor slowly approached this figure, with vague thoughts of rescue in his mind, he noticed that its eyelids were shut.”

    There is a soporific slowness, a vagueness, a muffled serenity about this story as if the shapes, shadows, strange structures and sinister scenes glimpsed earlier in this book are being remixed, rethought, put into music whether the four musicians or “cases” are there to play it or not. “…as he recalled hearing it somewhat dulled by a closed door.” Messages, invitations, appointments, the way to break the sequence of Tressor’s insomniac nights.

    Roaming around, trying doors… And some readers may indeed be browsing this book at random rather than reading it strictly from beginning to end as I am reading it, intent, as I have been, on creating patterns and gestalts, previously trying to tie the inferred author to his masthead by his own knots.

    I have let this story wash over me, not worrying any longer about authorial audit trails, just absorbing its “quiet gray dawn”, knowing that I can stay in this story and rest from making those patterns. A piece of music by Morton Feldman, one note after the other, with silence between them, in uncanny contrast to the highly textured ‘notes’ of the prose itself.

    Tressor, rest or stress? Whichever, this is a truly wonderful work, perhaps the best for me so far.

    “Then sound began to enter the silence, but so inconspicuously that Tressor could not tell when the absolute silence had ended and an embellished silence had began.”

  20. THE JOURNAL OF J.P. DRAPEAU

    I remember this probably being the first Ligotti story I ever read, appearing, as it did, in a 1987 issue of ‘Dagon’, a momentous magazine that later issued a Ligotti special in 1988 (and a DF Lewis special in 1989!)
    It must have been a revelation for me, this story, back then – as it still is as I explore its dense byways today. I give below, from it, a series of quotes that seem to resonate with my findings above of this Penguin Classics collection so far – excerpts indeed of the inchoate Journal’s ‘Excerpts’:

    —————-

    “Where is the writer who was begotten by two passionate masks…”

    “Since childhood, for example, not one day has passed in which I have failed to hear the music of graveyards.”

    “…I decided to heed the old man’s warning and disguise certain perceptions of mine in the language of whimsy.”

    “…that the whole of creation might best be pictured as an untenanted room filled with the echoes of nothingness.”

    “…the page before me will not welcome my pen.”

    “Finally, I realised that an entirely different creature was hiding behind my face, making it wholly unrecognizable to me.”

    ————-

    These concepts are orbiting, as it were, a momentous image of planetary forces (in the astrological harmonics of which I have been interested for most of my life), viz. an explicit “tugging away” not at each of the spiritual or mental aspects of a human being but literally at each of our separate body parts (parts that are later shown in this work as separately autonomous during a magic show). That seems to be not only what I anticipate to be the situational core of this book near the cusp of ‘Songs of a Dead Dreamer’ and ‘Grimscribe’, but also its naturally ultimate philosophical core.

  21. VASTARIEN

    A substantive work where its venue’s “warped structures” in Victor Keirion’s dream echo those of the whole book heretofore, involving questions like: who is dreaming, what is their goal in dreaming or being dreamt — what is the real place, what its echo — what the real book, what its copy — what the “sideshow of charlatanry”, what the “fine and dark tracery of limitless patterns” — and more?

    You need to read this work many times, I guess, even to come close to scratching its surface, especially in the context of the foregoing stories. It may not even have a surface to scratch.

    This is the most sophisticatedly inchoate set of obsessions and self-questionings you are ever likely to meet in all literature, ranging from the relatively simple interpretation of VASTARIEN as ‘vast and nothing’ to the agonisingly tantalising concepts of the bookshop and the Crow Man, and which book is ABOUT something, and which book IS that something.

    A möbius section of books about books where even this book I am reading and reviewing is suspect or simply blank. Books seeking their special readers, in fact paying for readers to read them who can understand them or use them properly. Reading with borrowed eyes, as it were. And if you take this story to its ultimate conclusion towards CATHR thirty years later, blankness worked forward, blankness works backward, and nothing is worth the paper it’s printed on. Even the print that tells you that nothing is worth the paper it’s printed on is worthless. The ultimate tabula rasa. And maybe I am the reader with those borrowed eyes, having a number of years ago established the “provenance” of the world’s first known blank story in ‘Nemonymous’.

    ‘The Noctuary of Tine’ on page 243 – is this the second typo in the book or simply a reference to the spoke on, say, a fork for one of ‘them apples’?

  22. Much as I value the work of Lovecraft, Bloch and others, I do believe that Ligotti will be seen as the greatest horror writer of the 1800-1900s. He takes no prisoners. You have no idea where he’s going with a story. And his work repays endless rereadings. My only communication with him, when I was editing Skeleton Crew many years ago, revealed an intelligent, kind and generous soul.

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