Noctuary – Thomas Ligotti


The Noctuary book of Ligotti stories shown above, a book that I first read in the mid 1990s…
Soon to be re-read and real-time reviewed in the comment stream below or to be found below by clicking on this post’s title above.

My previous review of works by Thomas Ligotti are linked from HERE.

17 thoughts on “Noctuary – Thomas Ligotti


    “…’the most baroque inheritor of Existentialism’s obsessions.'”

    Dregler is hoaxed by his former colleague Gleer, little realising, I guess, that ‘Dregler’, his own name, is an anagram of Dr. Gleer. The womenfolk of Gleer are implicit, too, in this fabulous hoax concerning Dregler’s lifetime’s search for the Medusa with her knotted snakes, I infer, yes, knotted, this being Ligotti…

    Dregler thus ends up at a bookshop ostensibly selling a dull book but knowing that, as a result of the induced hoax, that he seeks a book, a book that is the Medusa herself. As perhaps the front cover of this book indicates that THIS book is the Medusa. A story full of deep and perverse textures, a love of bookshops with bookshelves like the sloping architecture of a derelict town and of möbius quests.

    I sense that Dregler is an autobiographical model of the Philosophical self, pre-CATHR, a self relishing its own perversity, “some treacherously absurd school of thought”, “an infernal serendipity”…

    With images like our world as a comfort stop for extraterrestrials, chance findings as cosmic clues in dentist waiting room magazines, panic as a seasoning of tedium, each of our souls a “unique terror”, “jeers of dark joy”, a discovery of a loose coat thread ages later as evidence of the self, “defining quirks”, the fact that we can “hide from horror only in the heart of horror”, or in the heart of the mirror or a Medusa-induced petrification of stone…

    “The serpents were moving now, coiling themselves about the ankles and wrists, the neck;”


    “Listen to the voices all over the neighbourhood, music against the sounding board of silence and the chill infinity of autumn.”

    A dead language, in this work, spoken by a baby-waybee voice. Seems appropriate for a story written by the future author of CATHR’s anti-natalism warcry. Notwithstanding this, the story is a genuine episodic treatment of Halloween and its Tricky-Treaty, becoming jaded year by year, as I have noticed twenty years later after first reading this story. We previously had many at our 10/31 door, this year nearly none.
    A genuinely chilling recurrence of a tricky-treaty brother and sister turning up at the off-sick-from-work mailman’s door, like two warm stars, later like cold stars, or soft black stars, I imagine, to foreshadow the Teatro Grottesco collection. Later, just one of them, not outside the door but already INSIDE.
    Sown with the remarkable concept of “the normalcy of dream” keeping the mind together. Ligotti is ever abrim, I find, with melted or knotted oxymorons. Or a Nemonymous Night…

    “and in his hand was a tangled web of strings whose ends extended up to the stars which he began working like kites or toy aeroplanes…”


    “And as others only sink into their deaths – into mine I would soar.”

    Ligotti has proved himself to be a prodigy of dreams, issuing, as he begins to do here, a vast literary prophecy as a warning about existence, something that we all perhaps know already but haven’t yet articulated. Or he is a sideshow hoaxer, this story’s “exhausted fairgrounds huckster”?

    Like me, can you visualise a swarm phenomenon of swans with their interwoven necks being one side of the same coin as the earlier writhings upon the Medusa’s head?

    Just as the Medusa is within a mirror of a mirror of male and female soon to be hybridised into a stone effigy, into the shape of the multi-phallic Medusa who first turned this creature of self into stone, into a dead monument to once ancient hope, yes, a pattern or gestalt of snakes or swans, and one can easily imagine that same effigy transposing into this story’s pattern of swans, a gestalt that serves to “frame the stars at night within random curves and angles.” A horror whence escaping that same horror is by being already in the heart of that horror, life created or destroyed by life itself – these involuted knots of horror’s or life’s series of self-destruction, where a God comes to you as equally as you come to that God. A God named Cynothoglys. The protagonist, Arthur Emerson, in the house of his scions and their collections, who is as one with swans’ shrieks as well as with their beauty?

    A Poesque gem about inconsequence fighting inconsequence in a claustrophobic world? Or a battle with much higher stakes by forces yet to emerge? He who wrote this and he who wrote what is being written about?

    (Contrast and compare the Catholic basis of the novel of a man’s life as a battle of corruption and divine grace, the novel by Francois Mauriac entitled Knot of Serpents. Catholic, Cathrian, where do they differ?)


    “They [dreams] will still triumph in the end, denying us not just the restoration of nightly sleep. For ultimately they steal away the time which might have measured into immortality. They corrupt us in every way, abducting us from the ranks of angels we might have been or become, pure and and calm and everlasting.”

    – and that seems a supreme expression by Mrs Rinaldi of this her story, of this whole book, of the ligotti of Ligotti? It seems to encapsulate what I was saying, via the Knot of Serpents, about the Catholic and CATHRian comparison at the end of my review of this book’s previous story…

    This gem of a story has a perfectly Gothic-Baroque prose texture (a texture original to this author) telling of a boy taken by his mother to be treated by what I shall call a Dream Healer, one called Mrs Rinaldi… Make of that what you will, after you have finished reading this work. Is she a charlatan or well-meaning botcher or another genuinely perverse Ligottian Doctor in her own right?

    This text represents a dream apotheosis of depletion, antiseptic attenuation, deprivation, maggoty parasitism, draining mist… as well as a battle between this book’s earlier therapeutic “normalcy of dream” and, here, the “mad darkness” of inimical dream, whereby do I also dare divulge, against the orders of Mrs Rinaldi, that it involves an inner-radiant box into which I place, as a (Eucharistic?) ritual, a glass of spittle-corrupted wine? My own spittle.

    Or a simple battle of angels and demons?


    “For each of the bright, bristling stars would begin to loosen in the places where the blackness held them. They wobbled at first, and then they rolled over in their bed of night.”

    La La La La La, I’m not going to listen to you. La La La La…
    Until the LAST LA when death becomes the last change, birth having been the first change.
    And life between that birth and death has been nothing but regret for one and dread of the other – like a pendulum over a pit.
    Or, as the twelve chapters of this novella itself state, it’s all a theme and variations on Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym? Well, if it is, TSALAL was the phonetic, if not semantic, keynote struck by the conductor as this symphony of words begun with probably Ligotti’s most relentlessly melted and knotted oxymorons. “This mingling of mastery and helplessness.”
    The horror here is tangible, incarnate, resistant to understanding, until it all comes together that Moxton — with its swinging pendulum traffic lights and small town community and with a skeleton crew of townspeople simply to make it a town, some of them who stay too long, others who try to leave it but can’t, others who forget everything with the ‘refuge amnesia’ of Alzheimer’s — is not really a mid-1990s precursor or echo of Twin Peaks (who said it was either?), but a patchwork tale of a Reverend and his son with the family name of Maness (with the feminine suffix?) – where faith and despair battle it out through dark rituals and smoky shadows. Each street with the inevitable END house. “The imperfect zoology of cloud-forms – but soon drifted into hazy nonsense.”
    “…an octet of limp tentacles.”
    An apocalypse of grotesque change from, I suggest, this book’s earlier Cynothoglys to Tsalal simply because we now look through the latter’s eyes not the former’s. The beast within the skull that must be kept in that lair (and not propagated by that feminine suffix. Parthenogenesis rather than second Genesis.)
    There is a list of some amazing horror images towards the end that you will never forget. Never forget, nor understand each item one by one, even if you might understand the whole in a final revelation or epiphany.
    I cannot cover all the ground; it is too massive for that. “…something queer, something no one understood.” But it will grow on you like a seed planted in darkness.
    I end up walking the Street of Lamps like the ghost of Jean Ray.
    “But you have already stayed too long enough in this place…”


    “: the world thrives on its faults and strives, by every possible means, to aggravate them, while at the same time to mask them like a congenital deformity.”

    That sounds like a keynote for this world. This Mad Scientist story seems also to present, for me, what I shall now call the NOEUD of Ligotti (cf the ‘Catholic / CATHRian’ symbiosis that was evoked earlier for me by remembering “Le Noeud de vipères” (Knot of Snakes) by Francois Mauriac) and I say that this NOEUD is the essential Prophet / Showman conundrum residing at the core of how I see this Mad Scientist author or how I see the image of this author that is conveyed by a deeper author even than the one who is named Ligotti on the cover.

    Here we have a wonderfully described Heath Robinson contraption or patchwork scrapheap (cf todays’ review by me of ‘The Night Clock’ HERE), a contraption or creative scrapheap wielding a single snake-like ‘Sacred Ray’, one that puppetises or immortalises (or both) the representative ‘mankind’ of the Mad Scientist’s lecture audiences. The “decrepitude” word again used here as DUE CREED of the PIT when anagrammatised. The Creator as manikin, or like the insignificance that was found to manipulate the Land of Oz?

    It is subtitled ‘Future Tale’ because it is published in the mid-1990s, now seen as premonitory of a well-respected scientist becoming a Mad one (or “crank doomsayer” as it says in this story), just as, arguably, the respected cult author of weird fiction became a mad author with the long gestation of the eventual publication of CATHR, something that has been imitated or plagiarised in recent times:
    “But among these mock-people, as became evident the longer one gazed at the stage, were hidden real ones who, rather ably, imitated the imitations.”


    “One cannot be unpleasant to one’s self, one cannot be strange to oneself.”

    I don’t think it is any accident that one of the two witness-protagonists (meeting at a cafe that reminds me of the start of many stories from Eastern Europe) is named Nolon, with the ‘nolo’ shared with the Rignolo character being witnessed. The other witness being named Grissul by an anagram of SIR SLUG (“filthy thing in the earth”).
    There seems to be a similar inchoate conduit or loose noeud BETWEEN literature’s ultimate pareidolia within landscape embedded in this story’s own landscape: a giant woven, stringy face or mask in the ground, AND the paintings witnessed in Rignolo’s studio, not traditional landscapes, but methods of existential exit without need for “you-know-what.” That “you-know-what” is evidently the pangs of death as the only means of escape?
    CATHR’s existential escape through Art here prefigured? Chasing the Noumenon.
    An artist’s studio made of NOOKs. OK, no? And “prickly brains.”
    Some haunting textured descriptions here OF texture itself.


    “…a great nexus of shadows, a birthplace and perhaps also a graveyard where things without substance waited, a realm of first and final dreams.”

    That pendulum over the pit again, the oscillation between first regret and final dread. Here mingled with Moxton’s earlier skeletons, a blending of black shadow and pale bone. My own man of bone and fame, here again with his countless disgorged books, plus a wrist furled back like a glove, a man addressed, in turn, as Mister Ha-ha, Mister Tick Tock, Mister Fizzle, Mister Thump, amid shadows oozing like “black suet”. I cannot explain or cohere all these images, but they seem to be absorbed as “tenebrous harmony” by the mind’s sump and stay there haunting you. A Brueghel painting painted by Whistler? A journey through a molten building with Kafkaesque escorts.

    “Yet as he studied with greater intentness this mass of wild marks, he began to receive a few splinters of its theme, to read the wreckage…”

    Today, this story takes on additional meaning about those fellow humans who have embarked on that wreckage’s “unknown adventure”.

    “…the echoing clamor of strange shrieking multitudes.”

    I feel the truth in my bones; I hear their shadows in my bones.

    • Part Three

      The master’s eyes shining with secrets
      Salvation by doom
      New faces in the city
      One may be dreaming
      Death without end
      The unfamiliar
      The career of nightmares
      The physic
      The demon man
      The puppet masters
      The spectral estate
      Primordial loathing
      The nameless horror
      Invocation to the void
      The mocking mystery
      The interminable equation
      The eternal mirage
      The order of illusion

      This section seems to be what it says it is.
      It comprises nineteen individually titled short pieces of prose that serve as a coda to the dark symphony of foregoing stories. Their titles shown above make their own poem, and the following quotes I have chosen are worth highlighting as casting an oblique light on the foregoing book and on my review of the Penguin Classics collection and CATHR.

      “And where a true window appears there is likely to be an arm hanging out of it, a stuffed and dangling arm with a hand whose fingers are too many or two few.”

      “We drift groggily out of the shadows: comfortably rooted in oblivion, we do not particularly enjoy being pulled up into the burning air for the amusement of some unknown mischief maker, some cosmic prankster, master of the trick.”

      “‘Is this how it is?’ he asked hopefully. ‘Late afternoon in a perpetual autumn.'”

      “: the narrow entranceway of a certain street or the shadowed spires of a certain structure appeared as mildly menacing as the prophetic edges of his vision, pleasantly threatening.”

      “But some of them had already begun that kind of dancing which is so dreadful to watch: none of them was larger than a dinner plate and their multiple radiating legs (with pincers by now) made them look like unholy pinwheels spinning in the moonlight. Very dreadful. And the doctor was right, they still had much of their brains left.
      Too much…”

      “…something else is present in the room, something which has been secreted out of sight and waits to rise up in the shape of a revelation, to rise up like a cry in one’s own throat.”

      “But the reptile’s voice continues to mock me, night after night. It will laugh and rave throughout all the humid nights of history. Until that perfect lid of darkness falls over this world once more.”

      “…something about the shape of the shapes,…”

      “Then will the wreckage be resurrected in new shapes, the scenery pulled up on another stage, lively faces painted upon dead players, their twisted limbs restrung with wires.”

      “But to bother even with the dream of such a place was useless, especially when he could conceive a plan more to his purpose. This entailed nothing less than the invention of a cult, […] the fetishes of his new creed. These consisted of anything he could find which a divine aura of disuse, of unfulfilment, hopelessness, disintegration, of grotesque imbecility and senselessness. Dolls with broken faces he put on display in corners and upon crumbling pedestals. […] Whatever may appear, sooner or later, will appear in greatness. Thus, gradually, the pathetic, lusterless world he had made, and labored to make low, had rebelliously elevated itself beyond its surface decrepitude and assumed a kind of grandeur in his eyes.”

      That “new creed”, that “invention of a cult”…
      “Its surface DECREPITUDE” – “a kind of grandeur” of Ligotti’s DUE CREED of the PIT.

      An assumed grandeur in 1994 materialising as CATHR in 2010.

      All my reviews of Ligotti works linked from HERE.

      But my work is not yet done…

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