"... I’ve conceived of stories that were just too disturbing for me to write. If you can write something, then it’s only so disturbing. Anything truly disturbing can’t even be written. Even if it could, no one could stand to read it. And writing is essentially a means of entertainment for both the writer and the reader. I don’t care who the writer is—literature is entertainment or it is nothing."
One of the most respected writers in the field of supernatural horror alive today, Thomas Ligotti, in critical terms, has it all. He has been nominated for and won awards for his short stories and poetry on numerous occasions, gaining the accolades of everyone from Ramsey Campbell to Poppy Z. Brite
and accumulating a wildly devoted cult following. His prose has been favorably compared to Edgar Allan Poe
and the Decadent poets of fin-de-siècle
France, and before he even had released his first story collection, the late Cthulhu Mythos
archivist Lin Carter declared him the Spiritual Successor
to HP Lovecraft
Whence comes the logical question: "So why haven't I heard of this guy?"
In short, because Thomas Ligotti is the Thomas Pynchon
of the Cosmic Horror Story
To elaborate: Ligotti has, since his early twenties, been afflicted with agoraphobia, panic-anxiety disorder, and severe bipolar disorder
, rendering him unable to, for example, meet directly with fans or conduct face-to-face interviews
. Early on, there were even questions as to whether the man actually existed, with some claiming that Thomas Ligotti was actually a pseudonym for a more famous writer
; these rumors began to lose credence
following a series of phone interviews, and all but ceased following the proliferation of email.
Perhaps even more damaging to Ligotti's notoriety—although ever appreciated by his devoted fanbase—was his steadfast dedication to the small press, with some of his collections only being produced in editions of under a thousand.note
Granted, most of his works were later released in trade paperback, but even these have gone out of print. Only recently has the publisher Mythos Books begun to rectify this, to the extent that copies of Ligotti's most recent fiction (My Work Is Not Yet Done
and Teatro Grottesco
) and a retrospective (The Shadow At The Bottom Of The World
) are now available in major chain stores, while older collections are gradually being reissued in revised form. Which has also pleased the fans.
Ligotti has also had a long-standing friendship with David Tibet of the English experimental music outfit Current 93
, and has collaborated with them on the following albums:
- All the Pretty Little Horses (1996): Ligotti reads an excerpt from his short story "Les Fleurs" at the end of the album. "The Frolic" is also based on the story of the same name (in a roundabout way).
- In A Foreign Town, In A Foreign Land (1997): Released with the book of the same name as a musical companion piece.
- Foxtrot (compilation, 1998): Ligotti plays steel guitar on Current 93's track "A Dream Of TheInmostLight (For Christoph Heemann)".
- I Have A Special Plan For This World (2000): Based around Tibet's reading of Ligotti's poem of the same name. He also supplied "The Bungalow Tapes".
- This Degenerate Little Town (2001): Ligotti recites his poem of the same name with backing from Current 93.
Also, he created on his own an EP titled The Unholy City
, which is Ligotti reciting a cycle of poems over borderline minimalistic musical accompaniment.
Tropes evident in Thomas Ligotti's works include:
- Adult Fear: "The Frolic" plays into both this and existential terror with the walking, talking slab of undiluted Paranoia Fuel that is "John Doe". Think of the worst thing that someone could possibly do to a child. Now, think of someone who does this. Often. Someone that does this without even knowing that it's even slightly wrong. Someone (or rather something) that may not even be human. His capture, he says, is merely time for him to rest. Now, imagine that, for what ever reason, he just knows that you have a daughter...
- And I Must Scream
- Anti-Hero: Finding a straight hero in a Ligotti story is like finding a Happy Ending: If you think that you have, one can be certain that you are terribly, terribly wrong.
- Author Appeal: Deconstructing horror and philosophy tropes seems to be a big one. Also, any of the recurring themes under Paranoia Fuel.
- Author Tract: The Conspiracy Against The Human Race, a book-length non-fiction treatise on philosophical pessimism.
- Bittersweet Ending: In Ligotti's entire oeuvre, only two stories can be said to have anything close to a positive conclusion, those being "The Order of Illusion" and "My Work Is Not Yet Done". Just to give you an idea of how bitter even Ligotti's "happy" endings are, the protagonist of the former becomes a cult leader, while the "hero" of the latter kills himself to escape from a potentially worse outcome...
- Black Comedy: The tone of many of his first person stories is extremely snarky, which ultimately only adds to the horror of his endings.
- Blue and Orange Morality: Attempting to assign moral values to the behaviour of Ligotti's characters, human or not, is futile in the extreme.
- Body Horror: Generally averted, though "The Cocoons", "The Spectacles in the Drawer" and "The Tsalal" all contain some extremely visceral scenes.
- Cosmic Horror Story
- Crapsack World
- Cruel and Unusual Death: But rarely "onstage."
- Cruel Twist Ending:
- Cthulhu Mythos: "The Sect of the Idiot" is definitely a Mythos story, though "The Prodigy of Dreams", "Nethescurial", "Vastarien" and "The Last Feast of Harlequin" (which was dedicated to HP Lovecraft) are all at least considered part of the Fanon.
- Darkness Equals Death: Played with in various ways.
- Deadpan Snarker / The Snark Knight: Most of Ligotti's more detailed protagonists are this, resulting in some surprisingly funny moments. The man himself is also a fine specimen of the latter.
- Downer Ending
- Eldritch Abomination
- Eldritch Location: The titular Dark World of "Vastarien" is a standout in modern literature.
- Enigmatic Minion: "The Clown Puppet" is the most confusing example.
- A Fête Worse Than Death: "The Last Feast of Harlequin", "The Greater Festival of Masks"
- Gainax Ending: Any of his more experimental stories, especially "The Nightmare Network".
- God Is Evil: For some explanation, please read "Nethescurial".
- Many of his stories imply that reality itself is inherently malignant.
- Humans Are Special: Deconstructed in The Conspiracy Against The Human Race.
- The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: Ligotti loves ambiguous locations, though "The Astronomic Blur" from "Sideshow," and Other Stories is one of the most unusual.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: The seminal Songs of a Dead Dreamer has been reprinted a few times, but none of its edition is currently available through retail. Second-hand copies are available online at exorbitant prices.
- Lost Episode: Several stories published through small-press magazines have never been collected or reprinted.
- Medical Horror: "The Cocoons" specifically, though hearing that someone bears the title of "doctor" is usually a bad sign in the Ligotti universe.
- Mind Screw: Par for the course, though some stories ("Eye of the Lynx", "The Greater Festival of Masks", "Notes on the Writing of Horror", "The Nightmare Network") are more perplexing than others.
- New Weird: Considered to be one of the Trope Makers.
- Nietzsche Wannabe: Interestingly averted with the man himself, who refuses the "nihilist" distinction and is extremely well-versed in pessimistic philosophy (as evidenced by The Conspiracy Against the Human Race).
- Nothing Is Scarier
- Our Vampires Are Different: "The Lost Art of Twilight".
- Our Werewolves Are Different: "The Real Wolf". Hello, Deconstruction!
- Our Zombies Are Different: "Autumnal".
- Personal Horror
- Perspective Flip: Most of the vignettes in The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein and Other Gothic Tales.
- Purple Prose: Many of his more abstract vignettes fall into this category, albeit rarely to the degree of his chief inspirations.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Conspiracy Against The Human Race is this as applied to everyone that has ever lived.
- Scary Scarecrows: "The Shadow at the Bottom of the World".
- The Stars Are Going Out: Played with.
- Surreal Horror: Even Ligotti's most realistic stories have a tendency to rely on a modicum of dream logic. Case in point: "The Frolic".
- True Art Is Incomprehensible: Played for Laughs (of a rather subtle, bleak kind) in many of the stories in Teatro Grottesco, most of which are set in art communities.
- The Übermensch: Deconstructed, with ruthless vigour, in "The Shadow, The Darkness".
- Ultimate Evil
- Wham Line:
- "Nethescurial": I am not dying in a nightmare.
- "The Chymist": Now, Rose of Madness... Bloom!
- "Mrs. Rinaldi's Angel": "It was an angel, did you know that?"
- "The Troubles of Doctor Thoss": "My name is Thoss, I am a doctor."
- "Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes": "You will not awaken until morning, no matter what sounds you hear outside your door. Understand?".
- "The Nightmare Network": There is no one behind the camera.
- "The Last Feast of Harlequin": "He's one of us. He has always been one of us."
- "Purity": "Why, it's families, sweetheart."
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Plomb from "The Spectacles in the Drawer". Frank Dominio from "My Work Is Not Yet Done" could also be seen as one of these before his transformation.