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Creator / Thomas Ligotti

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"... 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 isóliterature is entertainment or it is nothing."

Thomas Ligotti (born July 9, 1953) is a supernatural horror writer. He has been nominated for and won awards for his short stories and poetry on numerous occasions. Due to having been afflicted with agoraphobia, panic-anxiety disorder, and severe bipolar disorder, Ligotti is unable to meet directly with fans or conduct face-to-face interviews. He also has a steadfast dedication to the small press, with some of his collections only being produced in editions of under a thousand. (For a particularly extreme example, look here. And yes, the webmaster has a copy.) Most of his works were later released in trade paperback, which have recently been re-printed by Mythos Books. 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.

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.
  • The Light is Leaving Us All (2018): Ligotti's voice Bookends the album. He also supplies "ghost" recordings that appear throughout.

Also, he created on his own EP titled The Unholy City, which is Ligotti reciting a cycle of poems over borderline minimalistic musical accompaniment.

In 2007 a 21-minute adaptation of Ligotti's short story "The Frolic" was released. Ligotti himself cowrote the script with Brandon Trenz, also his collaborator on the unfilmed The X-Files script "Crampton."

Works by Thomas Ligotti with their own pages include:

Other works by Thomas Ligotti contain examples of:

  • Affably Evil: The aforementioned John Doe is very friendly to the protagonist.
  • Alice Allusion: The narrator of "Alice's Last Adventure" finds her life turning into an ever-darkening Wonderland.
  • All First-Person Narrators Write Like Novelists: "The Chymist" is a justified variant of this trope: The character is an Insufferable Genius with an obvious penchant towards self-indulgent soliloquy, and hence speaks rather vividly. It's even lampshaded several times by the narrator himself.
  • 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.
  • Arc Symbol: Masks, clowns, and puppets.
  • 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 novel-length non-fiction treatise on philosophical pessimism.
  • The Bad Guy Wins:
    • When there is an antagonist rather than the conflict coming from the horrid reality itself this usually happens.
    • Subverted in Vastarien where the crow-like antagonist is murdered by the narrator after he absorbs the narrator's dream city.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • In "The Order of Illusion" the protagonist becomes a cult leader, in what may be the closest Ligotti's work gets to a positive conclusion.
    • Also Vastarien where the protagonist loses his mind and is sent to an asylum but gets to live in Vastarien in his dreams.
    • Surprisingly, in The Tsalal the protagonist sacrifices himself to save the world.
  • Black Comedy: The tone of many of his first person stories is extremely snarky, which ultimately only adds to the horror of his endings. This is particularly evident in later stories like "The Town Manager" (whose closing Wham Line reads like the punchline to a joke) and "Metaphysica Morum".
  • Black Speech: The vampire language in "The Lost Art of Twilight", which is less made up of words and more of demonic shrieking and groaning noises, and is primarily used to express concepts too foul for living human beings to even understand.
  • Body Horror: Generally averted, though "The Cocoons", "The Spectacles in the Drawer" and "The Tsalal" all contain some extremely visceral scenes.
    • Dr. Thoss, as he appears in "The Troubles of Dr. Thoss", is a decapitated, rotted, waterlogged head that can move on its own and keeps whispering the words "My name is Thoss, I am a doctor".
  • Cosmic Horror Story:
  • Creator Backlash: He apparently burned most of his early writings and states that he has no intention of ever publishing any of them.
  • Creator Breakdown: Ligotti has suffered from severe clinical depression, anxiety, insomnia, and agoraphobia for almost his whole life, which informs much of his body of work and is the main reason for his reclusiveness.
  • Creator Thumbprint: Urban decay, soul-sucking corporate jobs, clowns, masks, puppets, dreams, and unethical medical professionals will all appear frequently in his work. Also expect his main characters to be intensely pessimistic, and also to suffer from either severe depression or anxiety.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: But rarely "onstage." For example, "The Cocoons" has psychiatric patients being eaten from the inside out by giant Lovecraftian arthropods after the "pills" they were given have hatched. While this never actually occurs "on-stage", the narrator watches some very educational home videos of his doctor's work...
  • Dark Fantasy: "Masquerade of a Dead Sword" is dark medieval fantasy with Ligotti's signature philosophical pessimism. Also fits the original definition of the genre as "horror in a fantasy setting."
  • Dark World:
    • In "The Frolic", an inmate of a mental asylum describes a sort of ruined and rubbish strewn Dark World.
    • The titular dream-dimension-thing from "Vastarien" is a particularly surreal example, seeing as it is, essentially, the protagonist's vision of paradise.
  • Dhampyr: The protagonist of "The Lost Art of Twilight", born from his mother's staked corpse, is his own, very special subset of this trope. Unlike most fictional dhampyr, however, he has very few actual powers, aside from the ability to paint bizarre abstract canvases that are literally nauseating to look at.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Ligotti's first published short story "The Chymist" takes the form of a mad scientist's monologue to a prostitute who really should have kept walking when he started talking.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Tsalal in the namesake story is one of the closest things Ligotti has done to a classic Lovecraftian horror. It's both an entity and the true nature of reality, utter chaos, of which everything else is merely a mask. It exists to randomly transform the universe and is the entire reason anything changes at all. It's cultists try to summon it out of spite of such a nihilistic universe to hasten its arrival. The protagonist sacrifices himself to stop it, but it's destined to break through and destroy the world eventually anyway.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Dr. Thoss, at least in "The Last Feast of Harlequin". His surname is derived from "Thoth", the Egyptian god of magic, heavily implying he's something more than human.
  • A FÍte Worse than Death: "The Last Feast of Harlequin": The winter solstice celebration with the ragged, hobo-like clowns is off-putting enough, but it turns out that it's all part of an evil cult where the high priest of the religion, who turns out to be the narrator's beloved professor Dr. Thoss, sacrifices a young woman and turns the celebrants into giant, writhing worms.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: "Nethescurial". The narrator reads a short story positing that the entire world is god, and God Is Evil; the narrator snarks about the story's flaws but admits it has some interesting ideas. Scenes from the story begin to invade the narrator's dreams; finally, in his waking hours, the narrator sees the evil god at work in every physical object around him.
  • Gas Station of Doom: In "Gas Station Carnivals", the protagonist's acquiaintance reminisces about the titular carnivals that he used to visit as a kid when he and his parents stopped at gas stations. While the carnivals themselves were mostly just crappy (the attractions and rides were miniatures, the hypnotist and sideshow freaks were costumed attendants, and there was an air of oil-soaked dinginess about the whole thing), one of the employees, known as the Showman, was uncannily creepy and menacing. Subverted, it turns out that these carnivals never existed. Double subverted, since the Showman is actually real - and now coming after the protagonist.
  • God Is Dead: In The Tsalal it's posited that good deities used to exist but were destroyed by the Tsalal.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In The Tsalal the protagonist must die in a terrible manner in order to stop the Tsalal's manifestation which will destroy the universe. He accepts his fate and willingly dies to save the world.
  • Human Sacrifice: In "The Last Feast of Harlequin", the Monster Clown cultists are transformed into giant, carnivorous worms in a ritual underground and proceed to devour a young woman kidnapped from Mirocaw.
  • The Insomniac: A trait shared by many of his protagonists, notably Alb Indys in "The Troubles of Dr. Thoss." Ligotti himself, much like H. P. Lovecraft, is a lifelong sufferer of the condition, so it's very much a case of Write What You Know.
  • 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. A mass market paperback edition of Songs, in an omnibus with Grimscribe was released in 2015.
  • Mad Artist: A fair number of his protagonists count, particularly the narrator of "Les Fleures", who appears to draw his inspiration from alternate realms of existence.
  • 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).
  • No Face Under the Mask: "The Last Feast of Harlequin": The Human Sacrifice ritual turns the faces of various Monster Clown cultists into weird holes that the narrator compares to navels.
  • Non-Ironic Clown: The narrator and protagonist of "The Last Feast of Harlequin" enjoys dressing up as a clown and doing clown acts, like juggling. Not only is it pertinent to his academic interests, but he also just finds it plain fun. It's not presented as creepy or unusual in any way, which contrasts with the Monster Clown cultists of Mirocaw, who shamble about lifelessly like zombies, wear disheveled clothes and skull-like makeup that remind the narrator of The Scream, and have an annual Human Sacrifice ritual that transforms them in giant worm-like creatures.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Most of the vignettes in the "Notebook of the Night" section of the collection Noctuary are of this nature, with special mention to be paid to "One May Be Dreaming". Ligotti has been noted to dislike the use of graphic violence in horror lit and largely prefers focusing on an ominous, oppressive atmosphere to evoke fear.
  • Puppet Permutation: In "Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech", Dr. Voke looks to his friend Mr. Veech for revenge on his unfaithful wife and best friend, although he doesn't know the details. When he brings them to the location Veech has specified, he sees them dangling from strings and turning to wood.
  • Ravens and Crows: The supposed antagonist in "Vastarien" is repeatedly compared to them and appears at the end as an enormous crow consuming everything in the titular dream world.
  • The Spook: A recurring villain type, with the most notable examples being John Doe and Dr. Thoss.
    • John Doe is a Humanoid Abomination of unknowable background who claims to come from some dilapidated alternate reality that he spirits his young victims away to to "frolic", inevitably resulting in their horrifying ends. While speaking to his psychiatrist he shows an almost clairvoyant knowledge of his personal life and makes playful insinuations that he can leave the prison any time he wants, all while shifting between every possible accent in the English language without apparently trying to.
    • Dr. Thoss appears in two stories in wildly different forms, to the point where it's unclear if they're even meant to be the same character. His incarnation in "The Last Feast of Harlequin", however, fits this trope to a T. An eccentric anthropologist of obscure background, this Thoss traveled the world embedding himself into obscure tribes to study their traditions, eventually developing strange and controversial theories which saw him all but expelled from academia. When he reappears in the present day, he's an Evil Sorcerer leading a tribe of strange, subhuman vagrants whom he transforms into giant worms through his rituals.
  • Wham Line: In "The Last Feast of Harlequin", The narrator infiltrates the titular celebration and discovers that it's an evil ritual that transforms people into writhing, worm-like creatures. He decides to high-tail it out of there but trips. The cultists nearly catch up him, but their leader orders them to spare him, with a line that the narrator says he never heard: "He's one of us. He has always been one of us."
  • Write What You Know: The reason for Ligotti's extremely bleak worldview is largely because he himself has lived a very bleak life. Ligotti is a depressive insomniac who grew up in Detroit as the city started deteriorating and spent much of his life working various tedious office jobs. All of these elements influence his work in fairly obvious ways, most notably the persistent focus on mental illness, urban decay, liminal spaces, dream worlds, and philosophical pessimism.