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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 is—literature 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.
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  • 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.

Works by Thomas Ligotti with their own pages include:

Other works by Thomas Ligotti contain examples of:

  • 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...
  • 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.
  • Amusement Park of Doom: The titular carnivals of "Gas Station Carnivals". Even though they never existed.
  • And I Must Scream
  • Another Man's Terror: Used to grim and varied effect in the story-within-a-story in "Notes On The Writing Of Horror: A Story".
  • Anti Anti Christ: Andrew Maness, being the living incarnation of "The Tsalal."
  • 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.
  • Apocalyptic Log: A few stories, most notably "Alice's Last Adventure" and "Nethescurial".
  • 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.
  • Bazaar of the Bizarre: The shop that the protagonist enters in "The Unfamiliar" is essentially a miniaturized version of one of these, played for Surreal Horror.
    • Also the bookshop in Vastarien.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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: A master of the genre. "The Sect of the Idiot" is definitely a Cthulhu Mythos story, though "The Prodigy of Dreams", "Nethescurial", "Vastarien" and "The Last Feast of Harlequin" (which was dedicated to H. P. Lovecraft) are all at least considered part of the Fanon. More broadly, quite a lot of Ligotti's work is arguably an exploration of what life would be like if reality really is a malignant, idiotic god.
  • Crapsack World: The world itself is the villain in many of his stories.
  • 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."
    • "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...
  • Cruel Twist Ending: Quite frequently.
  • 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."
  • Darkness Equals Death: Played with in various ways.
  • 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.
    • The alternate Bruges in "The Journal of J.P. Drapeau".
    • Hinted at in "The Christmas Eves of Aunt Elise".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Doomed Hometown: The implied fate of narrator's hometown in The Town Manager.
  • Downer Ending: All of them.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Thin Mountain in "Ten Steps to Thin Mountain".
  • Eldritch Location: The titular Dark World of "Vastarien" is a standout in modern literature.
  • Enigmatic Minion: "The Clown Puppet" is the most confusing example.
  • Evil Gloating: Done to the protagonist by what is implied to be life itself in "Masquerade of a Dead Sword."
  • 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.
  • Eye Scream: A reoccurring motif.
  • A Fête Worse Than Death: "The Last Feast of Harlequin", "The Greater Festival of Masks"
  • 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.
  • Gainax Ending: Any of his more experimental stories, especially "The Nightmare Network".
  • Gambit Pile Up: Gas Station Carnivals. Also by Richard and Domino in "My Work Is Not Yet Done"
  • God of Evil: The titular Nethescurial in Nethescurial.
  • God Is Evil:
    • "Nethescurial" in which the entire universe is an evil god.
    • "The Tsalal".
    • "The Shadow, The Darkness".
    • Many of his stories imply that reality itself is inherently malignant.
  • 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.
  • Humans Are Special: Deconstructed in The Conspiracy Against The Human Race.
  • 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.
  • 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. A mass market paperback edition of Songs, in an omnibus with Grimscribe was released in 2015.
  • Living Shadow: The eponymous... being, in "Our Temporary Supervisor". And you thought your boss was a pain!
  • Literary Allusion Title: "Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes", from the opening line of "Song: To Celia" ("Drink to me only with thine eyes...")
  • The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday:
  • Lost Episode: Several stories published through small-press magazines have never been collected or reprinted.
  • 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.
  • Medical Horror: "The Cocoons" specifically, though hearing that someone bears the title of "doctor" is usually a bad sign in the Ligotti universe.
  • Medusa: "The Medusa".
  • Mega-Corp: The Quine Organization, which shows up intermittently in Teatro Grottesco, is an especially Kafkaesque example.
  • 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).
  • No Face Under the Mask:
    • Used in "The Greater Festival Of Masks" to drive home a rather unsettling point about identity.
    • "Masquerade of a Dead Sword".
    • "The Last Feast of Harlequin".
  • 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.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: The unnamed, possibly inhuman narrator of the poem cycle "I Have A Special Plan For This World".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Purple Prose: Many of his more abstract vignettes fall into this category, albeit rarely to the degree of his chief inspirations.
  • 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 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 Snark Knight: The unnamed author in "Sideshow", and Other Stories.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • invoked 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."
    • "The Frolic": He turned on the light. The child was gone.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Plomb from "The Spectacles in the Drawer".
  • Write What You Know: 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.


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