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Songs of a Dead Dreamer & Grimscribe, Thomas Ligotti - a review

If you are intrigued with the strange and dark worlds of Lovecraft, but cannot stomach the overt racism and misogyny the you might want to check out Thomas Ligotti. Being excluded from a story is more comfortable perhaps than being demonised in it. Ligotti is a proponent of pessimism as a philosophy and each of these tales illustrates the pain of self-conscious existence and the terror of things sensed in the shadows. (See also Teatro Grottesco and The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.) Of the two collections included in this volume I preferred Grimscribe, which felt more diverse and unique than the first collection. My favourite stories were: “The Last Feast of the Harlequin”, “Vasterian”, “The Music of the Moon”, and “The Night School”. The text contains fine descriptions that evoke other-worldly landscapes: By night, the facades of each edifice on either side of this narrow street seem to be fused together, as if they are bonded by shadows to one another. Aside from their foundations and a few floors with shuttered windows, they are all roof. Splendidly they rise into the night, often reaching fantastic altitudes. At angles they sway a little against the sky, undulating at their pinnacles like tall trees in a gentle wind.”

These beautiful quotes encapsulate the themes in the stories: Supernatural horror was one of the ways we found that would allow us to live with our double selves. By its employ, we discovered how to take all the things that victimize us in our natural lives and turn them into the very stuff of demonic delight in our fantasy lives. In story and song we could entertain ourselves with the worst we could think of, overwriting real pains with ones that were unreal and harmless to our species … By means of supernatural horror we may pull our own strings of fate without collapsing – natural-born puppets whose lips are painted with our own blood.” “[S]uch things only provoke my rage against a world that applauds trumped-up illusions while denying or demeaning those that create the very lives they are living. No real illusion will ever gain their favor, or even their attention.” It isn’t an easy read. Ligotti’s stories challenge us not only in the use of dense language but also to defy his argument that being alive is strange and terrible. In spite of this there is comfort in knowing we are not alone with our terror.

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