Songs of a Dead Dreamer
by Thomas Ligotti
Published by Subterranean Press, 2010
Thomas Ligotti is widely regarded as one of the most important writers currently working in the horror genre. His work is the subject of intense debate by fans and scholars alike. His often complex stories have conspired to bring him almost mythic status and this has been intensified by the difficulties of finding his earlier work, much of which is now out of print.
This collection by Subterranean Press is a reissue of a collection originally published in 1985 and is the first in a planned series which will allow readers to get their hands on this, till now, hard to find material. These editions are also the definitive versions with many changes by the author ranging from single words to additions of whole paragraphs. Consider this the directors cut.
We start with The Frolic, one of Ligotti’s more straightforward plots but also one which perfectly demonstrates his idea that the “the greatest horrors are not works of the imagination but are found in reality”. Whilst the protagonists are busy being optimistic about the future, the reader is filled with an increasing sense of dread as we see the reality of their situation.
Les Fleurs is another magnificent tale which hints at darker, broken worlds beyond our own. Alice’s Last Adventure tells of a children’s author and her inspiration. Dream Of A Manikin is one of the more complex stories on offer and really requires repeated readings to bring it’s nightmarish visions to life.
The Nyctalops Trilogy of The Chymist, Drink To Me Only With Labyrinthine Eyes and Eye of the Lynx were originally published in Nyclatops magazine. All touch on the baser human desires and the use of manipulation in an attempt to fulfill them.
Notes on the Writing of Horror is a superb piece which dissects the possible styles of the horror short story before presenting us with the authors own unique style. The next three stories, The Christmas Eves of Aunt Elise, The Lost Art of Twilight and The Troubles of Dr.Thoss deal with family betrayal, vampires and an insomniac artist. Masquerade of a Dead Sword is a less successful piece of dark fantasy complete with Gormenghast like crumbling castles.
Dr. Voke and Mr Veech is the epitome of Ligotti’s craft. Full of madness, paranoia and screaming dummies it’s a hellish and quite brilliant nightmare. Professor Nobody’s Little Lectures on Supernatural Horrors is another exploration into the mind of “the morbid man who seeks the shadows behind the scenes of life”.
Dr Locrian’s Asylum and The Sect of The Idiot both owe a debt to the writing of H.P. Lovecraft and particularly his earlier pieces such as The Festival. The Greater Festival of Masks deals with what lies behind the mask and The Music of the Moon explores a strange part of town and the mysterious music to be found there.
The Journal of J.P Drapeau is a bleak, visionary exploration of what lies at the end of everything “…everything gone forever. Everything perhaps, except the sound of those bells haunting an empty mist through an eternal twilight”. Finally Vastarien and we meet Victor Keirion who’s dreams bring him a “promised flight to emaciated landscapes” but the reality is much different.
Often challenging, frequently grotesque and never less than bleak, this is the work of a modern horror master. Reflecting the authors almost nihilistic view that “life is a journey of disillusionment” these stories have no happy endings but ultimately the emotions they invoke reflect back on the reader in a fantastically engaging way. Thomas Ligotti is one of the few people able to captivate the reader in such a raw, visceral manner. Ultimately his genius is that he can do this whilst at the same time fulfilling his key criteria that “literature is entertainment or it is nothing.” Enjoy these stories, if you can.
Rating 5 out of 5
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