Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe
Penguin Classics – 2015
Although most of Thomas Ligotti’s fiction has already appeared on this blog, I only recently read his two first, and probably most famous, short story collections. Songs of a Dead Dreamer was originally published in 1985, and Grimscribe: His Lives and Works came out in 1991, but they were first packaged together, along with some stuff from Noctuary and Teatro Grottesco, as The Nightmare Factory in 1996. It wasn’t until after True Detective made Ligotti a household name that Penguin decided to reissue his first two collections under their Penguin Classics series. I believe Ligotti is one of only 10 authors to live to see their books published as a Penguin Classic. This is definitely more high-brow than a lot of the crap I write about on here.
I’ve written about Ligotti so many times here that I don’t have too much to say about the writing here. I suppose I learned that Ligotti didn’t start propounding his pessimistic outlook on life at a late stage in his career. It was there from the beginning.
“the revelation that nothing ever known has ended in glory; that all which ends does so in exhaustion, in confusion and debris.”Vastarien
Again, I was impressed with the nightmarish quality imbued in Ligotti’s prose The word nightmare is often used as a synonym for scary or unpleasant, but these stories actually possess a bizarre dream-like quality. Obvious details are omitted, and stuff that shouldn’t become weird becomes very weird. It’s unnerving and disorientating, and I love it.
“To see the world drown in oceans of agony is the only vision which now brings me any relief from my madness”Masquerade of a Dead Sword
While I waited a week or so after finishing Songs of a Dead Dreamer to move on to Grimscribe, this felt like one long book to me. I can’t really think of way to distinguish the tone or quality of the two collections. I think I enjoyed the stories in Grimscribe more, but I’m almost certain that this was due to the fact that by the time I started on the Grimscribe tales, I had figured out that I had been reading the book wrong. Let me explain. I love Ligotti’s fiction, but I have to be in a fairly specific mood to really enjoy his writing. It’s dense and at times tedious, and reading some of these stories at night just made me want to fall asleep. As I started on Grimscribe, I worked out a system where I would read Ligotti on my lunch break at work and then read a trashy splatterpunk novel before bedtime. It was perfect.
I definitely prefered the more straight forward stories collected here. Vastarien, Dr. Locrian’s Asylum, The Last Feast of Harlequin, The Night School and The Coccoons were some of my favourites, but there were plenty of others that I really, really liked. Ligotti is one of the few authors whose books I have read more than once, and I’m sure the stories in this collection will stand multiple readings too. I feel like I might enjoy some of them even more a second time around. I’ll tell you what; in a few years, I’ll go back and read through both Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe more carefully and write more in depth posts about them then.
The last time I saw my friends before Covid hit, I was chatting to one of my buddies about Ligotti’s books and he told me that he had recently acquired “the one with Drake on the cover”. Given the likeness, I am surprised nobody has done this before:
3 thoughts on “Thomas Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe”
I read My Work Is Not Yet Done and A Conspiracy Against the Human Race, neither of which grabbed me much, but I agree that this collection is definitely a keeper. I posted my own review here: https://georgecaseblog.wordpress.com/2020/08/28/horrible-to-contemplate/
Conspiracy Against the Human Race is my favorite Ligotti book, but a few months ago, I finally bought the original Nightmare Factory off eBay. I am savoring it slowly. I foolishly sold my own copy of Songs & Grimscribe awhile ago, but I bought Conspiracy after borrowing the library copy so that I might read it over and over. Best non-fiction I’ve ever encountered. His writing is definitely an acquired taste.
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I want to read the Nightmare Factory comics next.