Thomas Ligotti’s Noctuary

noctuary - ligotti

Thomas Ligotti – Noctuary
Carroll and Graf – 1994

Noctuary was the first Thomas Ligotti book that I read, but by the time I got around to starting this blog a year later, I had forgotten the whole thing. I’ve reviewed quite a few of Ligotti’s books recently, and I wanted to go back to reread this one.

I have to say, I enjoyed this collection less after having read Ligotti’s other stuff. A few of the stories are so weird that they went over my head, and some of them are so abstract that I found them boring. What the hell is ‘The Medusa’ about? I read it, and I understand all of the words and sentences, but I still feel like I don’t get it. Weird? Yes. Scary? No.

I think the atmosphere of these texts is far more important than their plots, and while I do appreciate some good atmospheric horror, I felt like this was a bit much. I reread Noctuary over the course of a very stressful week last month, and that might well have affected my enjoyment of the book, but I seemed to remember Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco collection being a little more to the point and quite a bit more satisfying.

There’s a compilation of very short works at the end of the book called  “Notebook of the Night”. Some of these were fairly dull, but this section also contains my favourite piece in this collection, ‘The Premature Transfiguration’. This is a relatively simplistic tale about people turning into lobsters and then begging to be killed. LOL!

I’m being a bit negative here. I did actually like this book, but I seemed to remember enjoying it more the first time I read it. It took me less than 24 hours to finish it that time, but more than a week this time around. If you’re already a Ligotti fan, then check this out, but I don’t think it’s the best starting place if you haven’t read his stuff before.

Crampton – Thomas Ligotti and Brandon Trenz

the x filesThe X-Files is probably my favourite television show of all time. I was a kid when it started, and only ever saw a few episodes during its original run, but in early 2015, my wife and I started watching it on Netflix. Since then I’ve watched all 218 episodes, both movies and even listened to the audiodramas with Anderson and Duchovny. I acknowledge that the first 5 seasons are infinitely better than the later ones, but even bad X-Files is still pretty good (mostly).

When I discovered that Thomas Ligotti, one of my favourite horror writers, had written an unproduced screenplay for an episode of my favourite tv show, I was intrigued. The screenplay is actually credited to Ligotti and Brandon Trenz. Trenz was a friend of Ligotti’s. I don’t know how much input he had on Crampton, but his name appears after Ligotti’s on the cover. Maybe this is just because Ligotti is the bigger name. Thankfully, this screenplay is easily found online.

crampton ligotti trenz

I won’t give away plot details for those who want to read this, but I will say that it’s similar to standard X-files fare in that it involves seemingly paranoid characters that believe in a cabal of shady yet powerful antagonists. It’s not an agent centered episode, but Mulder, Scully and their relationship all come across as genuine. Although the story is very Ligotti-y (Ligottiesque? Ligotti-ish?), it was very easy to imagine this as an X-Files episode.

That being said, this might have been a bit much for 1998 X-Files. By that stage, the series was heading into its “funny era”, and this episode would have been one of its darkest. I’ve seen articles about Crampton that refer to it as “the X-Files episode that was too bleak to air”, but realistically, it wouldn’t have aired even with a happier ending. (The show didn’t accept submissions from authors unless their names were Stephen King or William Gibson.) The difference between Ligotti’s story and most X-Files episodes is the nature and scope of the conspiracy. In the X-Files, the conspiracy is palatable because it’s orchestrated by the government or a government agency. The show has the decency to provide a target for the sense of paranoia that it induces. Ligotti and Trenz offer their audience no such comfort. Things are scary, dangerous and out of control, but that’s because of the nature of reality, not the failings of a government agency.

If this had been made an episode, I think it might have jarred audiences (the show was the most popular on television at that stage and had a huge viewership), but if it was filmed right, I reckon it could be remembered as one of the show’s best episodes. It feels cohesive and unsettling, and would have fit right into the series as a standalone episode.

When Ligotti and Trenz realised that their screenplay wasn’t going to be used, they reworked it into a screenplay for a movie. Durtro Press, David Tibet’s Publishing House, put out a copy of the movie version’s screenplay in 2002 alongside a collection of songs inspired by the screenplay and recorded by Ligotti himself.

The movie version is longer, and it allows parts of the story to go into more detail, but aside from the addition of two informant characters, the plot is essentially the same up until the ending. Even the ending isn’t all that different from the original. I read the extended version only a few days after reading the X-Files version, and I enjoyed it just as much the second time. The unanswered questions are more niggling the second time around, and while that may sound like a bad thing, it really isn’t. Ligotti is a philosopher as well as a writer of fiction, and he clearly understands the potency of horror that stems from unanswered questions. 

The music is quite interesting. The collection of songs is titled The Unholy City. Ligotti has collaborated with Tibet a bunch of times, and he seems to be into artier music than me. I probably wouldn’t listen to it again, but the lyrics are enjoyably bleak and bizarre.

Both versions of Crampton are great. This is unsettling, weird horror. If you like Ligotti or the X-Files, you need to check this out.

The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein and Other Gothic Tales – Thomas Ligotti

frankenstein ligottiThe Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein and Other Gothic Tales 
Thomas Ligotti
Subterranean Press – 2014 (Originally published 1994)

My daughter recently got a book called Little Red Reading Hood. It’s about a little girl who changes the endings of stories that she’s not quite satisfied with.

“You don’t like an ending?” Red Reading Hood said.
“Then change it, arrange it again in your head.
Just switch it and stitch it up some other way.”
The Wolf nodded slowly and whispered, “OK.”

It seems to me that Thomas Ligotti must have encountered this Little Red Reading Hood character in the early 90s and followed her directions when composing the pieces in The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein and Other Gothic Tales. This is basically a collection of alternate or extended endings to a bunch of classic horror stories.

The books getting the Ligotti treatment here are The Island or Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, The Turn of the Screw, and The Mysteries of Udolpho, along with several tales by Poe and Lovecraft. Two movies are also revised, House of Wax and The Wolfman. There are another 4 stories in here that I was not able to source.

  • The Unnatural Persecution, by a Vampire, of Mr. Jacob J.
  • The Superb Companion of André de V., Anti-Pygmalion
  • The Ever-Vigilant Guardians of Secluded Estates
  • The Scream: from 1800 to the Present

Ligotti seems to refer to these as ‘once-told tales’ in his introduction, so I assume they are entirely of his own creation. If I’m wrong and anyone knows what stories/books/movies these tales originate from, please let me know.

The writing and tone here is pretty much what you’d expect. Ligotti makes these classics of horror more painful and horrifying. It’s quite a ghoulish undertaking when you think about it.

The first piece in this collection is an additional scene for The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells. This was the only book that Ligotti uses that I hadn’t read, so right after finishing with Ligotti, I started on Moreau. Fucking Hell, it was awesome. I was aware of the general premise, but I thought it was going to be a quaint little science fiction novel. It’s pure horror, a nightmare of a book. After reading Wells’ book, I reread Ligotti’s, and I can confirm that the stories in the latter are better if you’ve read the source material. I quite enjoyed witnessing some of my favourite characters from my favourite books being revived by one of my favourite authors.

Physical copies of this book are extremely rare, and it’s a very short work, only about 50 pages. I read an ebook version in about half an hour, and while I enjoyed it, the experience certainly wasn’t worth the 600 dollars that a physical copy would cost. This is an interesting curiosity, and while entirely enjoyable in itself, it’s simply not long enough to stand up to Ligotti’s other collections. If you’re a fan of Ligotti and horror in general, buy the ebook and put on a pot of coffee. You’re in for a treat.

I’m still waiting for a special occasion to start reading Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, but I finally finished the last season of The X-Files recently, and I am planning on reading Ligotti’s screenplay for the episode that was never made in the hopes that it will temporarily fill the X shaped void in my now miserable life.

My Work Is Not Yet Done – Thomas Ligotti

My Work is Not Yet Done ligotti.jpgMy Work is Not Yet Done – Thomas Ligotti
2002 – Virgin

I read a lot of books, but in truth, there are relatively few authors whose books I savour. I actually hold off on reading Thomas Ligotti because I don’t want the day to come when I have already read all of his books. His low opinion of humanity is both tragically hilarious and brutal, and while I don’t necessarily share the outlook of the narrators of his stories, I find his pessimism the perfect vehicle for horror. The message that our existence has no worth is perhaps the most disturbing idea that an author can offer to 21st century humans.

My Work Is Not Yet Done is a novella and two short stories. All of these tales are about workers’ lives as part of a corporation. There’s a very Kafkaesque vibe running throughout, but Ligotti covers the bureaucratic angst with layers of supernatural horror and misanthropy and turns it into something far darker. The first act of the eponymous novella portrays a man who decides to go on a killing spree in his office after he’s unfairly dismissed from his job. I know Stephen King found himself in hot water for writing a novel about a school shooting, so I was impressed that Ligotti had done something so extreme. I won’t tell you what happens later on in the story, but I will say that it’s actually far worse than what you’d expect.

I know full well the misery of working for a company that you hate, and while I’ve only spent a little over a year working in an “office job”, I spent enough of that year fantasizing about murdering my boss to have thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Little things about the book stuck out to me. Characters have stupid names – coworkers are named Sherry, Terry, Mary, and Perry, and detectives are named Black and White. Also, the purpose of the corporations that these characters work is barely discussed – the nature of the work that the characters engage in is almost entirely passed over. Why does Ligotti omit these details? Why doesn’t he put more effort into naming his characters? Because that stuff doesn’t matter. Human beings are entirely interchangeable. You are no different to the people you hate the most. What corporations actually do doesn’t make any difference to their workers. Nothing fucking matters. Every living thing is going to die without having made any noticeable difference in the universe, a universe in which every single atom will eventually decay.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this is the first post of 2020. Happy New Year everyone!

“Generally speaking: Expect nothing but nightmarish obscenities to be born when human heads come together in intercourse.

More generally speaking: Whatever is born will ultimately grow into a nightmarish obscenity – in the grand scheme of things.”

There’s moody nuggets like this sprinkled throughout the book, but the closing lines of My Work Is Not Yet Done sum it all up. I don’t want to quote those here as it might ruin the effect when you do get around to reading it, but fuck me, they’re perfect. Please believe me when I say that this is a novella worth reading.

I’ve also reviewed Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco and The Conspiracy Against the Human Race if you’re interested. I read Noctuary years ago too, but I haven’t reviewed that one properly yet. There’s a copy of the Penguin edition of Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe on my shelf, but I’m waiting for a special occasion to allow myself the luxury of reading it.

Teatro Grottesco – Thomas Ligotti

teatro grotessco thomas ligotti.jpgTeatro Grottesco – Thomas Ligotti
Virgin Books – 2008 (First published 2006)

This collection of short stories makes most of the horror fiction I’ve read seem like a children’s cartoon. This isn’t bump in the night stuff; it’s black, oily, suffocating horror. It is the second book that I have ever read that actually gave me nightmares.

Nightmares are interesting things. While they always contain some kind of unpleasant element, they also have to be similar enough to our day to day lives to actually disturb us, and it’s this fact that gives this Teatro Grottesco a truly nightmarish quality.

This collection is truly weird weird-fiction, but while the scenarios it describes all contain an element of the fantastic, their reality is never far enough from our own to void the message they deliver. And there is a message in these tales. Ligotti is a philosopher as well as a fiction writer, and it is his takes on reality that make these stories truly horrifying. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has read his The Conspiracy against the Human Raceone of the most pessimistic books in existence. I read and enjoyed that one a few years ago, but my one complaint was that although the arguments therein are convincing, they didn’t hugely influence the way I was feeling when I read them. I was able to brush them off as somebody else’s bad attitude. For me, it was far more effective coming across these ideas in fictional narratives than in a treatise of philosophy. The final tale in this collection, The Shadow, The Darkness, is one of the most profoundly articulate discussions of the futility of human existence that I have encountered. It made me feel quite bad when reading it. Indeed, the horror of Ligotti’s prose is more directed at its reader than at its characters.

The characters in these tales are very strange. They appear more as shadows than as distinguishable individuals. They’re all artists or managers of boarding houses. The narrator of any one tale in this collection could be the narrator of any of the others. This might seem like a criticism to somebody who hasn’t read the book, but I strongly suspect that it was intentional. One of the key ideas throughout this collection is that the self is an illusion. Human minds and souls aren’t real; they are a symptom of the sickness of reality, and the attempt to distinguish between one person and another is a pathetic exercise in futility. In one of the tales, a character describes himself thus:

“My body – a tumor that was once delivered from the body of another tumor, a lump of disease that is always boiling with its own disease. And my mind – another disease, the disease of a disease. Everywhere my mind sees the disease of other minds and other bodies, these other organisms that are only other diseases, an absolute nightmare of the organism.”

Get the idea? What difference does it make who is narrating the story if every living thing is just a drastically diseased and deluded tumor? This book is horrible – horrible but also absolutely deadly.

Shout out to my mother in law for buying me this for Christmas. It’s probably my favourite book that I’ve read this year – I really, really liked this one. It’s also the third of Ligotti’s books that I’ve read, and from what I can see online, most of his books are fairly difficult to come by. This is unfortunate because he’s a brilliant writer. I’ve seen a bunch of stuff that talks about how Ligotti is like a modern Lovecraft, but I find his writing more similar to that of Samuel Beckett than to any horror writer I’ve read. (I think the similarity lies in how both writers present human relationships – maybe I’ll write an essay about this some day.) Anyways, I am going to try to find a copy of the Penguin edition of Ligotti’s first two books and review it in the very near future. This is the kind of horror I want to read.

The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

conspiracy human race ligotti
The Conspiracy Against the Human Race – Thomas Ligotti

2010

I saw this book recommended on a forum a few years ago and put it on my to-read list. A while later, I saw articles online about how the writer of the first season of True Detective had ripped it off. I loved that show, particularly the parts that were supposed to have been taken from this book, so this made me want to read it even more. It only took about 4 years for me to work up the courage to pick it up. I had a pretty good idea of what it was going to contain, but it wasn’t its infamous negativity that was putting me off, it was the fact that it is a book of philosophy.

I don’t like reading philosophy anymore. I occasionally pick up some Plato just for the fun of it, and I have been known to giggle at Schopenhauer and Neitzsche’s aphorisms, but I’m not really interested in their fiddle-faddle arguments about the will and all that crap. I don’t mind a philosophical novel, but books of pure philosophy often seem to require more effort than they’re worth.

That being said, there were a few things about this book that made it seem more appealing than other works of philosophy. It was written by a writer of horror fiction, and the philosophy it propounds is one of extreme pessimism, so it’s basically doom metal in the form of a book. For some reason, probably December’s festive cheer, I decided to inflict it upon myself last week.

Alright, so the main idea here is that consciousness makes life so unpleasant that it would be better not to live. I followed the author’s arguments, but they haven’t really changed my outlook on life. Maybe it’s the fact that I knew this guy is a horror writer and all of the references to Lovecraft in the text, but I couldn’t help but feel that the reality that he was writing about was a slightly different reality to the one I live in. As interesting as his arguments are, I was able to forget about them immediately after putting the book down in much the same way that I forget about the slime creatures from Stephen King stories when I go grocery shopping. In fairness to Ligotti though,  he does reference this as an inevitability of the horror of existence. If we were not able to distract ourselves and stop thinking about these issues, we’d probably all kill ourselves very quickly. Ligotti’s arguments are convincing; yes, we are fucked, but they’re not particularly effective; we’re fucked, but who cares?

The world is a generally shitty place, and human beings are making it much worse. I, for one, solemnly believe that we are living in end times. The atmosphere is heating up, the seas are turning into chemical cesspools, and it’s only a matter of time before we’re all wiped out by nuclear war, biological weapons, aggressive technology or something else that’s really unpleasant (I’m personally hoping for an Independence Day style alien invasion). Human beings are disgusting, selfish, idiotic creatures with barely any self respect or intelligence, and there’s far too many of us for things to turn out well.

Life in the near future will become insufferable, but as long as I can listen to rock’n’roll, troll the internet and drink tea, I’ll be grand. While I didn’t find the arguments hugely effective (probably because I already accepted most of them), I did actually enjoy reading this book. Unfortunately, as with the last book I reviewed, it’s the people that most need to read this that are least likely to bother with it.

Perhaps the greatest feature of this book is it’s quotability. It is absolutely filled with zingers. I’ll leave you with a few of my favourites:

“We can stomach our own kind, or just enough of them who either prove useful to us or are not handily destructible, only by the terms of the following contract: we will eat some of the other fellow’s excrement if he will eat some of ours.”

On why humans reproduce: “People  get  the  biggest  kick  out  of  seeing  the features  of  their  faces  plastered  together  onto  one  head.”

“Child-bearers, then, should not feel unfairly culled as the worst offenders in the conspiracy against the human race.”

“Let  it  be  said—human  beings  are the  most  retarded  organisms  on  earth.”

noctuary - ligottiThomas Ligotti – Noctuary
Carroll and Graf – 1994

I guess I can throw this in here too. I read this collection of Ligotti’s short stories a long time ago. I had an office job back then, and I would spend most of the work day reading. I’d download pdfs of books and rename them “factory standards.pdf” and upload them to google drive so that my employer wouldn’t know what I was up to if he checked my history. I also got reckless and read a few at openlibrary.org, including this one. Over the course of three days on the job, I managed to finish Noctuary, the Satanic Bible, Mount Analogue by Damaul and Look Back in Anger by John Osborn. This frenzied bout of reading was fueled by spite for my employer rather than enjoyment, and I can honestly remember more about the ensuing headaches than the texts themselves.  I rated Noctuary 4 out 5 stars on goodreads though, so it must have been pretty good.

I’d imagine this won’t be the last time Ligotti’s works are featured on this blog.