Songs of a Dead Dreamer – Thomas Ligotti (1986)
This is Ligotti’s first collection of stories, a book that is now out-of-print and editions sell for prices ranging from $26 to $260 on Amazon and Ebay. This was the very first book I downloaded onto my Kindle-Fire and may have been part of the reason I even wanted an e-reader in the first place.
This collection encompasses the strange worlds and people in the Ligotti universe. They all start off as rather bland subjects – an artist with no imagination in one, a Christmas Eve at Aunt Elsie’s in another – but take a wicked turn during the course of the tale. The artist stumbles upon a church to an unknown God in a dream, waking to find his latest painting has changed. The young man, tired of Aunt Elsie’s fireside story, leaves the house and is drawn through the fog by twinkling Christmas lights to a house that should be abandoned. They are all weird tales and subtle horror, so do not expect blood and guts violence or dominating monsters to rise from the ashes of nuclear fallout. And this collection from his earliest writings is not super strong on character development. However, the overall absurdness and abstract reality of his writing shines through in many places.
In Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech, the doctor searches a seedy part of town to engage the service of one Mr. Veech. He is told to bring his wife and best friend down a certain block at a certain time. Once there, the cheating spouse and her lover are suddenly plucked from the street by some unknown force. Dr. Voke looks up to see them dangling by strings, somehow turning into wooden puppets before his eyes.
In Sect of the Idiot, a man rents a room in an old town. The town is claustrophobically clustered, with stacked roof peaks overhanging one another, upper stories of shops and homes reaching to unknown heights and blocking out the sky. A knock at the door by a stranger leads the man to a high room in the highest towering structure in the town, where some sort of entomo-aliens sit in commune and oversee the town’s activities. They have a special reason for summoning the man, a fact he will soon learn.
The abandoned mental hospital in Dr. Locrian’s Asylum holds some bad memories of wicked events that took place there. The asylum casts a constant shadow upon the town and a blemish on its good standing. However, when the townsfolk decide to tear it down, they unleash all the trapped souls that have so long been waiting for this day, to exact revenge upon the town that ignored their cries.
Songs… also includes two essays on writing. In Notes on Writing Horror, Ligotti describes different writing styles, then takes one short story and rewrites it in several ways to exemplify those styles. In Professor Nobody’s Little Lectures on Supernatural Horrors, Ligotti attempts to explain man’s want and need for horror from a historical perspective.
While not all the stories share the same persistent voice as his later works – most were written for the small press with common small press themes – in many you can see that Ligotti’s unique style had already solidified. His strange worlds of puppets and clowns, hypnotists, conspiring entities and strange troupes with hidden agendas, rush forward from the darkest places of man’s psyche.
Recommended for fans of Lovecraft, Machen, Blackwood, Poe.
“Life is a nightmare that leaves its mark upon you in order to prove that it is, in fact, real.” Thomas Ligotti