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Man, That’s Weird

31 December 2008 897 Views No Comment author: Daniel Davis

Noctuary is a short story collection by Thomas Ligotti, the celebrated author of horror and the weird. Often cited as the present-day scion of Poe and Lovecraft, Ligotti is an author with a unique voice and a dangerous vision of the macabre. His stories are thick with atmosphere, incredibly detailed, and told with the skill of a seasoned master. We are lucky to have such a premier wordsmith living today; all too often it seems as though authors like Ligotti are long dead.

Some favorites from the collection:

The Medusa

As a bookworm, I love books–I love everything about them.

The physical: their smell, their weight in my hands, their spines being cracked open for the first time.

The metaphysical: the power they have over my imagination, the way they stir my heart and soul, the ability they possess to draw me into their worlds.

Stories about books are something I cherish. I have often dreamed about discovering a secret book store. One that exists under or behind the facade of another. One that is greater than the one presented to the common man.

“The Medusa”, the first story in Noctuary, is such a story, and it is a good one. It is about a professor and philosopher named Lucian Dregler and his quest for the mythical Medusa. His journey leads him to a dungeon of books buried deep within the bowels of the earth. Here he meets a stranger, a silent women who gives him a key granting him passage to yet another hovel of tomes, one which possesses something even more cryptic.

Within the pages of this short story, Ligotti creates a world thick with texture, conjuring the likes of Poe, Smith, and Lovecraft and yet demonstrating his own unique voice. In Dregler, Ligotti fashions a classic hero driven by obsession–consequences be damned. And, in typical weird fashion, we all know what happens to the hero wrought with obsession: they find what they are looking for.

Conversations in a Dead Language

This story is, in a word, sinister.

Halloween, trick or treat, murder, and revenge from beyond the grave are in abundant supply here.

Ligotti sets the stage effortlessly; in only a few paragraphs he draws us into the world of a twisted man. It’s hard to tell what exactly is creating the atmosphere of dread and tension here: is it Ligotti’s prose, or my own imagination drawing upon the subconscious fears of a man preying on children? It is most likely a combination of the two.

Either way, this short story exemplifies Ligotti’s incredible ability frighten.

A skilled writer knows how to fashion his prose in a way that manipulates the reader’s mind, drawing him into the milieu of the narrative. Skillful horror authors should know how to tap into the common fears many of us possess. Through a careful selection of words, the able-minded horror author should unlock shards of terror trapped in our own imaginations. Ligotti takes these fragments and mixes them with his own ability to conjure, enrapturing the reader in a world that is made even more frightening because of its familiarity.

Contrary to popular cliché, sometimes the known is more frightening than the unknown.

Here, Ligotti reintroduces us to the boogie man we knew as children, the one we have forgotten about with the passage of time. He tells us again the tales of ghostly revenge, the ones we used to share around the campfires of our youth. He brings us back to a time when it was fun to be scared.

The Prodigy of Dreams

Things are changing around Arthur Emerson’s estate; a strange force is gathering, bringing with it a bizarre evolution. The swans that float upon his pond no longer face each other, and in unison they raise their beaks to the heavens and cry out in an agonizing scream. Arthur’s gardener is changed as well; he’s more aloof, preoccupied with something. And Arthur’s cat! The damned little beast! It attacked its master, and has been using a subterranean room as a crypt for the dead and mutilated carcasses of its prey.

But what do these changes mean? What dark and shapeless force is congregating in the sky above Arthur’s home?

Once again, Ligotti presents to us a character obsessed with books and esoteric knowledge. What is it about bookworms that makes them so sympathetic, their drama so romantic? Is it the shared love of reading, of learning, of yearning for knowledge? Arthur Emerson is a writer who has chronicled many of his strange adventures. Arthur possesses the power to go into other worlds, strange worlds that exist in, perhaps, a dream-country. But these worlds are more than phantom, more than dream, more than mere shadow.

Ligotti has superimposed his own persona onto Arthur, and in doing so he creates a tapestry rich with metatextual layers. In Ligotti, we have an author whose work is mired in the crafting of dangerous, esoteric fantasy and horror, and like a decrepit nestled Russian Doll, so too does Arthur Emerson possess this quality.

In this story, Ligotti creates an atmosphere thick with impending doom. Perhaps this is what is like to know that death is on the driveway, making its way to your door, mere minutes away from knocking, coming to collect what all must give.

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