This post is part of the RIP or Readers Imbibing Peril seasonal reading event.
Having recently read Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror and finding his thinking to be interesting but flawed, I decided to delve into the author’s fiction. Ligotti is primarily a short story writer. Some of his stories can be classified as falling within the realm of horror, but some can be better described by what Ligotti himself terms to as “Weird Tales.” I have now read a fair sampling of his stories pulled from various collections found at my local library. I attempted to read the stories that his fans and critics have identified as his best works as well as those which have intriguing descriptions or titles.
The author’s view of the universe is grim indeed. Though not a proponent of his worldview, see my commentary here, this dark, pernicious outlook helps to generate terrific and dark yarns. While the endpoint of the author’s belief system is almost laughably pessimistic, he raises some thought provoking issues and themes in regard to the meaning of existence. Furthermore, if one does not take the over the top gloominess of the fiction too seriously, this gloominess can be ironically entertaining and even fun in a creepy sort of way. These tales, at times, can be disturbing. Though Ligotti rarely describes actual terrible events, he often implies that terrible things have, or will, occur.
"The Sect of the Idiot" is a striking and imaginative tale that illustrates much of Ligotti’s thinking. The unnamed narrator is the inhabitant of an unnamed phantasmagoric city. The protagonist initially dreams of a group of strange, hideously inhuman, robed figures who hold power in the city. Eventually, evidence is discovered, revealing that the group is real and that it exerts godlike powers over the fate of all humanity.
The narrator expresses the trivial nature of himself, and by implication of humanity, in comparison to these beings,
“I was no more than an irrelevant parcel of living tissue caught in a place I should not be, threatened with being snared in some great dredging net of doom, an incidental shred of flesh pulled out of its element of light and into an icy blackness. In the dream nothing supported my existence, which I felt at any moment might be horribly altered or simply. . .ended. In the profoundest meaning of the expression, my life was of no matter.”
Later, our narrator comes to realize that there is a higher force than these grotesque beings. It turns out that, just like humanity, these creatures are in denial as to the truth behind creation. The truth is that there is chaos and meaningless underlying it all, chaos and meaningless that Ligotti equates with idiocy,
“these hooded freaks who were themselves among the hypnotized. For there was a power superseding theirs, a power which they served and from which they merely emanated, something which was beyond the universal hypothesis by virtue of its very mindlessness, its awesome idiocy.”
Ultimately, the Universe is a dark and pointless place that is very bad for people. Personal insanity is almost a logical endpoint to it all. The narrator eventually concludes,
“Life is the nightmare that leaves its mark upon you in order to prove that it is, in fact, real. And to suffer a solitary madness seems the joy of paradise when compared to the extraordinary condition in which one’s own madness mealy echoes that of the world outside. I have been lured away by dreams, all is nonsense now.”
Gnostic influence can be found all over
A perusal of online opinions indicates that many folks find Ligotti to be depressing. As I alluded to earlier, I do not concur. Paradoxically, the imaginary nasty universe that the author creates, for me, is at times an amusing and intellectually stimulating counterpoint to reality. In addition, even if one does not buy completely into the negativity, these tales are thought provoking. I find if one likes dark and odd stories, set in dark and odd universe, these stories are highly recommended.
Just a note about one story, “The Frolic,” where Ligotti goes way beyond his usual level of “bad stuff going on.” This one is in no way fun and it is very disturbing. As it is the first story in some collections, I warn the faint at heart to consider staying away and others from judging the author on this tale alone. Though it still implies rather then describes what actually happens, in terms in intensity and ugliness, it is really not like most of the author’s other works.