Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Its Imitators, Part 3

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The story so far: August Derleth’s original Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos anthology (revised later by Jim Turner) proved a hard act to follow for Arkham House, with their first attempt at a followup – New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, edited by Ramsey Campbell – being a bit of a mixed bag.

Jim Turner made no secret in his introduction to his revised version of Tales that he had a bit of an axe to grind in terms of the Mythos as a literary subgenre, but under his auspices New Tales never, so far as I can make out, got a reprint (and hasn’t had one to this day). Instead, a new anthology was devised which would take the best of the New Tales, drop the rest, and replace them with fresher meat…

Cthulhu 2000

This 1995 release was one of Jim Turner’s last projects with Arkham House, before creative differences between him and April Derleth (daughter of August Derleth and co-owner of Arkham House) led to his departure. As with his revision of Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, it has Turner banging the drum against unimaginative pastiche and pushing his very personal aesthetic take on the Mythos. In his introduction he asserts, as he did in his introduction to Tales, that the overall trajectory of Lovecraft’s writing was more SFnal than horror-based. This time around he gives a slightly more convincing argument by more directly discussing Lovecraft’s cosmicism, though I disagree with his assertion that horror intrinsically requires a malevolent universe – the implications of an indifferent universe are horrifying in and of themselves to anyone who appreciates how small, insignificant, and precarious our place in it is.

This anthology has been more extensively reprinted in recent years than New Tales, and it feels like it’s intended as a replacement for it. For one thing, it reprints the absolutely essential stories from there – Black Man With a Horn, Shaft Number 247, and The Faces At Pine Dunes. For another, whilst Turner’s revised take on Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos covered stories ranging from Lovecraft’s time to the 1970s, aside from a single Joanna Russ story from 1964 Cthulhu 2000’s stories all saw first publication in the time span from 1980 to 1993, so it does feel Turner’s attempt to present the hottest stuff that came out after the cut-off from his revised take on Tales.

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Ligotti Classics

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Thomas Ligotti’s anthologies come in two forms. Some, like The Nightmare Factory and The Shadow at the Bottom of the World are compilations of compilations, selections of stories reprinted from what I think of as his “primary anthologies”; this latter category consists of books like Teatro Grottesco, which are much more carefully curated things in which the stories are arranged into sets of thematically appropriate categories. Due to Ligotti’s struggles with writer’s block and anhedonia, he has only produced a few of these anthologies; Teatro Grottesco, in fact, took so long to come out that some of its stories appeared in The Nightmare Factory and Shadow before it finally emerged.

However, Ligotti’s earlier career was a different matter, with three of these primary anthologies coming out in the 1980s and early 1990s. The first two and the substantial stories from the third were collected in The Nightmare Factory, but second hand copies of that are absurdly expensive, and The Shadow at the Bottom of the World only collected a few stories from each. With only small-run limited edition offerings of the first three anthologies available, collecting early Ligotti has in the past been a difficult matter.

All that has rather changed, with Penguin Classics giving Ligotti the nod – an honour they rarely bestow on living writers. (I think Morrissey was the last living author to get into the Classics line, and that was probably down to him throwing a big pouty baby-strop until they agreed to it or something.) Thanks to the writer of True Detective slipping in a little watered-down, deweaponised Ligotti into the scripts for that show’s first season, an unlikely wave of Ligottimania is sweeping the world, and there’s never been a better time to dig into the work that made his reputation.

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Glumscribe: His Thoughts and Words

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

It’s been a big year or two for Thomas Ligotti and his acolytes. Once upon a time Ligotti was so infamous for his reclusive nature that some believed that he didn’t exist, and that his fiction was written by some other post-Lovecraftian author or committee of authors in a really, really bad mood. Now his existence is increasingly accepted, and his heartfelt objections to that very existence enjoy an increasingly high profile.

Whilst True Detective author Nic Pizzolatto mostly drew on Robert Chambers and his followers when it came to the cosmic horror references in the series to the King In Yellow and Carcosa, these tended to be rather shallow nods; you could have happily replaced them with callouts to any other entity from the Call of Cthulhu core rulebook without materially changing the action or meaning of True Detective. The same is not true of his liftings from Thomas Ligotti; if you removed Ligotti’s hardline anticosmic antinatalism from Rust Cohle, you end up with a radically different character and a radically different character arc over the course of the series. As Ligotti succinctly puts it:

A: There is no grand scheme of things.

B: If there were a grand scheme of things, the fact – the fact – that we are not equipped to perceive it, either by natural or supernatural means, is a nightmarish obscenity.

C: The very notion of a grand scheme of things is a nightmarish obscenity.

From these building blocks, Ligotti has constructed all his fiction, but his unshaking belief in these precepts means that he does not confine this stance to the pages of his stories. In recent years a trickle of nonfictional material has come out of the Ligotti camp, material which makes it simultaneously clear that Ligotti is both deadly serious, and at the same time quite personable to actually talk to.

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An Avenger’s Work Is Never Done

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

There’s no question about it: Thomas Ligotti is an exceptional horror author. However, it’s also quite likely that he’s quite a difficult person to get along with. Certainly, if he genuinely embraces his ideas about the futility of human endeavour, the futility of life itself, and the futility of any effort to find any sort of meaning in the universe, he’s going to spend a lot of time being extremely grumpy, and one does get the impression from reading his stories that he’s the sort of person that just doesn’t like people. To be fair, in an author of Lovecraftian cosmic horror these attitudes are an asset; Lovecraft himself wasn’t exactly the most gregarious person in the world, unless you happened to be one of his pen-pals. But this does mean that his stories are more suited to expressing his nihilistic philosophy than actually depicting well-rounded characters, and in turn this has rather limited his output to the short story format.

My Work Is Not Yet Done is, therefore, something of a novelty in his output. It’s a novella-length rant, Ligotti venting his frustrations at work; Ligotti has written several workplace-themed stories before, but this one is unique to the extent at which it attempts to develop rounded, interesting characters out of the protagonist’s adversaries before they are eviscerated. He does not quite succeed at that. Where he does succeed is slipping a note of doubt into his take on the universe, a hint that although the universe itself maybe nihilistic, a nihilistic attitude to life isn’t necessarily the best response. This is an idea that creeps in here and there in his better stories – the idea that the meaninglessness of the cosmos makes the little meanings we attach to everyday life more important, and not less (as Brian Craig also set forth in Pawns of Chaos) – but for my money it has its best expression here. This, at last, is a Ligotti story for people who don’t necessarily share Ligotti’s view on life.

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Nonsense Sideshow Business

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Thomas Ligotti, Virgin Books? Thomas Ligotti?!?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m utterly overjoyed that you’ve seen fit to take on the man’s work. He has lacked a British publisher for so long, and now thanks to you he’s creeping into major book shops all over the place. But still, I’m surprised at you. You’re a mass-market publisher backed by the Branson behemoth. I can understand you taking on Ramsey Campbell; as low-key as The Grin of the Dark is, it’s still fairly accessible, and Thieving Fear is downright mainstream.

But Thomas Ligotti? Really, guys, if you keep this up I’ll start thinking you’re doing this out of a genuine love for horror, or maybe attempting to bring small-press values to a mass-market audience or something. I might start thinking you’re in this because you love books. That can’t be true, can it? Can it?

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