“I drew closer to the contorted idol, remaining in its presence far longer than I intended. That I actually found myself mentally composing a kind of supplication tells more than I am presently able about my psychological and spiritual state last evening. Was it this beast of writhing stone or the spell of the vicoli which inspired my prayer and determined its form? It was, I think, something which they shared, a suggestion of great things: great secrets and great sorrows, great wonders and catastrophes, great destinies, great doom, and a single great death. My own. Drugged by this inspiration, I conceived my ideal leavetaking from this earth--a drama prepared by strange portents, swiftly developed by dreams and visions nurtured in an atmosphere of sublime dread, growing overnight like some gaudy fungus in a forgotten cellar, and always with the awful hand of the mortician god working the machinery behind the scenes. Beasts and men would form an alliance with great Cynothoglys, the elements themselves would enter into the conspiracy, a muted vortex of strange forces all culminating in a spectral denouement, all converging to deliver me to the inevitable, but deliver me in a manner worthy of the most expansive and unearthly sensations of my life. I conceived the primal salvation of tearing flesh, of seizure by the god and the ecstatic rending of the frail envelope of skin and sinew. And as others only sink into their deaths--into mine I would soar.”
The apex of clowns-as-nightmare fuel in literature may well have come from the pen of Thomas Ligotti. This is not terribly shocking, given that Ligotti could write about an adorable child riding a pony on a sunny day and turn it into the stuff that chills readers’ souls and convinces them that they live in a bleak, arbitrary universe. Among the stories in his collection Grimscribe is “The Last Feat of Harlequin,” about an academic whose work involves articles with titles like “The Clown Figure in American Media.” He ventures to the town of Mirocaw, which hosts an annual festival in which clowns play a prominent role. Our narrator habitually attends such events, and regularly takes part. “To me the title of Clown has always carried connotations of a noble sort,” he writes. Throw in the involvement of an old mentor and you have the beginnings of a compelling narrative.
It’s also a narrative that, by the story’s end, curdles into something utterly terrifying. The narrator arrives in Miroclaw and discovers anonymous townspeople dressed as clowns and battered by their neighbors according to some mysterious custom. “They’re the freaks,” one of the locals tells him. “It’s their turn this year. Everyone takes their turn. Next year it might be mine. Or yours.” By the time the story reaches its climax—in a clown-filled subterranean chamber, where a terrifying ritual takes place—even readers without a pre-existing aversion to clowns may well find themselves recoiling from one the next time they see them.
Ligotti’s story taps into the kind of formalized and codified behavior associated with clowns, and then uses that to unearth something much deeper and more sinister. It’s one of the most effective horror stories in a book of effective horror stories, and it seems no coincidence that the cover of the recent Penguin Classics edition of Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe features a sinister riff on the harlequin whose imagery pervades the story.
October 27. 7pm. Salmon Library 111. Thomas Ligotti is a highly influential writer of weird fiction whose short stories deal with themes of nihilism, humanism, anti-humanism, despair, creativity, and surrealism. His poetic prose and characters descending into chaos and madness has all the flair of a Samuel Beckett play, if Beckett wrote for the Grand Guignol. He has become one of the few living authors to be honored by a Penguins Classic collection and his older collected editions are now collector's items of some value. In this talk, Doug Bolden [firstname.lastname@example.org] will look at some of Ligotti's most powerful tales, his impact on the genre [including some of the controversy about how his nihilism may have been an uncited source for the first season of True Detective], the works (both fiction and philosophy) that have influenced Ligotti, and how to find out more of his evocative darkness. Halloween treats will be provided. Mannequins are optional.
As a bonus, after the talk, there will be a complete showing of Jacob Cooney's short horror film, "The Frolic," based on one of Ligotti's first ever short stories!
Available for Pre-Order: THE SECRET OF VENTRILOQUISM by Jon Padgett
"Padgett proves with his stunning debut collection to be a worthy successor to the master, Thomas Ligotti. There's no gristle, no bone, no dilly-dallying here: only pure meat whose terrors seamlessly grow into the metaphysical. This volume is jam-packed with the stuff that nightmares are made of."
- Dejan Ognjanovic, Rue Morgue Magazine
"...a voice that lodges in the reader’s mind with colossal force and intensity, marking... this book as unforgettable."
- Matt Cardin, from the Introduction
"The Secret of Ventriloquism is horror with a capital H. Some of Padgett's lines raised the hair on my neck."
-Laird Barron, author of Swift to Chase
Limited Edition Hardcover
Cover and interior art by Dave Felton
With themes reminiscent of Shirley Jackson, Thomas Ligotti, and Bruno Shulz, but with a strikingly unique vision, Jon Padgett's The Secret of Ventriloquism heralds the arrival of a significant new literary talent. Padgett’s work explores the mystery of human suffering, the agony of personal existence, and the ghastly means by which someone might achieve salvation from both. A bullied child who seeks vengeance within a bed’s hollow box spring; a lucid dreamer haunted by an impossible house; a dummy that reveals its own anatomy in 20 simple steps; a stuttering librarian who holds the key to a mill town's unspeakable secrets; a commuter whose worldview is shattered by two words printed on a cardboard sign; an aspiring ventriloquist who spends a little too much time looking at himself in a mirror. And the presence that speaks through them all.
Introduction by Matt Cardin
The Mindfulness of Horror Practice
Murmurs of a Voice Foreknown
The Indoor Swamp
20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism
The Secret of Ventriloquism
Escape to Thin Mountain