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Old 07-14-2005   #1
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An Appreciation of Thomas Ligotti by Harry O. Morris

This two page article appeared in Tekeli-li! Journal of Terror No. 4, published in 1992.

Electro-Dynamics for the Beginner
An Appreciation of Thomas Ligotti
by Harry O. Morris

Sutton Breiding had been visiting me in the house on Elm Street for three days. On
the third night, after returning from a midnight showing of Eraserhead, we were
edging toward the infernal zone—aided by the slow drizzle outside the moonlit
windows, static on the TV, and a few glasses of gin. I was explaining why I had recently
moved all my books of overtly horrific fiction, along with the texts of schizophrenia
and suicidal tendencies, to the back of the shelves, when the single bare light bulb
which had illuminated our conversation from above fritzed and exploded, sending a
great shower of sparks into the room. This was followed by an utter darkness and
silence. The event took place roughly in between the publication of Nyctalops #15
and #16 and prior to the first appearance of The Punk Surrealist Cafe—or, to date it
somewhat more accurately, somewhere in the middle of 1980. That unexpected shock
in the middle of the night was (I see now) a portent of the arrival of Thomas Ligotti a
few weeks later via a neatly typed letter and manuscript, "The Chymist."
Up until that point, Nyctalops had stumblingly followed its own path and was
knocking at the door of the unknown. Within the opening paragraphs of "The
Chymist," Ligotti threw open that door from inside and I went tumbling headfirst into the
darkness. The door clanged shut with iron bars when the word "END" was reached,
and Nyctalops had found its place. Of course, this wasn't "The End" of either the
story or the relationship. "The Chymist" does have a perfect ending ("Now, Rose of
madness—Bloom!"), as a self-contained unit, bringing to climax the sly hints and
implications of the Narrator's obsessive mission.
Like a moment's shower of sparks in the darkness, certain things are illuminated instantaneously in ways no normal light can hope to reveal. The sparks ignited by "The Chymist" flew off the page and lodged in my brain, and nothing can be the same again. As Simon ("Smirk," the Narrator) observes, looking down from that 22nd floor apartment:
"Look at those lights outlining the different venues and avenues below, look at
their lines and interconnections. They're like a skeleton of something...of a dream. A
skeleton ready at any moment to shift its structure to support a new shape, conforming
to the demands of the dream."

What "god-like powers of proteation" does sub-rosa experience as the experiment
moves on? (We already know that her evolution of the flesh will "knock the eyes
out of whoever finds you when I leave here.") What are the "Great Chymists" who
are dreaming through Simon "Smirk"? Where does his/her/their dream begin, let
alone end? Maybe this is just one nightmare of Lucian Dregler's turning to stone in a
small room under the stairs while courting the Medusa. Perhaps Rosetta will find
herself in a small town festival—sitting in a basement room with other mask wearers,
listening to their new faces grow in the dark. There is no beginning or ending, only the
illusion. One may enter any one of Ligotti's stories and emerge in another—like
crawling under your bed and coming out of a tumor growing on the wall in the next room.
By disallowing logic and psychological time, and by creating twisting cardboard sets
with puppet characters, Ligotti has created an interconnected landscape of dread. We
don't need to know what brand of underwear characters prefer or if they shop at the
mall—the biggest joke in advice given to aspiring writers of horror by critics who
often opine that HPL should have spent more time on "character development" in his fiction.
The core of Lovecraft's mythology is of similar orientation though more weighted
down with symbolically functioning entities (Cthulhu, Azathoth, etc.) toward the end of
his life. Thomas Ligotti is the only writer I can think of to continue at will the nihilistic nightmare vision of "...the dark universe yawning/Where the black planets roll
without aim, / Where they roll in their horror unheeded, without / knowledge or lustre or
name..." without tripping up on reusing the already overworked "known quantities" in
the Mythos. In short, Tom searches throughout crooked avenues for those mad notes of
Erich Zann lost to the wind and the Dark so long ago, while others have been content to quote from The Necronomicon available at the local library.
An awareness of the gulf is buried deep within all our psyches though obviously
most inhabitants of this planet find various ways of suppressing or numbing it. A few
have made this awareness central to their lives ("hiding from horror within the heart
of horror"), and Ligotti is one of these. There is a perverse and admirable desire to
open the window into hell for others to momentarily view, and Ligotti excels at this,
being a master storyteller in the classical tradition of Meyrink, Schulz, Kier Cross,
etc. He "sweet-talks" us (as in "The Statement of Randolph Carter") through a
tube running up from the depths of a "crummy" sepulcher. He won't offer you a
beer, but I'd think twice before partaking of the glowing liquid light powder which pours
forth from the holes in his palms.
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Old 07-15-2005   #2
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Re: An Appreciation of Thomas Ligotti by Harry O. Morris

Tres bien !

"And into his dreams he fell...and forever."
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