Preview: Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story by Thomas Ligotti
One of the reprint stories that will appear in For Mortal Things Unsung is "Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story" by Thomas Ligotti. Since we passed 275 backers, this is the first of the reprint story previews. The next original story preview will be once we reach 300 backers.
If you have not consumed any Ligotti, you can check out some of his excellent work here:
This second was also part of our Ligotti month in 2015. This included:
- Pseudopod 432: The Influence Of Thomas Glittio by Arthur Staaz
- Pseudopod 433: 20 Simple Steps To Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett (an author also appearing in For Mortal Things Unsung)
- Pseudopod Bonus Flash: The Discussion Of Mimes by Michael Payne
There are not enough nice things to say about the works of Thomas Ligotti. It says something that he's the third author that while living received a Penguin Classics edition of their work. Of us, Mr. Ligotti has said, "I find Pseudopod's readings to be the most consistently well done and the stories the best chosen of any site of its kind I've heard."
What follows is a work rife with metatextual discussion all while delivering an unsettling story.
The traditional Gothic technique. Certain kinds of people, and a fortiori certain kinds of writers, have always experienced the world around them in the Gothic manner, I’m almost positive. Perhaps there was even some little stump of an apeman who witnessed prehistoric lightning as it parried with prehistoric blackness in a night without rain, and felt his soul rise and fall at the same time to behold this sublime and terrifying conflict. Perhaps such displays provided inspiration for those very first imaginings that were not born of our daily life of crude survival, who knows? Could this be why all our primal mythologies are Gothic—that is, fearsome, fantastical, and inhuman? I only pose the question, you see. Perhaps the forbidding events of triple-volume shockers passed, in abstract, through the brains of hairy, waddling things as they moved around in moon-trimmed shadows during their angular migrations across lunar landscapes of craggy peaks or skeletal wastelands of jagged ice. Such ones did not doubt there was a double world of the fearsome, the fantastical, and the inhuman, for nothing needed to flaunt its reality before their eyes as long as it felt real to their blood. A gullible bunch of creatures, these. And to this day the fearsome, the fantastical, and the inhuman retain a firm grip upon our souls. So much goes without saying, really.
Therefore, the advantages of the traditional Gothic technique, even for the contemporary writer, are two. One, isolated supernatural incidents don’t look as silly in a Gothic tale as they do in a realistic one, since the latter obeys the hard-knocking school of reality while the former recognizes only the University of Dreams. (Of course the entire Gothic tale itself may look silly to a given reader, but this is a matter of temperament, not technical execution.) Two, a Gothic tale gets under a reader’s skin and stays there far more insistently than other kinds of stories. Of course it has to be done right, whatever you take the words done right to mean. Do they mean that Nathan has to function within the monumental incarceration of a castle in the mysterious fifteenth century? No, but he may function within the monumental incarceration of a castle-like skyscraper in the just-as-mysterious modern world. Do they mean that Nathan must be a brooding Gothic hero and Miss McFickel an ethereal Gothic heroine? No, but it may mean an extra dose of obsessiveness in Nathan’s psychology, and Miss McFickel may seem to him less the ideal of normalcy and reality than the pure Ideal itself. Contrary to the realistic story’s allegiance to the normal and the real, the world of the Gothic tale is fundamentally unreal and abnormal, harboring essences which are magical, timeless, and profound in a way the realistic Nathan never dreamed. So, to do right by a Gothic tale, let’s be frank, requires that the author be a militant romantic who relates the action of his narratives in dreamy and more than usually emotive language. Hence, the well-known grandiose rhetoric of the Gothic tale, which may be understood by the sympathetic reader as not just an inflatable raft on which the imagination floats at its leisure upon waves of bombast, but also as the sails of the Gothic artist’s soul filling up with the winds of ecstatic hysteria. So it’s hard to tell someone how to write the Gothic tale, since one really has to be born to the task. Too bad. The most one can do is offer a pertinent example: a Gothic scene from “Romance of a Dead Man,” translated from the original Italian of Geraldo Riggerini. This chapter is entitled “The Last Death of Nathan.”
Through a partially shattered window, its surface streaked with a blue film of dust that thrilled the soul with a sublime sense of desolation, the diluted glow of twilight seeped down onto the basement floor where Nathan lay without hope of a saving mobility. In the dark you’re not anywhere, he had thought as a child bundled beneath his bedcovers, his sight lost in night’s enveloping cloak; and, in the bluish semi-luminescence of that stone cellar, Nathan was truly not anywhere where eyes could see aught but a gloomy fate. With agonizing labor, he raised himself upon one elbow, squinting through tears of confusion into the grimy azure dimness.