“Every place I had been was only a place for puppet nonsense. The medicine shop was only a puppet place like all the others. I came there to work behind the counter and wait for my visit, but I had no idea until that night that Mr. Vizniak was also waiting for his. Upon reflection, it seemed that he knew what was behind the curtained doorway leading to the back room of the medicine shop, and that he also knew there was no longer any place to go except behind that curtain, since any place he could ever go would only be another puppet place. Yet it still seemed he was surprised by what he found back there. And this is the most outrageously nonsensical thing of all - that he should have stepped behind the curtain and cried out with such profound surprise as he did. You, he said, or rather, cried out. Get away from me. These were the last words that I heard clearly before Mr. Vizniak's voice faded quickly out of earshot, as though he were being carried away at incredible velocity toward some great height.”
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 [email@example.com] 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