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Songs of a Dead Dreamer

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  1,822 ratings  ·  141 reviews
Songs of a Dreamer was Thomas Ligotti’s first collection of supernatural horror stories. When originally published in 1985 by Harry Morris’s Silver Scarab Press, the book was hardly noticed. In 1989, an expanded version appeared that garnered accolades from several quarters. Writing in the Washington Post, the celebrated science fiction and fantasy author Michael Swanwick ...more
Paperback, 275 pages
Published June 1st 1991 by Carroll & Graf Publishers (first published 1986)
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Glenn Russell
Oct 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing


This is the first published collection by contemporary American horror fiction writer Thomas Ligotti (born in 1953). To provide a sense of the richness of the author’s style and plot development, here are my comments on one of my favorite tales from the collection - as convoluted and multifaceted as an intricate Chinese box puzzle, Dream of a Manikin features a psychoanalyst writing a letter to his psychoanalyst wife regarding one of his patients, a young lady by the name of Amy Locher, the same
...more
Bill Kerwin
May 24, 2009 rated it really liked it

Ligotti was still learning his craft when this early anthology was published, and he had not yet
perfected his cold, eccentric narrative voice or his talent for selecting only the most evocative and terrifying details.

Many of these stories are pretty conventional, with just a hint of extra nastiness and a whiff of the terrors of the abyss. "The Frolic" and "Alice's Last Adventure" are examples of such transitional stories.

Toward, the end of the book, however, Ligotti shows us some pieces in th
...more
Andy
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I've wanted to reread Thomas Ligotti's fiction (all of it, in order) for a while now. Well, here we go. I'm reposting my original review below from about 5 years ago, not wanting to write a new one, but I will give some thoughts. Ligotti's first collection wasn't my favorite and still isn't, but I definitely saw things here which I didn't the first time around, so I'm raising the rating from four to five stars.

I found myself liking some stories more than I did initially, perhaps because I read t
...more
Chris_P
Ligotti is a master with words. He creates the mood he wants and lets you gently sink into the black waters of his stories rather than force you down. His writing is captivating, while the very nature of his subjects is haunting. Clearly influenced by Lovecraft and Poe, he doesn't seem to merely imitate them but takes the best of them and reshapes it into a form of his own. But...

Apart from 2-3 of his stories, most of them were mediocre. Not bad, not exceptional. This tired me at some point, whi
...more
Benjamin Uminsky
SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER (SoaDD) is now my second Ligotti short story collection and while I enjoyed it immensely, I feel as though GRIMSCRIBE (his later collection) is a bit stronger, story for story. I also think overall, Grimscribe's brightest embers (such as Harlequin, Shadow, etc...) smoldered a bit brighter than some of the best stories in SoaDD... but really... SoaDD was intensely enjoyable.

Some key themes, explored by Ligotti, are of course directly related to the void regions of unrealit
...more
Julianne (Outlandish Lit)
Mar 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is by far one of the best collections of supernatural horror that I've ever read. At first I was a little off put by Ligotti's flowery often-gothic language, but I got used to him playing with styles and using it to his advantage in exploring old horror tropes with new breaths of imagination. I got a lot of The King in Yellow vibes in that a frequent topic was whether or not madness was actual insanity or knowledge of a different plane of existence. Ligotti's stories are so original, that i ...more
Anthony Vacca
Feb 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reminiscent of the music of Swans, in that much of its power is realized through its relentless adherence to the repetition of themes and imagery, this claustrophobic collection of horror stories from odd duck Thomas Ligotti features twenty tales that strive to demonstrate a view of reality as an absurd and purposeless existence, one in which the individual's autonomy is no more than the illusion of life that a marionette may enjoy at the end of its strings. No enlightenment awaits Liogtti's pro ...more
Mary Slowik
Jul 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: The stout of heart
Because it's out-of-print (although a new edition, combined with Grimscribe: His Lives and Works, is due out in October), I paid $75 to own a copy of this-- the most I've ever spent for a book. Was it worth it? Hell yes. Did the price deter me from marking it up? Hell no; I've dog-eared and underlined like a maniac. My copy must have spent time incarcerated in a library, as it's laminated, stamped and tagged, making it look like I stole it. I like that. Now, to begin my long review of the twenty ...more
Rodney
Jul 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said? Songs of a Dead Dreamer is a heady dose of atmospheric dread, characters grasping onto sanity as they traverse the line in and out of reality. Forces in their locales often push them toward uncertainty and paranoia. If Songs of A Dead Dreamer were music, it would be the intricately heavy stuff that takes a few listens to get through the layers for the reward.
Nicole Cushing
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was tempted to give this book only four stars, because it's not quite as strong as later volumes like GRIMSCRIBE or NOCTUARY. But the fact remains that even when he's not at his best, Ligotti's work is head and shoulders above the vast majority of authors. Hence, five stars.

I believe the stories in this collection can be roughly grouped in three tiers.

At the top, I place "Vastarien" and "Masquerade of a Dead Sword"...two tales that can go toe-to-toe with anything else Ligotti's written.

In the
...more
Sakib
Being Ligotti's first story collection, this has some strange tales of darkness with many colors and accents, with comparatively more philosophical and psychological overtones than Teatro Grottesco, which remains my most favorite collection (I've only read these two btw!).

If compared with Teatro, then I've found this to be still somewhat "immature" state of his writing where he experiments with words and settings and themes; and Ligotti's stories are different from other writers in the way that'
...more
Jim
Nov 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I had seriously thought that all the great horror classics had already been written years ago, until I ran into Songs of a Dead Dreamer by Thomas Ligotti. This collection of horror stories has a strange expressionistic slant, as if all the places of which the author writes resembled the sets of Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Although Ligotti is an American, the stories can almost be set anywhere at any time. There is not the fruitiness of Lovecraft's style -- though Ligotti has ofte
...more
Cole
Ligotti is the true heir to Bruno Schulz's vision. An immaculate prose writer of unmatched creativity and dark wit. Few modern writers can pierce the veil of reality and mold it to their whims in a manner similar to either of these masters. The only reason they are not frequently spoken of in the same breath is because one had the misfortune of being relegated to an oft maligned and misunderstood genre, though I'd argue that Schulz was as much a horror writer in his own time as Ligotti is in our ...more
Waffles
Aug 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Ligotti is an acquired taste - sort of like Joy Division. The first time I read him I didn't think he was any thing special. Now, he's my favorite horror writer. He exemplifies the Lovecraftian ideal of atmosphere first, everything else second. Imagine a horror story about how to write a horror story - "Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story". "Dream of a Mannikin, or the Third Person" is one of the first stories I read by him and had to reread several time before I got hooked. "Les Fleurs" and ...more
Nate
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Creepy as fuck and wonderfully written. Ligotti’s stuff is extremely refreshing, as he’s less about scares and gross-outs and more about instilling a sense of existential dread. It took me forever to get through these stories because I couldn’t get too far into the collection without starting to feel unsettled as hell (and also because I’m not used to prose as challenging and rich as this.) Dream of a Manikin has to be one of the most disturbing and macabre stories I’ve ever read, it was like I ...more
Evan Pincus
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Ligotti often traffics in a realm of imagery I frankly occasionally find rather stale (that of masks, puppets, mannequins, etc), but, perhaps fittingly, he animates these old tropes with a palpable sense of dread and an arch, academic and darkly humorous tone that is entirely his own. A deeply exciting debut collection that has me looking forward to reading more.
Jason Pettus
Earlier this year I had a chance to read two of the most recent projects by horror writer Thomas Ligotti -- contemporary corporate novella My Work Is Not Yet Done and his nonfiction primer on "pessimistic philosophies," The Conspiracy Against the Human Race -- and found both of them to be excellent, really dark and unique stuff that appealed to me as a non-fan of this genre. So I thought I'd take a chance and read up on a bunch of his short fiction too (Ligotti has never actually written a singl ...more
Alex
Dec 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Alex by: Shawn
Pick this up is you love dark moody horror, and have no need for gore. This collection is an effective counterargument against the position that horror cannot be literature or art. This is for folks who want to read Lovecraft but can't make it past his questionable worldviews. I can see why Ligotti is regularly called Lovecraft's heir, given the lush prose and the lurid dreamscapes in this volume of short stories. While there is a lot more time spent with Lovecraft's Dream Cycle (which I prefer ...more
James Armstrong
Mar 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
For me, this is the pinnacle of Ligotti's work so far. Some of the stories here have left an indelible and unique wound on my psyche that re-reads only seem to deepen.

Ligotti's horror is the true horror of existence: the howling cosmic maw behind the absurd facade we muster up just to get by without breaking down. Somehow, in spite of such nihilistic themes, he manages to inject his prose with a razor sharp wit, although any laughs are likely to be slightly nervous verging on the hysterical.

Som
...more
Felix
All told, I enjoyed this collection a lot, but it was sometimes uneven. There are some stories in here which are absolute classics. I thought the following were particularly excellent: The Frolic, The Lost Art of Twilight, The Sect of the Idiot and Vastarien.

Between them, these stories incorporate a fair variety of styles. The Frolic is a little predictable, but perfectly executed. It is a horror in the style of something like Silence of the Lambs, about a criminal individual who is both insane
...more
Fletcher
Dec 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Following a tortorous footpath in the eldritch moonlight forged by Poe and Lovecraft, Ligotti's labyrinthine eyes enable him to see farther than those two dearly departed darkly decaying giants of the weird.

His first collection, split into three groups of stories, the first two parts concluding with essays that allow a glimpse into the workings of the mind of this... this... artist.
...more
Doug
Aug 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ah, Songs of a Dead Dreamer. I started reading this maybe a year ago. Earlier this year, at any rate. Made it through "Frolic" and "Les Fleurs" and then stopped. Started a couple of times. Told everyone about "The Frolic". Knew about a couple, such as "The Chymist" [though I only recalled portions] and "Dr. Locrian's Asylum" and "Dreams of a Mannikin" [though I would say I knew it wrong]. Just hadn't returned to the source, itself. A couple of weeks ago, picked it up, reread it from "Les Fleurs" ...more
Heidi Ward
I read Songs of a Dead Dreamer waaay back in the early 90s -- I still have this exact ratty trade paper edition on my shelf -- but then gave up contemporary horror for awhile thanks to grad school. I decided to give it another go-round, despite my not loving his more recent fiction, and I'm pleased I did. (As pleased as cosmic horror can leave one, that is.)

Though I still prefer The Conspiracy Against the Human Race to most of his fiction, in these stories there is more flair, more gallows humo
...more
Jeff L
Aug 29, 2014 rated it it was ok
Most of these stories feel raw and experimental. They seem to be exercises in theme, tone, and voice. Similar ideas are recycled across several stories, presented at slightly different angles.

All of the selections are weird and disturbing, but just a few are really effective. Most offer some interesting tidbits, but are hampered by ostentatious prose and awkward stylistic choices that call attention to themselves. There is a marked improvement through the collection, however.

"Alice's Last Adven
...more
J
Sep 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Every story by Ligotti is the same, and this is praise rather than criticism. The details, characters, locations, and words may change; but the atmosphere and the meaning is identical, the theme pervasive. The only thing redeeming in this world, and only partially, is its ability to suggest another world, something supernatural. Life is meaningless at best, probably horrific. Any beauty is outweighed by hideousness.

That said, these stories are wide ranging: The Frolic is a fairly standard scary
...more
Matt
Aug 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
I've had this on my shelf for ages waiting to be read, due to passages I saw from the story 'The Journal of J. P. Drapeau' a few years back. There's something hypnotic about Ligotti's short stories, that is to say they evoke the surreal feeling of dreams and handle their horror through the constant, subtle implication of menace.

'The Journal of J. P. Drapeau' in particular is filled with this feeling that the world is watching us and trying to tell us something (something not so nice) through sym
...more
Nirvana
Aug 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This rating is not my actual rating. My actual rating is 666/10.

To be blunt, Ligotti is God. It's even in the name. LiGOTTi.

Many things scare the hell out of Stephen King, to the point where being scared by Stephen King just seems like lip-service. But if King read Ligotti I don't think it would merely scare the hell out of him. It would scare the heaven, the God, the angel, the optimism out of him, too.
...more
Freddy
Mar 26, 2010 rated it liked it
A few of the stories in this collection are masterpieces ("The Frolic", "Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes", "The Christmas Eves of Aunt Elise", and "Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech"). I feel that rest of the book emphasized style over story too much. ...more
Lee Foust
May 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As you can see from the comments on individual stories below, I went up and down with this collection. Some stories I really enjoyed, others, I see now in retrospect, I wasn't motivated enough to comment on. (And it did take me 9 months to read them all.) Ligotti's prose style is pretty good--although I love Hemingway and Vonnegut and other similarly terse writers, it's nice to see a postmodern writer eschewing the style of the era for a more flowery approach to English prose. Still, Henry James ...more
Paulo "paper books always" Carvalho
Maybe I am not erudite enough but I could not enjoy this more than I enjoy Teatro Grotesco or My Work is still not done.

This tales range for some terrifying to others that are conventional. One thing is for sure he sure can write eloquently.
The frolic was an interesting tale.. One of the most interesting things was that I didn't know what "Frolic" meant after all I am not a english native. So I search and learn and the day after I am watching a TV series and there you go... the word frolic.

"Dre
...more
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Thomas Ligotti is a contemporary American horror author and reclusive literary cult figure. His writings, while unique in style, have been noted as major continuations of several literary genres—most prominently Lovecraftian horror—and have overall been described as works of "philosophical horror", often written as philosophical novels with a "darker" undertone which is similar to gothic fiction. ...more

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