On “The Frolic” by Thomas Ligotti

Canon Fodder is an occasional series in which I write about classic works of horror fiction. This particular part of the series is devoted to the complete published works of Thomas Ligotti which I will slowly be working my way through.

A bit of housekeeping before I talk about the story: When I decided to start working my way through Lovecraft’s fiction in chronological, I was able to do so because all of Lovecraft’s fiction is available in the public domain and because a load of nerds had already done the work of determining which stories was written when. This was simply not an option for me when it came to writing about Ligotti.

Ligotti first started getting published in the early 1980s and his work is nowhere near the public domain. This poses two distinct sets of problems: Firstly, despite being a canonical horror author, Ligotti’s works have a nasty habit of dropping out of print and even when they’re brought back into print, it is often under the auspices of small presses that seldom print more than a thousand copies. This means that physically getting hold of Ligotti’s work is not always as easy as you’d think. Secondly, while Ligotti has a devoted fan-base and his personal website dates from the era when the internet was still about people with similar interests coming together to share resources, there simply has not been time for obsessive nerds to do the kind of sorting-and-ordering work that has already been done for writers like Lovecraft.

As a result of these two practical considerations, I’m going to proceed by working through books and collections in rough order of publication. When stuff becomes too hard or too expensive to get hold of, I will skip it and hopefully circle back around once I am able to gain access to it. This will make it a lot harder for me to attend to the development of ideas and mentality in the way I have been doing for Lovecraft, but it seems appropriate that I adopt a different set of methods anyway seeing as Ligotti is still very much alive.

Despite being the first story I’m going to cover, “The Frolic” is arguably one of Ligotti’s better known works in that it has both been adapted for the screen and referenced in a number of other works. The story first appeared in the March 1983 edition of Fantasy Tales (a magazine edited by David Sutton and Stephen Jones) before being re-printed in Ligotti’s first collection Songs of a Dead Dreamer.

Songs of a Dead Dreamer was first published in 1986 by Silver Scarab Press before being re-published in 1989 by Carroll and Graf who took the opportunity to revise and expand the stories to what is now considered to be their correct, author-preferred form. It would be interesting to know what exactly changed between the two editions but the Silver Scarab Press version of the book is now insanely expensive and nobody appears to have done the work of cataloguing the changes. The Carroll and Graf edition of the book also formed the basis for the Penguin Classics single volume edition of Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, which is the edition that I happen to own.

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