Back in 1990 I bought a remaindered copy of Songs of a Dead Dreamer at a Waldenbooks in Champaign, IL. I’d never heard of the author, Thomas Ligotti, but the book sounded kind of interesting. I added it to my to-be-read pile, where it was quickly buried, and years went by before I really thought of it again.
In those intervening years, I learned the name Thomas Ligotti. So did anyone who read Weird Tales, Grue, or other horror magazines in the late 80s and early 90s. He was a singularly unique talent, and his fame quietly grew during those decades. In fact, when I launched the first issue of Black Gate in the year 2000, I had more-or-less decided not to put the names of authors on the cover, to keep the artwork clean and give the magazine a unique look, but I talked to a few other editors to get their opinion first. One of them was Darrell Schweitzer, co-editor of Weird Tales.
“We never noticed a bit of difference in sales when we put authors names on the cover,” he confided. “Unless the name was Thomas Ligotti.”
Ligotti’s first two collections were Songs of a Dead Dreamer (1985) and Grimscribe: His Lives and Works (1991), both of which appeared first in small print-run hardcovers. Those editions — including the one I bought at Waldenbooks for three bucks — became highly prized collectors items. Both appeared in paperback, in June 1991 and October 1994, respectively. Those editions shortly went out of print, and also became became highly sought-after. In 2010 and 2011, after both volumes had been out of print for nearly two decades, Subterranean Press re-issued them with matching dust jackets. Those editions quickly sold out, and routinely command prices of $200-400 in the collectors market.
In short, if you wanted a print copy of Songs of a Dead Dreamer or Grimscribe any time in the last 20 years, you pretty much needed to be very wealthy, very lucky, or both. So you can understand why the impending release of Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, an omnibus 464-page collection of both volumes in a handsome and affordable trade paperback from Penguin Classics, has generated excited buzz in horror circles.
[Click any of the images in this article for bigger versions.]
Songs of a Dead Dreamer was first published in a 300-copy limited edition trade paperback in 1985 by Silver Scarab Press, with an introduction by Ramsey Campbell and a cover by Harry O. Morris (above left). It contained eleven stories, and pretty much vanished without a trace.
Ligotti greatly expanded the book for the June 1990 hardcover reissue from Carroll & Graf, with a new cover by Tony Greco (above middle). This version contained 20 stories.
Here’s the jacket flap text:
Songs of a Dead 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 extolled: ‘Put this volume on the shelf right between H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. Where it belongs.’
The revisions in the present volume of Songs of a Dead Dreamer have been calculated to make its stories into enhanced incarnations of the originals. This edition is and will remain definitive.
For those already familiar with the stories in Songs of a Dead Dreamer, an invitation is extended to return to them in their ultimate state. For those new to the collection, it is submitted to engage them with some of the most extraordinary tales of their kind. In either case, this publication of Songs of a Dead Dreamer offers evidence for why Ligotti has been judged to be among the most important authors in the history of supernatural horror.
The Carroll & Graf hardcover is the one I was lucky enough to score in a remainder pile twenty years ago. Copies in good condition usually sell for around $100 online.
In March 2010, Subterranean Press released a new edition, with a cover by Aeron Alfrey (above right). This one is also out of print, and now the most expensive of the lot.
Carroll & Graf published the first and so far only paperback edition in June 1991, as part of their Masters of Horror line. (Above left, cover artist unknown.) I usually gravitate towards the paperback even when the hardcovers aren’t impossible to afford; in this case, however, it doesn’t help our budget much. Copies in good condition start at around $30 on eBay, and $90 and up at Amazon.com.
You can occasionally find autographed copies for sale, and when you do, you’ll also sometimes find handwritten comments by the author in the book — as in the above example, which contains some unusual handwritten comments by Ligotti on his first page bio:
Unknown fact: I wrote the copy below because the publisher’s version was unusably bad.
My version is usably bad.
Songs of a Dead Dreamer has been out of print in paperback for nearly a quarter century.
Grimscribe: His Lives and Works was first published in hardcover in December 1991 by Carroll & Graf (above left, cover artist unknown.) It was reprinted by Subterranean in July 2011 with a cover by Aeron Alfrey (above right).
Grimscribe was nominated for a World Fantasy Award in 1992 for Best Collection, and that didn’t hurt Ligotti’s conductibility one bit.
Like Songs of a Dead Dreamer, Grimscribe also had a paperback edition, this time from Jove in October 1994. Copies in good condition nowadays start at around $20 in various online outlets.
Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe is a gorgeously overstuffed trade paperback that finally returns two classic volumes by a modern horror master to print in an affordable mass market edition. Here’s the description:
Two terrifying classics by “the best kept secret in contemporary horror fiction” (The Washington Post)
Thomas Ligotti’s debut collection, Songs of a Dead Dreamer, and his second, Grimscribe, permanently inscribed a new name in the pantheon of horror fiction. Influenced by the strange terrors of Lovecraft and Poe and by the brutal absurdity of Kafka, Ligotti eschews cheap, gory thrills for his own brand of horror, which shocks at the deepest, existential, levels.
Ligotti’s stories take on decaying cities and lurid dreamscapes in a style ranging from rich, ornamental prose to cold, clinical detachment. His raw and experimental work lays bare the unimportance of our world and the sickening madness of the human condition. Like the greatest writers of cosmic horror, Ligotti bends reality until it cracks, opening fissures through which he invites us to gaze on the unsettling darkness of the abyss below.
Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe will be published by Penguin Classics on October 6, 2015. It is 464 pages, priced at $17 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The excellent cover is a painting by Chris Mars, “Puppeteer” (thanks to Robert Adam Gilmour for tracking that down.)
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