Ligotti vs Ligotti: Comparing Subterranean Press’ vs Carroll & Graf’s GRIMSCRIBE editions

Ligotti vs Ligotti: Comparing Subterranean Press’ vs Carroll & Graf’s GRIMSCRIBE editions

So I just received in the mail, the now Out of Print, Subterranean Press’ 2011 HC edition of GRIMSCRIBE. Now I own the original 1991 Carroll & Graf edition, but my interest was piqued by the sold out nature of previous Subterranean Press editions, the wonderful cover art as well as the description of their Grimscribe edition as being revised and definitive.

Here’s the description:

“Grimscribe
by Thomas Ligotti

Dust jacket by Aeron Alfrey.

Limited: (sold out)
Trade: (sold out)
ISBN: 978-1-59606-409-6

Grimscribe: His Lives and Works is the second volume in a series of revised, definitive editions of the horror story collections of Thomas Ligotti. First published in 1991 by Carroll & Graf in the United States and Robinson Publishing in England, Grimscribe garnered significantly more recognition than Ligotti’s first collection, Songs of a Dead Dreamer, which was issued two years earlier by the same publishers.”

So biting the bullet I picked up one of the sold out Subterranean editions (sold out in less than 3 months, which is pretty darn impressive), thankfully for not too much more than cover price (it’s now, in the brief 2 weeks since I purchased it, climbed to the 3 figure range) and having perused it today I have to say, my initial impression upon taking it out of the box is… I’m a bit dissapointed.

I mean I really am disposed to like imprints such as Centipede Press and Subterranean Press, that in this day of digital are trying to make the hardcopy something attractive and special. My problem is for the price, I’m not even talking the marked up reseller’s price, I’m talking Subterranean’s retail price, GRIMSCRIBE when finally seen is underwhelming.

I mean for the money I don’t think a slipcover done to quality, embossing on the cover, and maybe spot illustrations and a ribbon marker and gilded pages are too much to ask. Look at books such as Dark Horse’s FRANKENSTEIN illustrated by Bernie Wrightson, which sells for a fraction of the price of Subterranean’s books, but in terms of quality there is no comparison. Dark Horse’s FRANKENSTEIN is a work of art. Something you’re going to be treasuring and proud to have on your shelf for a long time.

Bernie Wrightsons Frankenstein

I can’t say that for Subterranean’s GRIMSCRIBE.

The first thing that strikes me is it’s a smaller, less imposing/less impressive book than what I was expecting. Just average HC trade dimensions. And the slipcover which boasts imaginative art by Aeron Alfrey, unfortunately undermines that art quite a bit with a muted, even muddy looking printing, and cropping/shrinking the image rather than allowing it to take up a respectable amount of the cover.

But getting beyond the slipcover the book itself is just an average brown coated HC, with blue type on the binding. The interior however does offer large, legible, and attractive type.

Now onto the heart of the matter, the “revised, definitive” nature of this new version. Is it or isn’t it, an improvement over the original?

Well comparing the two versions there are minor differences, what Ligotti described thusly:

“One thing I did not do is deliberately seek out changes. Of course there would be errors that needed corrections and phrases that needed to be polished. But I didn’t look to shorten or lengthen the stories or any part of them, or to make my prose leaner or more baroque, or to in any way alter the tone of a given story. I just read the books carefully from start to finish and keep on the lookout for additions and deletions that would enhance each story, at least to my mind.”—- see full article here.

Okay, a writer can change his work if he wants, I mean it’s his work. But sometimes you can’t go home, and sometimes a writer or a boxer or an actor’s best work is behind him rather than in front. Frank Miller’s great comics are all decades in the past, his current work a poor shadow of him in his prime. Bernie Wrightson is one of the most hailed and influential artists of the 70s and 80s, but his work in the 21st century (while still head and shoulders above most artists) for a variety of reasons, cannot compare to the artist he was. I’m saying the changes a 21st century Thomas Ligotti makes are perhaps not an improvement on the writing of a 20th century Thomas Ligotti.

Examples, changes are small, but they are I think telling, a tendency to the dumbed down, and often clumsy phrasing rather than the lyric poetry and embracing of the extremes of youth:

THE LAST FEAST OF HARLEQUIN

Original:

“At certain times I could almost dissolve entirely into this inner realm of awful purity and emptiness. I remember those invisible moments when in disguise I drifted through the streets of Mirocaw, untouched by the drunken, noisy forms around me: untouchable.”

Revised 2011 Subterranean version”

“At certain times I could almost dissolve entirely into this inner realm of purity and emptiness, the paradise of the unborn. I remember how I was momentarily overtaken by a feeling I had never known when in disguise I drifted through the streets of Mirocaw, untouched by the drunken, noisy forms around me: untouchable.”

Again the changes aren’t many and aren’t drastic, I just don’t think they improve on the original and for the most part I find them to be the clunky exposition of age, rather than the fertile and frenetic choices of a visionary.

I find his earlier word choices, in almost every case, to be the stronger, more poetic, more memorable. The mating of differences, terms like “awful purity” and “invisible moments” wonderful baroque phrasing of the original, that are missed in this revised edition.

THE SPECTACLES IN THE DRAWER

“Without an author whoever lived in this world, if you will recall what I told you about it.” that is a clunky, and unwieldy sentence in the revised version.

In the original it is:

“Without a living author, if you will recall what I told you about it.”

Original:
“Plomb had done nothing less than multiplied these visions into infinity, creating oceans of his own blood and enabling himself to see with countless eyes. Entranced by such aspiration, I gazed at the mirrors in speechless wonder. Among them was one I remembered looking into some days– or was it weeks? –before.”

Revized Suibterranean version:
“Plomb had done nothing less than multiplied these visions into infinity, creating oceans of his own blood and enabling himself to see with countless eyes. Entranced by such aspiration, I gazed at the mirrors in speechless wonder. Among them was that tilting mirror I remembered looking into not so long ago.”

Again, not a major change, a few words, but they tend to be poorly chosen, and a bit boring and pedestrian compared to the original.

And such ‘improvements’ run throughout the stories in the 2011 Subterranean collection.

The only thing the Subterranean version has going for it is the slightly flawed slipcover, which flaws and all is a 100 times better than the pathetic slipcover on the original 1991 HC. Unfortunately a slipcover is not enough. So my recommendation, save yourself the dough on Subterranean’s “revised, definitive” edition and get the original HC instead and have your own nice slipcover made for it(all of which can be done for less than the price the Subterranean books are going for).

Grimscribe: His Lives and Works

Grimscribe: His Life and Works

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What I’m Reading and Listening to

“We love only heroes. Glorious
death in battle. Scaling walls, burning bridges behind us, destroying
all ways back. All retreat. As if
some things were fixed. As if the moon
would come to us each night (&
we could watch
from the battlements). As if
there were anything certain
or lovely
in our lives.”

— excerpt from “THE DEATH OF NICK CHARLES” by Amiri Baraka (available in the great anthology BLACK VOICES)

*************

I have been listening all day to an old time radio program called CRIME CLASSICS. From the 1950s it is absolutely riveting half hour based shows, that dramatize infamous places in history. It dramatizes our crimes. From Lizzie Borden to Billy the Kid to others who I have never heard of. It tells of places deep and dark and devious, that can only accurately be called the human heart. It is brilliantly directed/produced by Elliot Lewis, written by Morton Fine and David Freemen, and captivatingly introduced by Lou Merrill portraying Thomas Hyland and performed by some of the best radio actors of the day, from Paul Frees to William Conrad to Bill Johnstone.

I don’t know how to sell someone on audio dramas, anymore than I know how to sell someone on reading. To me it’s analogous to having to sell someone on breathing or sex. It is something people should be, of their own volition, racing toward… racing to do, racing to consume.

Audio dramas, the best of them, are such a pure medium. Such an interactive one, while still being a completely solid vision/narrative.

And Old Time Radio is a very reflective medium, it can teach, by that distance of time, of old oaths that we have turned our back on, and old follies that we have embraced.

I highly recommend this show. And you can find it here. I recommend getting it quickly as the shows have a tendency to disappear as greedy corporations and venal lawyers and their lobbying… erodes the concept of Public Domain… erodes the concept of The Public. It is a great show. Enjoy.

****************

“His name is…

Will it ever come to me? There is a grand lapse of memory that may be the only thing to save us from ultimate horror. Perhaps they know the truth who preach the passing of one life into another, vowing that between a certain death and a certain birth there is an interval in which an old name is forgotten before a new one is learned. And to remember the name of a former life is to begin the backward slide into that great blackness in which all names have their source, becoming incarnate in a succession of bodies like numberless verses of an infinite scripture.

To find that you have had so many names is to lose the claim to any one of them. To gain the memory of so many lives is to lose them all.”
—From Thomas Ligotti’s GRIMSCRIBE short story collection

I find Ligotti an acquired taste. I’ve read several of the stories in GRIMSCRIBE in his more comprehensive collection, THE SHADOW AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD, and I wasn’t particularly taken by them there. I thought the GRIMSCRIBE selections were the weakest part of THE SHADOW AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD (an uneven, but worth having anthology, because the stories that do work, four come to mind, are worth the price of admission). But I found the above excerpt from Ligotti’s introduction to GRIMSCRIBE quite compelling.

********************

“Formal business has certainly decayed in the city centre, with empty shops, boarded-up office blocks. Maybe a Black guy will buy a shop and start selling pap, the local food, but there’s been no boom of Black businesses- prices are still high, and because of the Group Areas Act it’s mainly Asians who own the shops and warehouses. There are plenty of traders and hawkers in the streets now, ladies doing other ladies’ hair for money and services like that. There are big working-class taxi ranks because the public transport is so bad. But the general economic trend is very clear: the rich have got richer and the poor poorer. Under the ANC, South Africa has now surpassed Brazil as the most unequal country in the world. According to Statistics South Africa, the average African household has got 19 percent poorer in the past five years, and the average White household 15 percent richer.”
—Trevor Ngwane discussing the current conditions of South Africa, from Tom Mertes’ A MOVEMENT OF MOVEMENTS.