Born to Fear: Interviews with Thomas Ligotti
Edited by Matt Cardin
Review by Benjamin Wald
Subterranean Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596066212
Date: 30 June 2014 List Price $40.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Born to Fear, a collection of interviews with cult horror author Thomas Ligotti, is a hard collection to review. Most people already know whether they are going to buy this collection. Ligotti's out of print works sell for hundreds of dollars, so die hard Ligotti fans will probably already have this collection on pre-order. On the other hand, a collection of interviews with a cult horror author will obviously not be of great interest to those who have never heard of Thomas Ligotti. But what about those who have read and enjoyed Ligotti's fiction, but want to know what the author's own perspective can add? Well, on the one hand, Ligotti eloquently discusses his influences, his approach to fiction, and his personal outlook on the world. On the other hand, reading these interviews was, for me profoundly, depressing in a far deeper way than Ligotti's admittedly dark fiction, and I can't say that I enjoyed the experience.
Ligotti's fiction clearly represents a deeply pessimistic view of the world. All of his stories revolve around the central idea that life is absurd, miserable, and pointless, and this view of the world informs every facet of the stories. Still, somehow it is far more depressing to hear Ligotti himself describe this worldview, and how deeply he endorses it. I enjoy Ligotti's fiction a great deal, but for me it has always been a form of catharsis. The nihilistic worldview expressed in the stories reflects how the world looks at its darkest, and to see that reflected with such eloquence is a kind of exorcism--to confront and then leave behind the pessimism reflected therein. It is clear, however, that Ligotti does not write the stories as catharsis. The worldview depicted is one he fully adopts. Ligotti describes in candid detail his struggles with anxiety and depression, and he explains and defends his anti-natalist views, whereby it would have been better had no one ever existed. The interviews were thus, in a strange way, darker than any of the stories, especially read one after another, and I had a hard time reading through this collection.
The interviews are also occasionally repetitive. The volume collects a variety of interviews, and it is only to be expected that many interviewers will ask similar questions. It might have been better had the editor cut out some of the redundancy, although sometimes the reframing of a familiar answer provides some new insight.
There is still a great deal to enjoy in these essays. Ligotti shares what he looks for in fiction, and what he seeks to convey---a sense of an individual's take on the world. He also shares his views on weird fiction, including the classics like Lovecraft, Machen, and Poe, and more obscure authors like Bruno Schulz and Stefan Grabinski. He has many interesting insights to share. He also shares some interesting stories about the genesis of some of his stories---although hearing him talk about the genesis of My Work is Not Yet Done is rather chilling.
Overall, I would not necessarily recommend this collection to any but the most devoted of Ligotti fans. While there are definitely some interesting insights within, it is a bit too repetitive and far too dark for most readers, even those who enjoy Ligotti's fiction.