Book #41 (November 21, 2010) Dark Gods by T.E.D. Klein
In the late 1970s, in a hardback anthology of horror stories, I came across a novella called “The Events at Poroth Farm.” It was a terrific piece of slow burn Lovecraftian horror, about a professor of literature staying in a small outbuilding next to an unoccupied farmhouse who gradually becomes aware that he’s being visited by some kind of alien beings. The author, T.E.D. Klein, nailed the cosmic horror tone of Lovecraft’s later work while still maintaining a distinctive literary voice. The story was intelligent, elegantly written and genuinely scary. Klein later became editor of Twilight Zone Magazine, which (to my subsequent regret) I never read. Then, in the mid 1980s, he published two volumes of horror fiction, the long novel The Ceremonies (based loosely on “The Events at Poroth Farm”) and a collection of four novellas called Dark Gods.
I started reading this collection back in the 80s or early 90s. I got less than halfway through it not because it wasn’t a good read but because I was losing interest generally in reading. (I was born with a short attention span that just gets worse as I age.) Something reminded me of Klein recently, though, and I purchased used copies of both The Ceremonies and Dark Gods. This time I actually plan to read them.
I just finished Dark Gods and I recommend it to anyone interested in literary horror stories with a Lovecraftian influence. The stories are: “Children of the Kingdom,” about the dark secrets of a seedy Manhattan neighborhood at the time of the 1977 blackout; “Petey,” about an old house haunted not by ghosts but by strange experiments growing in jars; “Black Man with a Horn,” about an aging horror writer (apparently based on Frank Belknap Long) dealing with stories of a reclusive native race in Malaysia and his own memories of his one-time friend H.P. Lovecraft; and “Nadelman’s God,” a long story about an insurance executive who gradually realizes that at some time in his teenage years he had gotten a glimpse of a malevolent god who apparently still exists and wants to do his bidding.
Klein’s narrative voice is strong, graceful, and often humorous, and if he falls short in any area it’s one where many literary horror writers fall short: characterization. With one or two exceptions, the characters are sketchy and the dialog is unconvincing (though the cocktail party conversations in “Petey” are occasionally clever). This lack of characterization (which doesn’t seem to afflict less literary-minded horror writers like Stephen King, whose vigorously colloquial prose is a perfect vehicle for character development) is probably a deliberate choice. Lovecraft, whose stories rarely included memorable characters, was far more interested in the story’s millieu — the atmosphere of dread and the sense that the plot was moving headlong toward something so traumatizing that you’d go insane if you fully understood it. Klein doesn’t plunge quite as headlong into the horror as Lovecraft did, but he’s excellent at creating atmosphere (perhaps the greatest strength any horror writer can have) and at making cogent observations that elevate the horror well above the level of pulp.
Perhaps the saddest thing in this collection, published in paperback by Bantam Books in 1986, is the statement in the short bio of Klein in the back that says he’s become a full-time writer and is working on another novel. Yet, as anyone who has ever attempted to follow Klein’s career knows, no other novels ever appeared. (Apparently Viking announced a Klein novel called Nighttown in 1989, but it never came out.) The only things that Klein seems to have written since this collection are the screenplay to a 1994 Dario Argento horror film (Trauma) and a few short pieces, plus a collection of stories called Reassuring Tales that, aside from a couple of lukewarm reviews on the Internet, seems to have vanished without a trace. In many ways, Klein comes across here as a very promising young author (he was probably in his early 30s when most of these stories were written) who was going to write even better things in the future, but that future never seems to have happened. He’s apparently still alive — he’d be about 63 years old — but unless he’s got a large manuscript in the closet or on his hard drive, that next novel was never written.
The only explanation I can find is a quote attributed to him in Wikipedia: “I’m one of those people who will do anything to avoid writing. Anything!”
Apparently he wasn’t exaggerating.
I just requested a copy of “Dark Gods” via Interlibrary Loan. (I gave up impulse Amazon book buying for Lent or else I would have purchased it…I have a sickness :o)
Thanks for the review. I’ve never heard of this book and it’s doubtful I ever would have.
Have you read Klein’s novel The Ceremonies? If it’s anywhere near as good as “The Events at Poroth Farm” it would be worth reading.
Yup. It;s basically a longer version of the same thing. haven’t read either in years, but read them both in close proximity and still liked both, if that helps.
If I could say one thing to Klein, it would be “Please let me adapt Nadelman’s God into a screenplay for you!” LOL
Thanks for spilling some ink into the ether on one of my favorite writers, Christopher.
One tiny quibble: The “reclusive native race” (Tcho-Tcho) are encountered in Malaysia, not Haiti.
Whoops, sorry, and thanks for the correction! Now I can’t even remember why I thought that.
Maybe the proximity to Florida, where a portion of the story takes place.
I hope I didn’t come off as too nit picky. 🙂
“I hope I didn’t come off as too nit picky.”
Not at all. Anal-retentive perfectionist that I am, I’m thrilled to have someone paying close enough attention to catch these errors when I make them — and to tell me about them when they find them!
Just found this post by accident and thought I’d get in touch; I’m a British film director, and I bought the film rights to T.E.D. Klein’s classic novella “Children Of The Kingdom” last year – from the author himself. I managed to get in touch with him through a labyrinthine series of emails to small press publishers, and he is an awesome guy, still represented by his legendary agent Kirby MacAuley. From things he mentioned in his emails I think Ted is a staff writer or editor for GQ magazine. But anyway, “Children Of The Kingdom” is now in development as a feature film, and I hope to do it proud. RJW, England
I apologize for writing here, but I don’t see any contact information online for you, Ronald. I am the editor of “Lovecraft eZine”, a magazine, blog, and web tv show. I’d love to have you on the show to talk about CHILDREN OF THE KINGDOM. It’s wonderful news to know that it’s going to be a feature film!
You can reach me at email@example.com . Thanks.
Good luck in your search.
I was so happy to come across your reply on this chain. Do you have any information on who handles Kirby McCauley’s clients, now that he has passed away?
I would be grateful to hear from you.
I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fascinating, Ronald! I’ve loved “Children of the Kingdom” since I first read it in the 80s and would love to see a film version. Also good to hear that Klein still has a job associated with writing and/or editing. Maybe I’ll have to start reading GQ. (Now if only someone would film The Ceremonies — or even “The Events at Poroth Farm.”) And it’s nice to know that Kirby MacAuley is still in the game. I remember when MacAuley rocketed to the top of the agent profession back in the 70s when he called a young author named Stephen King and asked him if he had an agent. “No,” said King. “Well, I’d like the job,” said MacAuley, and the rest is history.
Hi Christopher, thanks for your kind reply; yeah, I actually suggested to Ted that he contact HBO re The Ceremonies, I think they’d do an amazing job of it as a prestige mini-series. And apparently Kirby has never owned a computer or sent an email, and still hasn’t, yet somehow continues to conduct business ! : D If “Children Of The Kingdom” progresses I’ll let you know : )
I’ve read both The Ceremonies and Dark God’s. Very impressed with both. In fact, Ceremonies is probably my favorite horror novel. I read it when I was in my late teens, and it had a certain appeal for an impressionable young man.