T.E.D. Klein’s The Ceremonies and Dark Gods

At this stage, T.E.D. Klein is probably more famous for what he hasn’t written than what he has written. He put out a novel in 1984 and a collection of novellas in 1985. Both were well received, but he hasn’t released anything to speak of since before I was born. He’s not dead. He didn’t suffer a debilitating brain injury. He hasn’t been kidnapped. He just has writer’s block.

Despite his minimal output, Klein is considered by many to be one of the greatest horror writers of the latter 20th century. It was high time I checked him out.

The first thing I read by Klein was his story The Events at Poroth Farm. It’s about an academic who rents a room in the countryside during the summer to help him prepare for a course he’s going to be teaching on gothic horror. Some creepy parasite gets into his landlord’s cat, and things get nasty for everyone. I enjoyed the story plenty. Klein went on to expand this tale into a novel called The Ceremonies. After reading The Events at Poroth Farm, I deliberately waited half a year to move on to the novel, and although I saw certain parts coming, I feel like I put enough distance between the two stories to let them both really shine.

The Ceremonies
Bantam – 1985 (Originally published 1984)

The Ceremonies is awesome. I’ve read reviews that say it’s bloated and that the short story is better, but the people who wrote those reviews are wrong. This is 555 pages of deadly.

This time, the parasite isn’t just after the academic. It’s out to destroy the world. There’s a brilliant mix of folk and cosmic horror at play here. The writing is great too. The characters are all likeable in their own quirky ways, and some of the sequences here are genuinely creepy.

The fact that one of the central characters is a horror fiction nerd made this book especially enjoyable, and I reckon The Ceremonies will be the most influential book on my to-read this year. To my great shame, there’s a few books mentioned in here that I haven’t yet read. I think I’ll do a separate post on “The Ceremonies Reading List” after I get through those. The only text that I would recommend you read before reading this one would be Arthur Machen’s The White People. That particular story is referenced quite a few times in here.

Honestly, I loved this book. It was exactly what I needed in my life when I started reading it.



Dark Gods
Bantam – 1986 (Originally published 1985)

This is Klein’s second book, but 3 out of its four stories had been published before The Ceremonies came out. These four novellas are of the highest caliber. The stories are masterfully crafted, and the writing goes down real smooth. I have seen this described as “literary horror”, and while it is certainly very classy stuff, it’s also very, very readable. Aside from Lovecraftian themes, this has nothing to do with that other book with the same title.

Petey is the story of a housewarming party that turns sour when somebody busts out a deck of old tarot cards. I have seen a few people claim this is the weakest tale in the collection, but I really liked it.

Children of the Kingdom
This is almost like a modern sequel to Bulwer Lytton’s Vril. I thought it was great.

The Black Man with a Horn
I knew that this was supposed to be a tale of the Cthulhu Mythos, but I assumed that meant it had Lovecraftian elements. No. This is very much a continuation of Lovecraft’s work. It was awesome. It was a few weeks after finishing this story that I read all of the Cthulhu Mythos fiction of Frank Belknap Long. Not only was Franky the model for the narrator of this story, but this tale has some striking similarities to Long’s novel The Horror From the Hills.

Nadelman’s God
This story features heavy metal, blasphemy, an S&M club and a murderous golem made out of garbage and broken glass. If that doesn’t make you want to read it, I genuinely don’t know what you’re doing reading this blog. Go away.

I don’t think I have a favourite story from Dark Gods. They’re all really well written, and there’s horrifying moments in each. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Both The Ceremonies and Dark Gods are essential reading for horror fans. T.E.D, Klein is a masterful writer, but he needs to get the finger out.

Lovecraftian Rarities and Howard’s influence on Houellebecq: Lovecraft’s Legacy Part 5

lovecraft

About a year and a half ago, I started rereading the tales of H.P. Lovecraft. I had previously read the three Penguin Classics editions of Lovecraft’s work, so this time I read through the four Wordsworth editions of his fiction. The Wordsworth editions, while lacking the footnotes included in the Penguins, present a more complete collection; in fact, one of these volumes is comprised exclusively of collaborative works omitted from the Penguin versions. I wrote a series of posts on these books (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4), pairing each one with a work of Lovecraftian Occultism, but as I was reading through them, it became apparent to me that while the Wordsworth editions of Lovecraft’s work are more complete than the Penguin editions, they do not contain all of the fiction that Lovecraft wrote/contributed to. In this post, I want to list and examine the short stories of Lovecraft that are contained in neither the Penguin or Wordsworth editions of his work.

There are four tales that Lovecraft wrote by himself that are not included in the aforementioned collections. These tales are Ibid, Sweet Ermengarde, The Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson and Old Bugs. ‘Ibid’ is a parody of academic writing about history. It’s not funny, amusing or worth reading. ‘Sweet Ermengarde’ is a farcical comic romance. ‘The Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson’ is a boring story about an old man talking about his friends, and ‘Old Bugs’ is a fairly predictable story about an old drunk. None of these stories contain any horror, and I can’t recommend checking them out.

There are also still extant several stories that Lovecraft wrote as a child between ages of 8 and 12.  These are The Mystery of the Graveyard, The Mysterious Ship, The Little Glass Bottle and The Secret Cave. These are pretty impressive for a kid of that age, but there’s no need to read them unless you’re a completist dork like me.

There are also handful of other stories that Lovecraft contributed to that are not included in the Wordsworth book of Lovecraftian collaborations. These are The Battle that Ended the Century, Collapsing Cosmoses, Bothon, The Challenge from Beyond, The Hoard of the Wizard-Beast, Four O’Clock, The Slaying of the Monster, The Sorcery of Aphlar, The Tree on the Hill, Satan’s Servants, Deaf, Dumb and Blind, The Ghost-EaterAshes and The Loved Dead. These are not included in either the Wordsworth or Penguin collections for one of two reasons. Either we don’t know how much (if any) influence Lovecraft actually had on the tales, or else the tales are absolutely shit.

Both ‘The Battle that Ended the Century’ and ‘Collapsing Cosmoses’ are collaborations between Lovecraft and his friend R.H. Barlow. These stories are jokes where they make fun of their friends, and they don’t seem to have been written very seriously. ‘The Hoard of the Wizard-Beast’ is another collaborative fantasy between these two. It’s ok. They also wrote ‘The Slaying of the Monster’ together. It’s barely worth mentioning.

‘The Sorcery of Aphlar’ and ‘The Tree on the Hill’ are collaborations between Lovecraft and Duane W. Rimel. These are ok, definitely better than the Barlow crap, but it’s not certain how much Lovecraft had to do with the composition of ‘The Sorcery of Aphlar’.

‘Four O’ Clock’ is a tale by Sonia Greene, Lovecraft’s ex-wife. He apparently made some suggestions on how to improve it after reading an early version of the story. ‘Satan’s Servants’ is a story by Robert Bloch, and Lovecraft also supplied a few suggestions for this one after reading a draft.

‘Bothon’ is a collaboration with Henry S. Whitehead. It’s another one of those ‘man wakes up in an alien’s body’ stories that we’re all used to. ‘The Challenge from Beyond’ is similar, but this one is a collaboration between several authors. C.L. Moore, A. Merritt, Lovecraft, Robert E.Howard, and Frank Belknap Long all contributed sections. This one is cool for what it is, but it’s not really essential reading.

‘The Loved Dead’, ‘Deaf, Dumb and Blind’, ‘The Ghost-Eater’ and ‘Ashes’ are all tales that Lovecraft revised for C.M. Eddy. ‘The Loved Dead’ is a story of a necrophiliac, and it was contained (as the title story!) in the original versions of the Wordsworth book of Lovecraft Collaborations. It was later removed. ‘The Ghost-Eater’ is a straightforward ghost story. ‘Ashes’ is pretty crap. ‘Deaf, Dumb and Blind’ is a bit more Lovecrafty than the others, but it’s not all that great to be honest.

‘Through the Gates of the Silver Key’ is included in the Penguin editions of Lovecraft’s work, but it isn’t in any of the Wordsworth ones. I reread this one too. It’s not great.

I am glad to have been able to find these stories online, but I can’t say any of them were very good. I don’t think I’ll bother with them on my next Lovecraft reread. I believe there might be another few tales that Lovecraft is rumoured to have had some input in, and I’ll read those if I ever come across them. My plan now is to read the weird fiction of Lovecraft’s contemporaries, Derleth, Bloch, Howard and the likes.

 

For the other posts in this series, I looked at a collection of Lovecraft’s tales alongside a work of Lovecraftian Occultism. Most of those spellbooks were utter nonsense, and for this post I’m including a book about Lovecraft’s literary influence instead.

lovecraft houellebecqH.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life
Michel Houellebecq
Gollancz – 2008 (Originally published 1991)

Most of the books that I read end up getting reviewed on this blog, but recently I read two books by a Frenchman named Michel Houellebecq that don’t really fit in with the crap that I review here. Houellebecq is a respected author, but he has been critical of Islam and accused of misogyny in the past. Submission, the first of his books that I read, is about a sex-hotel in Southeast Asia being bombed by Islamic terrorists. The other one, The Elementary Particles, is about a scientist and his pervert brother. I enjoyed both books, and while they certainly contain some inflammatory passages, they are novels. Houellebecq has also written an article in defense of Donald’s Trump’s presidency, and I get the impression that he’s not really concerned with coming across as woke and progressive. I don’t agree with his outlook, but it was interesting to read something that was written by a person who clearly doesn’t give a shit.

While one of these novels has a slight touch of science fiction, Houellebecq’s thing is nihilistic, pessimistic realism. The general negativity of his books made it easy for me to swallow their nastier passages. Unhappy people have shitty outlooks. When Houellebecq’s narrators say stupidly racist things or perform acts of misogyny, it’s at least clear to the reader that these narrators are supposed to be fuck-ups.

So how does this dodgy Frenchman relate to the writings of H.P. Lovecraft? Well, while these authors’ fictional outputs are very, very different, both contain strains of nihilism, pessimism and misanthropy. There are no ancient tentacled atrocities in Houellebecq’s writing, but it didn’t surprise me to discover that the Frenchman was a fan of Lovecraft. In 1991, Houellebecq wrote a book called Against Life, Against Nature about Lovecraft’s writing.

It’s a fairly interesting read if you like both Lovecraft and Houellebecq, but I doubt it will be of much interest to everyone else. It’s basically just Michel talking about how Lovecraft’s work is groundbreaking. It contains an introduction by Stephen King.

The most contentious element of Lovecraft’s writing is his attitude towards race. While Houellebecq acknowledges Lovecraft’s blatant prejudices, he isn’t nearly as bothered by them as many modern readers seem to be. In fact, he actually seems to think that Lovecraft’s close-mindedness makes his fiction more effective. I get what he’s saying. Just because a person is shitty, that doesn’t mean that their art is shitty. Horror fiction isn’t supposed to be comfortable and pleasant for everyone, and if it’s racial prejudice that stokes the flames of fear, that doesn’t make that fear any less fearful.

Of course, it’s easy for Houellebecq and I to accept such statements. The prejudice in Lovecraft’s tales isn’t directed at us. I understand that my white privilege makes it easier for me to enjoy some of Lovecraft’s writing,and I would understand why people might deliberately avoid his writings on principle; however, I would be very surprised to meet a horror fan who has read Lovecraft and failed to find entertainment in his work.

For convenience sake, I’m just going to conclude with the links to all of the posts in this series for anyone who’s interested. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5) This series is complete, but I assure you, there’s plenty more posts on Lovecraftian fiction and occultism to come.