Dark Gods, Four Horror Novellas by T. E. D. Klein (Viking/Penguin 1985)

Dark Gods - Jul 1986, T. E. D. Klein, publ. Bantam, 0-553-25801-X, $3.95, 261pp, pb, collDark Gods by T. E. D. Klein, 4 Horror Novellas…

Table of Contents

1. Children of the Kingdom
2. Petey
3. Black Man with a Horn
4. Nadelman’s God

The sadly non-prolific T.E.D. Klein published his only novel, The Ceremonies, in 1984 (an expansion of his story “The Events at Poroth Farm”, another very frightening story that first appeared in Shadows 2, edited by Charles L. Grant). 1984! Klein’s second book, followed a year later: the collection Dark Gods, which is comprised of four novellas written during the previous decade. Klein was editor of Twilight Zone magazine at the time (the magazine published well-respected short horror stories until its demise in 1989).

Although all of his fiction is set in the modern era, its care and subtlety hearken back to late 19th/early 20th century masters like M.R. James, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Sheridan Le Fanu, Lovecraft—there is even a hint of Carver, Oates, and Updike in Klein’s portrayal of mid-twentieth-century American suburbia (see “Petey”). Modern purveyors of this style work in what has been dubbed “quiet horror.” I just call it “smart horror” or “horror with an intellect”. Many of these writers are writing what is now being rferred to as “weird fiction” (Strantzas, Kiernan, Unsworth, Cluley, Mills, Wehunt, DeMeester, Ballingrud, John Langan, Ramsey Campbell, Kim Newman, Gaiman, et al.) These writers pride themselves on creating moods and atmospheres, a sense of awe, mystery, providing chilling intimations of fear and dread rather than, as Stephen King once put it (and as is King’s own niche more often than not), “going for the gross-out.”

The Bantam mass-market paberback cover of Dark Gods (pictured here) depicts, out of a vast stormy sky, an inchoate face, raging, fanged, demonic—a living darkness threatening a solitary rural house (it’s from “Petey”).

The first novella, “Children of the Kingdom” (originally published in 1980 in the game-changing anthology Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley), takes place in the midst of the infamous New York City blackout of summer 1977 at an old folks’ home where the narrator’s grandfather lives. Slowly and surely Klein builds the atmosphere, dropping hints and clues throughout, mixing vague supernatural dread with real-life threats caused by the blackout. The sewers of New York, it turns out, harbor more than just baby alligators; and roving gangs something a bit less-than-human, perhaps, might be lurking closer than you think.

black-man-with-a-horn“Black Man with a Horn” (1980), one of Klein’s most lauded stories, has as its narrator an old horror fiction writer who once knew H. P. Lovecraft. After a chance meeting with a nervous missionary returning from Malaysia on an international flight, the narrator learns the true meaning of a horrific bogeyman from ancient myth—myth he thought was made up entirely by Lovecraft and his fellow circle of Weird Tales writers. The story is both a sly, ironic meditation on the art of horror; as well as a creepy, satisfying story. Considered part of the Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos cycle, it was originally published in New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, edited by Ramsey Campbell (Arkham House).  The story is based on a cult mentioned by both August Derleth and Lovecraft, called the “Tcho-Tcho”, and the protagonist’s investigation into its connection with the disappearance of the missionary.

“Petey” involves a man in a mental asylum who’s so spooked by something he’s seen that he keeps trying to commit suicide. George and Phyllis and thirty of their friends are celebrating the couple’s new Connecticut home, an old place they’ve recently fixed up (more specifically, cleaned up). The previous owner of the house was a bit…imbalanced (he had “eyes like a sorcerer” some of the locals claim). Someone finds an ancient book about grotesqueries and arabesqueries. And, about 20 pages into the story, someone pulls out a creepy deck of tarot cards. Petey is one of the best horror stories I’ve ever read. What makes it so incredible is the slow unfolding of the horror. It’s the kind of tale that will quickly exhaust the patience of the short-attention-spanned reader. This, agaon, is smart horror, quiet horror, horror for the intellect. Trust it. Petey is the kind of tale that will reward the patient reader. It will make you glance over your shoulder at every ittle bump in the night, and wish to hell you hadn’t sat down to read it next to a window.

“Nadelman’s God”—which won the 1986 World Fantasy Award for Best Novella, reads more like a comedy of errors than a supernatural arising. But in a random and chaotic universe as this, where mankind is still guessing at metaphysical connections, it is with a mannered sigh of cultivated resignation that an ancient, exiled god can be conjured out of a sophomoric, pretentious poem ego-published in a small, collegiate newspaper. Nadelman has dismissed any long-ago, youthful dream of using his celestial musings to impress society’s intelligencia. Soon, the brutal murders start, and all hope of a benign belief system fail. As more unspeakable events occur, Nadelman plunders into his own daunting ennui. He feels as if the earth were yearning to crush him, smother him, blot out the very memory of him; as if the planet, all nature, all creation, the very fabric of reality, were inimical to breeds such as his.

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