I binged on Grady Hendrix this past month, so I decided to switch gears. A friend (hey Emry!) and I were talking about interesting reads and he brought up Dark Gods by T.E.D. Klein. The book itself is out of print, you can only get used copies (at an eye-widening $40 bucks for the mass market paperback on Amazon)!
Well curiosity got its little kitty claws in me, so I took the plunge.
T.E.D. Klein (a.k.a Theodore “Eibon” Donald Klein) is a New Yorker and a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, so much so he even wrote his honours thesis on him. During his life, he’s worked at Paramount Pictures, as an editor for the Twilight Zone magazine (1981 – 1985) and for a true crime magazine called CrimeBeat (1991 – 1993).
And yes, he actually took “Eibon” for the ‘e’ in his byline, supposedly so that it would resemble the style of Lovecraft and M.R. James and also spell out his nickname, “Ted”.
As a writer, his collection of works is not massive but he was often praised as being one of the “finest of modern-day horror writers” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch). His works include: The Ceremonies, Nighttown, and Dark Gods, as well as various short fiction.
Fun fact, he was also featured as a character on the Ghostbusters cartoon.
Four stories, “Children of the Kingdom,” “Petey,” “Black Man With a Horn,” and “Nadelman’s God,” deal with creatures of the urban night, a hungry beast, a ritual murder, and terrifying apparitions – Amazon landing site
I’ll try not to include any spoilers but I will be going into each novella individually.
Children of the Kingdom
This story is set in New York during the blackout of 1977. The protagonist is looking for a place where his grandfather can live safely and finds what seems to be a pretty good deal. Grandpa isn’t content to just sit around in a retirement home and wanders the neighbourhood making friends, one of which is the enigmatic “Father Pistachio”. The protagonist gets to know the Father, who claims there was a race that existed alongside humans and were rather hostile. The Father seems to believe in the whole hollow earth theory and is writing a book about it to expose them. The Father is adamant that the species is still alive and had a habit of attacking the human tribes, stealing their women, and the like.
While the protagonist gets to know the Father, he’s also noticing weird stuff going on in the retirement home, especially in the basement/laundry room. There’s vandalism, and one really gross moment when someone has jizzed all over his wife’s skirt (?!) but the staff blame it on the local gangs of kids. There are also various interjections of the protagonist reading newspaper articles of deformed babies being found in sewers and people being attacked in their homes. The protagonist begins to grow uneasy, then the blackout happens and everything hits the fan.
This novella is split between commentary from an attendant working at a mental institution and events happening at a housewarming party.
The characters at the housewarming party are amazied at what a steal the owners got the house for, exploring the pre-furnished rooms and antique furniture. The new owners expound on how weird the previous owner was while never really explaining how he ended up at the facility while they got the beautiful house for practically nothing.
During the whole evening, some guests begin to feel like something is off. They find a tarot card deck with a strange extra card added to it, strange story books about monsters, and eerie scratch marks on some of the furniture.
While this is happening, the attendant is hanging out with the previous owner who, in a fit of madness, managed to damage his throat in a way preventing him from speaking so they have to speak through a kind of morse code. The madman is terrified, trying to warn the attendant that something is hungry.
Needless the say, the housewarming party doesn’t end like the hosts intended.
Black Man with a Horn
This novella features the Tcho-Tcho, which is part of the Lovecraft mythos. The protagonist is sat next to a guy on the plane who is obviously wearing a disguise. Curious, he gets into a conversation with the man, learning that the man used to be a priest and is terrified for his life. The priest claims that during his missionary work, he met the dangerous tribe. At first they treated him kindly, then his companions disappeared or ran off. Eventually he found one of the men with something horrible growing inside his body, nurtured by the Tcho-Tcho.
The priest escaped but was convinced they were still after him, based on the fact that a song seems to be following him, sung in crowds or out of sight, but matching a song he’d heard the tribes women sing. In particular, the man seems triggered by the image of a man holding a horn (instrument, not like an animal horn). The protagonist then sees a similar image in a museum and, in typical Lovecraftian fashion, begin to research it.
A newspaper article alerts the protagonist to the fact that the priest has gone missing and he goes off to investigate that next. Learning more and more, the protagonist begins to suspect he himself might be the next victim of the sinister, fish-like beast that took his friend.
Nadelman is an author who lets an angsty poem he wrote in college (it was a phase, mom!) be used as lyricsc for a metal band. One of their fans is convinced the lyrics are an incantation (same type of fan who’ll play his records backwards) that can bring a monstrous deity to life. Nadelman rolls his eyes at first, but then the fan (who is communicating to the author through letters because this is the 80s) shares information Nadelman has never shared with anyone.
He becomes convinced he needs to see what’s happening and goes to visit the fan. The whole visit unsettles him further. The fan truly believes he has created a hungry god and now people are starting to turn up dead.
All these novellas are set in New York and, boy, does Klein not paint a kind picture of the city. It seemed to have its very own presence and a dirty, claustrophobic one at that.
Overall, the stories were quite fun. Nadelman’s God was definitely my favourite, with Children of the Kingdom coming in second. I did find Petey a little predictable and I wish Klein had expanded the end a bit more. There was a lot of lead-up and the ending seemed pretty abrupt.
I do need to address one blaring issue though. This guy was a fan of Lovecraft and seemed to also share Lovecraft’s views on race. So there are a lot of negative depictions of anyone who isn’t white. It’s not great, to put it simply.
If you can ignore those parts, the novellas are original and very enjoyable.
- Children of the Kingdom: I liked Klein’s take on the whole hollow earth theory and the gradual buildup to the end. I guess my main issue would be that the characters seem to handle everything that happens in the novel pretty well, taking everything in stride, as if the bizarre happenings are just everyday New York events. Especially in the case of what happens to the wife. But otherwise, a very unique story and utterly eerie.
- Petey: As mentioned previously, a little predictable and I wish the ending had been expanded. Otherwise, the characters were very realistic and the slow burn buildup was great. I loved the dialogue in this piece, it just so perfectly highlighted the banality of overly polite conversation.
- Black Man with the Horn: this one definitely highlighted Klein’s love of Lovecraft since he breaks up his sections with quotes from Howard himself, whether real or fictional, I’ve no idea. I enjoyed the overall story line and think it’s a great example of cosmic horror.
- Nadelman’s God: I loved this story! I loved the idea of a fan becoming obsessed with an author’s writing, that they truly think there is power behind the words. Then the author himself begins to wonder, is this true? Is he mad? Am I mad? The story had a great buildup, a great set of characters, and a perfect end.
With scoring this collection of novellas, I am placing a value on the core of the stories themselves. It’s a shame that Klein displayed some of same racist values as Lovecraft.
Would I recommend this for fellow cosmic horror fans? That’s a tough one. I know die-hard fans won’t be bothered by the high price tag, I don’t regret buying it. I suppose I would recommend it to similar readers such as myself, ones that will be able to easily ignore the racist bits and still enjoy the stories.
If you’re not the type to easily brush away casual racism, I’d say just skip this one.
x P.L. McMillan