The first time I read T.E.D. Klein was nearly a decade ago. Try as I might, I can’t remember the person or article that suggested I pick up his horror novel The Ceremonies, but I fondly recall spending my lunch hours slowly chipping away at the pages until I finally experienced that unmatched feeling of finishing a book. I read it my first summer during law school, and I hadn’t yet learned that the worst monsters in this world are our fellow human beings. What made the novel notable wasn’t the protagonist’s name or the specifics of the ceremonies that summon the dreaded entity of doom, but the sense that this author had crafted a veiled atmosphere of uncertainty where the curtain is never fully cast aside. It was equally apparent the author was well versed in the history of the genre and gave just enough allusions to make it fun. When I followed the novel with his two collections of shorter fiction, Dark Gods and Reassuring Tales, I knew I had discovered an author with a rare gift. In his newest collection, Providence After Dark and Other Writings, T.E.D. Klein compiles nearly a half-century’s worth of essays, interviews, and introductions that illustrate his mastery of every aspect of the horror genre.
It is worth noting at the beginning of this review that this paperback is being released by Hippocampus Press, which is one of the preeminent publishing houses for horror fiction today. Among its most notable efforts is the ongoing release of H.P. Lovecraft’s collected letters. It is appropriate Lovecraft and Klein share an imprint because the former’s influence looms large over the latter. In one of the earliest pieces in the present compilation, Klein describes how his application to Brown University (a school Lovecraft always admired, but never attended because of poor health) was aided by his casual reference to Lovecraft while interviewing with an admissions officer. Although references to Cthulhu and his creator can be easily found today on the Internet, novels, television, film, and even the occasional videogame, Lovecraft was not so well known in the mid-1960s. As Klein describes the first World Fantasy Convention hosted in Providence, Rhode Island, a decade later, there is a distinct sense that, despite the unintentionally humorous moments, it was an ethereal time when the genre was still an island of respite from the sensibilities of the wider world. There were still some panelists who had known Lovecraft personally and could attest to his nacreous character.
This is not to say that H.P. Lovecraft is the only author to whom Klein devotes his attention. His afterword to a 1984 edition of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is a playful reminder that the wry humorist of popular perception could also write with an acid-dipped quill. Among the masters of the weird tale, Robert Aickman, Arthur Machen, and Robert Bloch all receive sustained commentary. His most prescient advocacy, however, was reserved for Ramsey Campbell when the British author was still in his early twenties. He offered the first scholarly appreciation of Campbell shortly after publication of his second short story collection, Demons by Daylight, in 1974.
Some of the best writing in this collection comes from the 1980s when Klein was making his mark as editor-in-chief of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone magazine. Aside from pieces listing the best horror stories of all time and tallying clichéd plots (e.g. avoid the vampire who forgets it’s daylight savings time; you’re not staking new territory), he also published challenging poetry and film criticism. When I interviewed Klein for this column, he noted he had not watched the newest version of The Twilight Zone with Jordan Peele, but his criticism of the earlier film is relevant to all attempts: “I’m convinced that the success of the Twilight Zone television series lay not so much in the stories – there’ve been other such anthologies with stories nearly as clever – but in the spooky yet reassuring figure of Serling himself, who, week after week, would step out onto the set to deliver his opening and closing narrations, deliberately breaking into the drama’s reality and reminding us that it was only a TV show.” As with the Lovecraft mythos, those who mimic an authorial voice often diminish whatever originality their new stories possess.
Klein’s perspective on the movie industry is another unexpected treat. Although it had been a subject of legislation since 1936 when The Charge of the Light Brigade killed dozens of horses for the sake of a single scene, Klein’s criticism in the 1970s of animal abuse for the sake of “authenticity” in film was still a heterodox opinion. He also shares my disdain for mutilated edits of Lawrence of Arabia (my personal favorite) and bafflement at why some people enjoy Woody Allen. Klein provides some background on his one and only successful venture into screenwriting with Dario Argento’s Trauma. It is not a particularly memorable film, and I always wondered how such a talented writer’s story fell flat. Although Klein reviewed scripts for years and had crafted a promising plot, the less-than-enjoyable translation to the silver screen shows how an undisciplined director can take a steady script and run it off the rails.
Klein told me he was prodded to publish these pieces by the scholar S.T. Joshi, and every reader owes Joshi a debt of gratitude. When describing other authors, Klein notes, “Indeed, with the very best writers … you can open them anywhere, turn at random to any page or passage, and find something to savor. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, whatever the genre or form, you know you’re in good hands.” His description is equally applicable to himself. In these essays, T.E.D. Klein proves himself not only a master of the horror tale, but also a talented critic and witty observer of human nature. His tone is in equal parts scholarly and approachable. You not only learn something by reading him, but you enjoy it in the process.
I was preparing the first draft of this review a few weeks ago when my car hit a patch of ice and was in a head-on collision. As I pulled myself out of the wreck, I was dazed but had enough serenity of mind to retrieve my briefcase and this book. The back cover was a tad wrinkled from the crash, but the spine remained sturdy. Had I died, Providence After Dark and Other Writings would have been a great final book before I became one of the ghosts T.E.D. Klein has encountered so often in his career. He remains one of the most talented writers in America today, and I hope this publication foreshadows new fiction to come. If it does, I will certainly be among T.E.D. Klein’s readers.
Robert Bolton can be reached with comments or suggestions at [email protected]