Written by: Bruce Priddy
T.E.D. Klein may be the archetype of the lazy genius. Since delivering his novella “Events on Poroth Farm” to critical acclaim over forty years ago, Klein’s output has consisted of just over a dozen short works (gathered across two collections, Dark Gods and Reassuring Tales) and one novel, The Ceremonies. Klein has stated in a 1980s interview that he will do anything to avoid writing. The Ceremonies, for example, took him five years to pen. Perhaps owing to his sparse output, Klein is nowhere near as well-known with today’s horror fans as he should be, despite his incredible talent. His admirers are regulated to other writers and critics. S.T. Joshi has said Klein’s “achievement towers gigantically over that of his more prolific contemporaries.” Indeed, I would do terrible things, many of which carry the death penalty, to possess Klein’s skill.
Though a long-time fan of Klein’s, I neglected to read “Events of Poroth Farm” for many years. Having read The Ceremonies, a novel-length expansion of the novella, I saw no need. After finally reading “Events” last year, and then hating myself for not doing so earlier, I decided to return to The Ceremonies, one of my favorite horror novels, to see how the two works compared. My love for The Ceremonies remains, though my perspective on it has changed.
Long ago, something ancient and alien fell from the sky, crashing in what would one day be the East Coast of the United States, then slept. Millennia later, New York professor Jeffrey Friers takes a sabbatical away from the city to study the works of the great Gothic horror masters. He rents the guest house of Deborah and Sarr Poroth, members of a strict religious community in rural New Jersey. Back home, his new girlfriend Carol works as a librarian. All are ignorant that their will is not their own, no relationship an accident of coincidence. Each person is a key to a series rituals that will awaken the old evil beneath the Poroth’s community. One such ritual being hidden in plain sight within the works Friers is studying.
I once considered The Ceremonies to be the perfect horror novel. After reading the source material, this is no longer the case. The seams show and the padding is evident. Weighing in at over 500 pages, much of this padding and exposition could have been excised without the novel losing anything that makes it great.
Despite this flaw, The Ceremonies remains a brilliant work. Though, it is not for everyone. If you prefer your horror fast and gory, you will find Klein’s novel frustrating. The Ceremonies is slow-burning and grinding, foregoing action in favor of building atmosphere. Every horror found in the early pages, from the supernatural to the mundane, is calculated to build this atmosphere. The Ceremonies is a modern day Gothic novel, a work in the vein of Lovecraft’s non-Mythos stories and Arthur Machen.
The latter author is not only an influence on Klein but a major element within the novel. The ritual that can awaken the slumbering ancient is not found in worm-eaten tomes hidden within the rare-books section of fictional libraries, but on the shelves of many stores and homes in the English-speaking world. In making a well-known, real work a major element of the novel Klein not only gives The Ceremonies an aura of authenticity, but makes it a threat to our own world. Any one of us can be the poor sap manipulated by the forces at work in the novel, end of the world can begin on your bookshelf.