Birthday Reviews: T.E.D. Klein’s “The Events at Poroth Farm”

Birthday Reviews: T.E.D. Klein’s “The Events at Poroth Farm”

Cover by Oscar Grand
Cover by Oscar Grand

T.E.D. (Theodore Eibon Donald) Klein was born on July 15, 1947.

In 1986, Klein won the World Fantasy Award for his Novella “Nadelman’s God” and also won the August Derleth Fantasy Award for his novel The Ceremonies. In 2012, World Horror Con named Klein a Grand Master. He was a two-time nominee for the coveted Balrog Award and was nominated for the World Fantasy Award seven times.

Klein’s first story was “The Events at Poroth Farm,” originally published in the fanzine From Beyond the Dark, edited by Edward P. Berglund in December 1972. Despite its fannish origins, the story was picked up by Richard Davis for The Year’s Best Horror Stories No. 3 and was translated into German for publication in that anthology. The story was also nominated for the World Fantasy Award and Gahan Wilson included it in First World Fantasy Awards. In 1984, Klein expanded the story to novel length and published it as The Ceremonies. The novella was published as a chap book in 1990. David Drake and Martin H. Greenberg reprinted it in A Century of Horror: 1970-1979 and Scott David Aniolowski included it in Return to Lovecraft Country. The story was also included in Eternal Lovecraft : The Persistence of H. P. Lovecraft in Popular Culture, edited by Jim Turner. Klein used it in his collection Reassuring Tales and S.T. Joshi used it in the anthology American Supernatural Tales. Peter Straub used it in American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940s to Now. Klein revised the story in 2012 for inclusion in the e-book The Cthulhu Mythos Megapack.

“The Events at Poroth Farm” is a Lovecraftian tale told as a series of diary entries bookended by a prologue and epilogue by the diary’s author, who has managed to survive the horror on the isolated farm where he rented a room for three months.

The prologue is overwritten as is much Lovecraftian style fiction and descriptive of the community in which the narrator has found himself, a secluded place to read Gothic novels in preparation for teaching a class on it in the Fall. His entries detail his growing relationship with his landlords, Sarr and Deborah Porath, as well as their clowder of cats.

The horror begins when the narrator finds one of the cats dead, a hole in its side apparently made from inside the cat. Before he can tell his hosts about their cat, the creature shows up, alive, and begins a reign of terror, not only of the other cats and chickens, but eventually of the humans living on Poroth Farm.

Perhaps due to the narrator’s interest in Gothic literature, he begins to entertain ideas of some sort of demonic possession, although his suppositions come too late for him to act on them to save the farm’s inhabitants. Although Klein provides a conclusion, a continuation of the story as the mundane world reasserts itself on the terror would have been a worthwhile addition, further setting “The Events at Poroth Farm” apart from the traditional horror story.

Reprint reviewed in the anthology Eternal Lovecraft: The Persistence of H.P. Lovecraft in Popular Culture, edited by Jim Turner, Golden Gryphon Press 2010.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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James McGlothlin

Clearly one of the greatest horror writers of all time. Personally, I’m “in-Kleined” to rank him as *the* greatest horror writer of all time. His Dark Gods is one of the greatest collections of horror literature ever, though sadly it doesn’t include “The Events at Poroth Farm”.

Thanks for this birthday review!

Rich Horton

Another day with not very many candidates — the only other possible choice, and an interesting one, that I can find is Robert Conquest, who wrote two stories for Analog and one for Galaxy. (As well as a novel, A World of Difference.)

Rich Horton

Oh, yeah, Christopher Golden would be a good choice, too. I’ve even used one of his stories in my anthologies.

As you know, I’m usually not a horror guy (though the Golden story I used was pretty horrific in its way!), but I certainly agree that T.E.D. Klein is a very major figure.

John Hocking

Klein’s work represents some of the finest supernatural horror to see print.
And while I’ll get right on board with James in declaring the author’s collection Dark Gods to be superb, I feel a need to stand up for The Ceremonies, the novel that sprang from Events at Poroth Farm.
Frequently regarded as inferior to the short story, The Ceremonies seems to me to be the best example of supernatural horror I have read at novel-length.
Arguably diffuse and slow when contrasted with the short story, the novel builds an amazing sense of cumulative power as it rolls along, suggesting a vast network of otherworldly evil slowly surfacing in the natural world. This is Lovecraft’s “spectral fear”, fear of the unknown, of forces outside human experience and nature as we know it, presented at length, in depth, and with eerie elegance.
If anyone has read a better example of this kind of horror in novel format I should be delighted to learn of it.

Back in the eighties, having discovered Klein and working in a huge bookstore, I hunted up as much info on the author as I could. In an interview I learned that writing was agony for him, that he had every kind of writer’s block. I wrote to the magazine where the interview appeared, shouting praise and encouraging Klein to write more (the letter was printed under the heading, “Klein Fan Wants More Blood”).
And I watched as his second novel, Nighttown, was announced, then delayed, then delayed again, then finally cancelled. I recall an interview in which Klein lamented that a story element in the book was duplicated in a recently released horror film, the title of which escapes me and which is emphatically unimportant now.
Does anybody know if Nighttown ever appeared in any form? The fact that Klein stopped writing when he did seems tragic to me, but if there’s a complete second novel by the guy out there, unread and lost— that’s a real-life horror story

James McGlothlin

@John Hocking

I’ve never heard that story about Klein’s novel (Nighttown) being cancelled. As far as I know, it never materialized. He put out a new collection of stories a few years ago, which was incredibly hard to acquire. I was attempting to do so when almost every review I read said how inferior it was. I decided not to track it down after that. Perhaps the novel should stay mercifully hidden.

One small comment: I read Ceremonies and found it to be too cumbersome. It seemed to me to follow the Stephen King, too long for its own good, 80s horror novel model. It was OK, in my opinion.

John Hocking

I also heard that Klein’s last collection was basically latter day notes and minor early efforts.
But Nighttown was announced in 1986-87, which would have made its composition roughly contemporaneous with Nadelman’s God. The interview made it seem that Klein was so disillusioned that a film had been released with a sub-plot similar to part of his novel that he basically felt his work was invalidated by it. I wish I knew more and could judge for myself.

Yeah, you’re certainly not alone in finding The Ceremonies to be cumbersome and I can’t really leap up and try to defend it from that charge.
I just can’t think of any novel length work so concerned with building such an overpowering, pervasive sense of encroaching supernatural evil. Nature itself is showing signs of a slow transformation into something unrecognizable and hostile. And the protagonist is completely unaware he is playing a crucial part in the process.
There is a scene where the reader suddenly recognizes that the protagonist has unwittingly triggered a kind of spell and is involuntarily initiating a magical ritual the nature and intent of which are hidden but clearly deeply malign. I never read anything like it before or since.

Again, are there any other novels that even try to create this Lovecraftian accumulation of weird details that allow the reader to perceive the supernatural at work?
I sense I’m a lone voice in this, but I think that the weaknesses of The Ceremonies are vastly overshadowed by its excellences.

John ONeill

What I remember most about THE CEREMONIES is that (I was told) it was acquired at the height of the Stephen King-fueled horror boom, the publisher and the author both expected a bestseller, and when that failed to materialize it permanently scarred Klein’s career.

I believed it at the time but, looking back, it seems more idle speculation than anything factual. John H’s comments above on Klein’s serious difficulties with writing seem to me to be more plausible.

Whatever the reason, for an 18-month period in the early 80s T.E.D Klein was spoken of as the Next Big Thing in horror, and then he seemed to completely vanish.

James McGlothlin

That’s some helpful insight John ONeill. I can see why horror enthusiasts would’ve been tempted to think that Klein might end up being the Next Big Thing. But, given King’s sort of average Joe sentimentality (not a slam against him), I think that exuberance was overly stoked. Maybe I’m fooling myself but I see Klein’s writing as a little more complex than King’s.

Thomas Parker

A horror writer who mysteriously loses his gift would make a great – dare I say it – horror story.

Klein is hardly a contender for the championship in this regard, though. One of my very favorite novels is Fat City, by Leonard Gardner. It was published in 1969 when Gardner was 26 and it was his first novel…and his last. The book was highly acclaimed, for good reason – it’s so good it practically glows. But the only thing that followed it was a story or two and a couple of pieces of journalism. Gardner is still around; he worked in television as a writer and producer for a while. But no second novel.

Writer’s block? Or did he recognize that he had hit a grand slam his first at bat and just decide to retire to the clubhouse? A mystery…

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