I like to read something special for a holiday. In 2020, deep in the pandemic, I spent a long week whiling over The Cider House Rules, a novel I read and absolutely loved when it first came out. I was considering what to read this year, when it occurred to me that I had not read T.E.D. Klein’s The Ceremonies since it was originally published. That was quite a few moons ago, and my memories about it were vague. The Ceremonies is a book that requires attention and a little patience, so a week off is the perfect time to indulge in it.
The most frustrating thing about T.E.D. Klein is that he reportedly hates writing. The guy seems to have decided to write the greatest horror novel ever published and then call it quits.
The greatest horror novel of all time? That’s a weighty sentence. There is serious competition. Ghost Story, The Haunting of Hill House, I Am Legend, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, Fevre Dream. Funny how all these are older books. I like and greatly respect a lot of newer material, but I can’t put my finger on any that are in the same league as the above titles.
The Ceremonies is written in a style reminiscent of classic literature. Klein was clearly influenced by Lovecraft, Machen, Blackwood, and other genre pioneers. It’s a big book, rich in detail and deeply foreboding. It’s possibly too understated for many of today’s impatient readers.
Unlike most classic horror/gothic literature that is heavily steeped in atmosphere and plot, but short on character, The Ceremonies is filled with richly-drawn people who come to vivid life on the pages.
I could probably describe The Ceremonies as “Folk Horror” if I was the type to employ silly generic classifications for various types of stories. The Ceremonies is a horror novel, plain and simple.
The story begins with a young boy who makes a ghastly discovery in the woods. One that changes his very spirit. Decades later an academic rents a room in a secluded area of New Jersey that is home to a strict religious sect. In New York City a woman is approached by an eccentric old man with an irresistible offer to earn some desperately-needed extra cash. These situations are being orchestrated by a diabolical force in order to bring about a series of ceremonies that could bring darkness to the entire planet.
The Ceremonies combines classic horror concepts with modern storytelling technique. I read it early in my days as a serious student of horror fiction. This novel, along with a very few others, set a standard for the genre that precious few other practitioners have even approached. The Ceremonies is stylistic but terrifying. It’s a perfect marriage of the old and what was in 1985 a burgeoning new horizon for horror fiction.
I spent a week reading The Ceremonies. I didn’t rush. A book as good as this one demands patience and exactitude from a reader. It not only lives up to my memories, but exceeds them.
Maybe its better that T.E.D. Klein never did another novel. With The Ceremonies he created the perfect horror story. Could he have improved? It’s hard to imagine how anyone could follow up such a masterpiece with something better.
I thought about The Ceremonies long after I completed the final page. I was reflecting upon how much I loved horror at the time, and how the field was in a renaissance. It was the exact right time to get on board and become a fan. You had legends like Bloch, Matheson and Ray Russell still writing. New guys like Tom Monteleone, Charles Grant, and F. Paul Wilson were storming the fortress. There was Karl Edward Wagner, Dennis Etchison, Richard Christian Matheson. Stephen King, then as now, dominated the field.
T.E.D. Klein was at the forefront of it all, and not just with The Ceremonies. He was the founding editor of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Magazine. For my money this was the greatest magazine of its kind ever conceived.
I broke out my old issues the other night. My wife and I flipped through a lot of them, and today I am astonished at how this sort of thing was right there on the newsstands. TZ Magazine had it all. Horror, SF, fantasy. Its pages were graced with King and Straub. Harlan Ellison was in it a lot. Virtually every big name was there. Even literary heavy-hitters like Joyce Carol Oates and Isaac Bashevis Singer were in the pages of TZ.
Is it any wonder I became an incurable horror fan? When I had material like that regularly available right there at WaldenBooks?
T.E.D. Klein’s The Ceremonies is currently in print. Yes, in print. I don’t believe there is an ebook. There is, however, an audio edition. I don’t want to knock that one, but The Ceremonies is a book that you should read.
Klein also gave us a volume of novellas called Dark Gods, which like The Ceremonies is required reading for anyone who gives a damn about great horror fiction. It’s currently out of print and copies are expensive. Thankfully PS Publishing, who also did the new edition of The Ceremonies, has Dark Gods coming as a trade paperback. The hardcover is sold out prior to publication.
Finally, there is a collection of short stories by Klein called Reassuring Tales. Subterranean Press did a nice hardcover of it back in ’06. It of course is long out of print, but Pickman’s Press has published a brand new expanded edition. The ebook and the paperback can be obtained immediately. A POD hardcover, which I am waiting for, is due at any time.
I don’t know how popular Klein will be with newer readers. He may be too stylish, too methodical for some. I am heartened by the warm reception for Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street. This proves that literary fiction that demands hard concentration and patience has not gone out of style.
I hope I’ve whetted a few appetites for the work of T.E.D. Klein. For The Ceremonies in particular. I honestly consider it to be the greatest horror novel ever written.
Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of Terror, Sir Graves Ghastly Presents, The Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon Lover, The Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. Cemetery Dance recently released his collection He Who Types Between the Rows: A Decade of Horror Drive-In. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and at www.horrordrive-in.com.