Monday, July 8, 2013

Richard Matheson remembered

Richard Matheson died the week before last. You might not recognize his name, but you know his work:

William Shatner gaping at a shaggy gremlin standing on the wing of his airliner in "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"; Dennis Weaver dodging a murderous tanker truck in Duel; Christopher Reeve willing himself physically back to turn-of-the-century Mackinac Island and Jane Seymour in Somewhere in Time; Robin Williams going literally to hell to save his wife's soul in What Dreams May Come; Will Smith alone, the last living human being in a world of vampires, in I Am Legend — Matheson stories all.

Matheson was prolific, versatile, visionary. Over a six-decade career he wrote scores of short stories, novels, screenplays for film and television—even a treatise on metaphysics. He is known mainly as a science fiction and horror writer but was in fact an all-around master of genre fiction. In addition to his better-known work, Matheson wrote noirish crime fiction, Westerns and romances (e.g. Somewhere in Time) as well or better than anyone.

Some of his most memorable stories were written or adapted for The Twilight Zone, which showcased his genius for conjuring characters and situations of such perfect, everyday ordinariness that the intrusion of the uncanny was at once absolutely believable and absolutely terrifying. Stephen King, whose best work shares these virtues, acknowledged his debt to Matheson: "He fired my imagination by placing his horrors not in European castles and Lovecraftian universes, but in American scenes I knew and could relate to."

Matheson's death brings nearly to a close that chapter in American cultural history written by a generation who grew up during the Great Depression, fought in the Second World War and returned home with an urgent need to write. Having seen and experienced the worst of human fecklessness and inhuman savagery, Matheson—like Kurt Vonnegut, Rod Serling, Gene Roddenberry, et al.—nevertheless retained a potent faith in humanity and in the power of art to edify and to inspire. Their passing diminishes us; may they rest in peace.

To request Matheson's books, click the photo or titles above.

Review by Don Beistle   

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