Richard Matheson will long be remembered as the grandfather of modern horror writing, the man who took the legacy of Poe and Lovecraft and turned it in a significantly new direction. While this is a fine legacy, it unfortunately ignores the fact that Matheson is one of the greatest short story writers in history, in any genre. It also only touches upon his vast influence, which extends far beyond the bounds of horror.
In the 1950’s and 60’s, Matheson rescued horror from the crypts of Poe and the ancient mythologies of Lovecraft, where it had languishing for some time. Matheson thrust it into the 20th Century, carving away the trappings of rattling ghosts and satanic cults. He crafted terrors that crept through the light of day, that existed not in stuffy Victorian manors but in your modern suburban home, in your 100-kilowatt lit kitchen, beside your shiny new TV. Matheson showed us that nightmares can exist in the world you and I actually live in.
Matheson matched his modern sensibility with a pared-down, modern style. His prose was lean and sharp as a knife. Though rarely mentioned alongside them, Matheson’s style was as stylistically brief and concise as Hemingway’s or Raymond Carver’s. Matheson proved conclusively that horror writing in particular, and fantastic writing in general, did not need to adhere to the formulas of Lovecraft or Henry James, formulas which relied entirely upon sustaining mood and feeling. Matheson’s stories were shots of white lightning.
Sadly, Matheson’s work is not as well known today as it was mid-century. However, his influence is still felt, through writers such as Stephen King, Joe Hill, and Joe Lansdale, as well as in the continued remakes of his works into major Hollywood films.
Richard Matheson Books to Read:
I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Stir of Echoes, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, Duel, What Dreams May Come, Bid Time Return.
Richard Matheson Links: