26 September 2010

"The Funeral" by Richard Matheson

The 2007 Orb edition. (Source)
I would like to preface this post with my recent experience, which many of you can glean from my previous entry. My father passed away unexpectedly and my Mom, brother, and I had to travel to NYC to meet up with my sister, who has lived with Dad for the past seven years. We were there for five days and it was rush, rush, rush, calling hours, funeral, clean up, and we're flying back to our homes again.

You can understand to a certain degree why I've put off reading horror altogether. For a while I just wasn't in the mood to think about monsters and dead people, and when I reminded myself that I am in graduate school and would like to succeed, I snapped into overdrive. I checked the roster: Richard Matheson's "The Funeral." I didn't feel like reading it at first, but that's because I judged the work simply on the basis of the title and the melancholy, grieving mood I was in. That's just as bad as judging a book by its cover. But it was a pleasant surprise and not at all something that would cause a bereaved person to have nightmares about funerals.

This was a fun, quick read, and if you are partial to the deliberate over-inflation and embellishment of the English language, you will enjoy how Matheson plays with it in this piece.

"The Funeral" would have to be the complete polar opposite of Matheson's famous work, I Am Legend, in terms of form and function. In my previous post you can see that Matheson employs straightforward, sparse diction. It's a tense work, and as such, language can be a burden if you are shooting for urgency in your writing. In comparison, this nine-page short story reads like the offspring of the lace on an Edwardian Valentine's Day card and your grandmother's old doilies. For example:
I Am Legend: "On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back" (13).
"The Funeral: "Morton Silkline was in his office musing over floral arrangements for the Fenton obsequies when the chiming strains of "I am Crossing o'er the Bar to Join the Choir Invisible" announced an entrant into Clooney's Cut-Rate Catafalque" (261).
"The Funeral" plays with the idea of the undead, namely Ludwig Asper, requesting a funeral: "You see, [...] I never had a proper going off. It was catch-as-catch-can, you might say; all improvised. Nothing--how shall I put it?--tasty. [...] I always regretted that. [...] I always intended to make up for it" (263).

Of course, when Asper's fellow monsters attend, it doesn't go so smoothly. We have the presence of a witch, the generic disfigured manservant ("Ygor" in this story instead of "Igor"), a "gentleman from Carpathia" (vampire, alluding to Dracula), the Wolfman, and others in attendance. Essentially what we have is the Monster Mash! A graveyard smash!

And every monster who makes an appearance fits his stereotypical image to a tee. So not only is the actual premise of this story humorous, but again it comes back to language and tone. When I began reading, I was filled with sounds and images: I thought of stuffy brocade jackets and cravats of the overly proper 19th century gentlemen,  and, for whatever reason, the narrative voice of Peter O'Toole. After all that, I was crossing my fingers for a bowler hat and monocle to appear.

This may not be the image Matheson wants to plant in his readers' heads, but due to the overly flowery language and diction, it makes for a funny story, but also a cautionary tale. "The Funeral" is a piece-by-piece demonstration to the fiction novice of how NOT to use language in the narrative of a serious, straight piece...unless of course, you want to be viewed as stuffy, antiquated, or unintentionally hilarious. Great vocabulary does not always impress, and can detract from the story. And the beginning novelist who fattens his prose with such wording may ultimately reveal that he has no idea of what he is actually trying to say.

Work Cited

Matheson, Richard. "The Funeral." I Am Legend. Orb Trade Paperback ed. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 1995. 261-69. Print. Ser. October 2007.

2 comments:

  1. Fantastic post, Kristina!

    I'm glad your brain has defogged to some degree. I hope your family is as well as possible.

    Thanks for plugging my post. Because you mentioned the Night Gallery link, I embedded a similar link in my Yattering post, this one to an episode of TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE.

    I'd never heard of SHOCKHEADED PETER until this post. He's terrifying... and mesmerizing, the stuff of real horror. I'll look into him.

    I enjoyed your analysis of Matheson's story, too, especially your last line, which made me grin.

    As far as the ridiculous, embroidered sentences go, sorry, don't have one handy... I'm a bit injured that way, as a middle school teacher; hell hath no fury like a twelve-year-old with a thesaurus.

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  2. John, hooray for commenting! I'm glad you enjoyed my post.

    When I discuss Clive Barker I will happily send my readers your way for some multimedia fun and great insight.

    SHOCKHEADED PETER was a wild ride. The story is actually from a German Victorian chapbook called Struwwelpelter (I am most likely spelling this wrong). It's like a penny dreadful for children and talks about the nasty things that happen if you don't have good manners, etc. etc. Most of the children in the book and musical die in very nasty ways.

    The character you are mesmerized by is simply referred to as the MC (Master of Ceremonies). The first time you see him, he slowly walks out onstage and glares at the audience, making eye contact with everybody. Then, in a booming theatrical, Shakespearean voice, he says, "I am...the GREATEST ACTOR... in the world!" He narrates the show and interacts with all the actors in almost every scebe. He is an incredible character and the man who played him even more so!! The actor's name is Julian Bleach and he helped create the show, along with his fellow actors and The Tigerliles, who provided the music (although the actors sang with them, too).

    The character of Shockheaded Peter is actually somewhat of a mystery. His story is broken down into pieces, told in between other tales, and you never actually see him until near the end of the show. His character is a little boy who is kept under the floorboards by his mean parents, and he has long, wild hair and creepy, long fingernails.

    They took down the official website when the show closed, so info on it is harder to find, but if you dig for it, it's worth it. I loved it!

    Long Live Horror Theatre!

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