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"How Quickly One Accepts the Incredible If Only One Sees It": Richard Matheson Takes His Leave

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Trade News | June 25, 2013 | Comments ()


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Richard Matheson was a rare giant of science fiction, though his name was little known outside those circles of souls who lived their lives between dog eared pages of ancient paperbacks scavenged from used book stores. His name didn't tend to get much air play outside of that small world of science fiction lovers, despite the repeated adaptations of his novels to the screen. It's a shame that so many who did run across his name, only did so in passing while reading about one movie or another.

But his words were poetry made prose, with that talent for adding just enough of the alien to render the familiar world magnificent and awe-inspiring. His science fiction tiptoed just on the edge of the world we lived in every day, making it crackle with a connection to reality that was beyond the grasp of many of his more famous contemporaries who wrote so much further beyond the ken of the mundane. Stephen King has said that Matheson was the single largest influence on his writing.

He died yesterday, with his daughter by his side, at the age of 86. It's a number larger than most, but no obituary has ever contained a number that represented enough time when all was said and done.

Matheson wrote half of the "Twilight Zone" episodes that you remember offhand, and a brilliant "Star Trek" episode in addition to the novels "I am Legend" and "What Dreams May Come". Find the nearest store with old paperbacks stacked to the ceiling and get his books, his short story collections. They blow away everything ever adapted from them.

A coda here, some of his most beautiful words to encourage you to find more of them:

"Something black and of the night had come crawling out of the Middle Ages. Something with no framework or credulity, something that had been consigned, fact and figure, to the pages of imaginative literature. Vampires were passé; Summers' idylls or Stoker's melodramatics or a brief inclusion in the Britannica or grist for the pulp writer's mill or raw material for the B-film factories. A tenuous legend passed from century to century. Well, it was true ... but no one ever got the chance to know it. Oh, they knew it was something, but it couldn't be that -- not that. That was imagination, that was superstition, there was no such thing as that. And, before science had caught up with the legend, the legend had swallowed science and everything."


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  • frank247

    "He died yesterday, with his daughter by his side, at the age of 86. It’s a number larger than most, but no obituary has ever contained a number that represented enough time when all was said and done."

    *slow applause*

  • protoformX

    My favorite of his books is "Now You See It." It is one of the few books written in the first person perspective as its happening that I can truly believe. For some reason that type of narrative has always come across flawed to me except for this book. Anytime someone asks me to recommend something to read to them, this is always my first choice. Do you like magic tricks? Well, this book is a magic trick. This book is THE magic trick.

    What? You don't like magic tricks? This isn't some Cris Angel shit... or the guy in a block of ice in NY type shit... This is Ed Norton in The Illusionist or Christian Bale in The Prestige, whichever one of those you don't hate...
    Hate both? Then piss off, there's just no helping some people.

  • Samantha Schltr

    I think most people would recognise his work but not know it is him. As a fan of dusty hand bookstores, he became one of my favourites. Let's hope his vision for the afterlife is what he gets!

  • Scootsa1000

    The first movie I can ever remember watching that scared me beyond belief was Duel. My mom loved Dennis Weaver and would always watch it when it was on tv in the 80s -- which was a lot. When I was in Junior High, she got me a book of his short stories, which led to my discovery of Stephen King. And when my dad told me that he also wrote the Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, my head almost exploded. So much brilliance.

  • Jerce

    Oh God how I have loved this guy's writing. You are right that he never received his rightful accolades; but storytellers will continue to emulate him and his stories have already demonstrated their staying power. He had a long, productive live but I'm still sorry he's not with us any more.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    Between Matheson and Iaian Banks this has been a shit month for science fiction. I'm just going to go over here and sulk.

  • DataAngel

    And it wasn't really that long ago we lost Bradbury, too. Matheson really hurts, though.

  • John W

    Man when I was kid Nightmare at 20,000 feet scared the hell out of me. Several years later Trilogy of Terror did the same thing.

    R.I.P. Richard Matheson.

  • Guest

    Oh God -- that doll!

  • I Am Legend, with Will Smith, made me familiar with Matheson's name and prompted me to pick up a book that contained the original novel and a number of other short stories. For that reason alone, if no other, I can't hate that movie.

    Also, in my mind, the theatrical ending has been replaced with the more faithful alternate ending, and I'll hear no differently.

  • He also wrote The Incredible Shrinking Man, Duel, and The Night Stalker.

    Three of my favorite movies ever.

  • BWeaves

    That was the most beautiful obituary I've ever read.

    I know his works even if I didn't really know his name.

  • Feralhousecat

    This one hurts.

  • Fredo

    “ Full circle, he thought while the final lethargy crept into his limbs. Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.”

    No one writes like that anymore.

    RIP.

  • Quatermain

    'I Am Legend' is fucking brilliant and it's a crying shame it's never gotten the cinematic respect it deserves. Also, outside of Rod Serling, Matheson was always the best thing about 'The Twilight Zone.'

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