Authors: Richard Matheson

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist, short-story writer, and screenwriter

Author Works

Long Fiction:

I Am Legend, 1954

The Shrinking Man, 1956

A Stir of Echoes, 1958

The Beardless Warriors, 1960

Hell House, 1971

Bid Time Return, 1975 (also known as Somewhere in Time)

What Dreams May Come, 1979

Earthbound, 1982

Journal of the Gun Years, 1992

The Gunfight, 1993

Seven Steps to Midnight, 1993

Shadow on the Sun, 1994

Now You See It ..., 1995

Noir: Three Novels of Suspense, 1997

The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok, 1996

Hunger and Thirst, 2000

Passion Play, 2000

Camp Pleasant, 2001

Hunted Past Reason, 2002

Come Fygures, Come Shadowes, 2003

Short Fiction:

Born of Man and Woman: Tales of Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1954

Third from the Sun, 1955

The Shores of Space, 1957

Shock, 1961

Shock II, 1964

Shock III, 1966

By the Gun: Six from Richard Matheson, 1993

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories, 2002

Offbeat: Uncollected Stories, 2002

Duel: Terror Stories, 2003

Screenplays:

The Incredible Shrinking Man, 1957

The Beat Generation, 1959

The House of Usher, 1960

The Pit and the Pendulum, 1961

Master of the World, 1961

Tales of Terror, 1962

Burn, Witch, Burn, 1962

The Raven, 1963

The Comedy of Terrors, 1964

Die! Die! My Darling!, 1965

The Young Warriors, 1967

The Devil’s Bride, 1968

De Sade, 1969

Legend of Hell House, 1973

Somewhere in Time, 1980

Jaws 3, 1983

Teleplays:

Duel, 1971

Ghost Story, 1972

The Night Stalker, 1972

The Night Strangler, 1973

Dying Room Only, 1973

Scream of the Wolf, 1973

Dracula, 1974

Trilogy of Terror, 1974

The Morning After, 1974

Dead of Night, 1975

The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver, 1977

The Martian Chronicles, 1980

Richard Matheson’s “The Twilight Zone” Scripts, 1998

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Abu and the Seven Marvels, 2002

Nonfiction:

The Path, 1993

Mediums Rare, 2000

A Primer of Reality, 2002

Edited Text:

Robert Bloch: Appreciations of the Master, 1995 (with Ricia Mainhardt)

Biography

The novelist, short-story writer, and scriptwriter Richard Burton Matheson revolutionized American supernatural fiction by injecting elements of the horrific into everyday situations. He was born in 1926 to Norwegian immigrants. Neither of his parents encouraged him to write, but Matheson began writing poems and stories at the age of seven. Following a childhood in Brooklyn he graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1943. During World War II he served with the U.S. Army, an experience he later incorporated into his novel The Beardless Warriors.{$I[AN]9810000989}{$I[A]Matheson, Richard}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Matheson, Richard}{$I[tim]1926;Matheson, Richard}

His career as a professional fiction writer actually began after he earned a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. Unable to find a job in journalism, Matheson began writing science-fiction stories because that genre was selling well at the time. Yet his stories do not lend themselves to categorization. They lack the rational, scientific explanations that are usual in true science fiction. Unlike the protagonists in fantasy fiction, his main characters are ordinary people who discover that terror lurks beneath the familiar, comfortable veneer of reality. Matheson’s stories represent a breakthrough in American horror fiction, which up to that time had been dominated by the influence of H. P. Lovecraft, a writer of the 1920’s and 1930’s, whose characters are terrorized by mythical gods.

In February, 1950, Matheson sold his first story, “Born of Man and Woman,” the tale of a mutant child chained in a basement. Matheson elaborated on this idea of a trapped protagonist in his novel I Am Legend. The hero, a Californian who takes it upon himself to rid the world of vampires, resembles the single-minded males of Matheson’s short stories. The suburban setting is another characteristic that Matheson transferred to the novel from his short stories. The novel bears a closer resemblance to science fiction than to horror because Matheson presents a scientific explanation, though not a very sound one, for a plague of vampires. With the publication of this novel, Matheson’s reputation as a science-fiction writer became firmly established.

Matheson’s next novel, The Shrinking Man, received enormous critical acclaim. Published two years after I Am Legend, this novel, like other science-fiction novels of the 1950’s, reflects the paranoia prevalent during the era of Senator Joseph McCarthy. In this work, too, the hero, Scott Carey, is an ordinary, flawed man who, through an implausible scientific process, is trapped in a hostile world. The association of sex with death and revulsion, which is evident in several of Matheson’s earlier stories, is also present. The Shrinking Man can be interpreted as a statement on human alienation and approaches allegory. Aside from the many innovations that I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man contain, they also depart from the conventional happy endings that were popular in science-fiction novels of the 1950’s.

During the 1960’s Matheson wrote screenplays for a series of films based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. In his loose adaptations of such stories as “The Fall of the House of Usher” Matheson builds the horror up gradually. His screenplays are strongest when they deal with the theme of his best short stories: persecution.

Although Matheson’s first two novels can be loosely classified as science fiction, many of his later novels are more accurately described as supernatural fantasies. Bid Time Return combines the time travel motif with the romantic love story. In this novel Matheson dispenses with scientific explanations; his hero simply wills himself back to the nineteenth century. His next novel, What Dreams May Come, is another love story in a fantasy context. In its hero’s attempt to reunite himself with his wife in the afterlife, the novel bears a close resemblance to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Earthbound is the revision of a psychological ghost story he had written when he was twelve years old. With this novel Matheson dispensed with the science-fiction framework of his earlier novels and stories. He has also written in a style free of the pretentious metaphors that marred his early efforts.

In his 1993 novel Seven Steps to Midnight, it first appears that the hero, Chris Barton, is struggling against covert agencies and supernatural forces. Elements of the fantastic seem to play a crucial role in the novel until Matheson’s concluding revelation that the apparently supernatural events were caused by humans and have rational explanations. This novel indicates a new phase of Matheson’s work, where appearances are deceiving and reality is hard to define. Matheson continued this trend in his 1995 novel, Now You See It . . . , which concerns the intricate deceptions practiced by an illusionist and his wife.

Hunger and Thirst was actually the first novel Matheson wrote, completing the manuscript in 1950, when his agent told him it was unpublishable. The story of a man lying paralyzed and dying from a gunshot wound received in a botched robbery, Hunger and Thirst shows what skill Matheson had as a writer even at the beginning of his career. Passion Play is another fifty-year-old manuscript retrieved from the drawer, this one a noir murder mystery involving a door-to-door salesman and a seductive blonde. Camp Pleasant is a short novel about a murder at a summer camp, depicting the brutality of the head of the camp whom, in standard mystery fashion, everyone has a motive to kill. Hunted Past Reason is a horrific take on Hemingway-esque outdoors fiction, in which two men take a hiking trip that turns into a kill-or-be-killed contest. Come Fygures, Come Shadowes is a novel that Matheson began writing–estimating it would be 2,000 pages long–in the 1970’s. Dissuaded from it by his editor, parts of the novel were published in short-story form, but finally the completed section of the novel, which holds together without the 18,000-odd words Matheson never got around to writing, was published in 2003. The story takes place in the 1930’s and concerns a young woman whose mother forces her daughter to follow in her footsteps as a professional medium.

Although Matheson’s style became less ornate with each successive novel, the themes of his work have remained unchanged. He has shunned the mythic landscape preferred by his forerunners in favor of the contemporary world, where stress, not a primordial demon, is the real evil. Many readers can easily identify with Matheson’s alienated protagonists, who often fear persecution from a real or unreal enemy. The traps into which they fall resemble the pitfalls facing ordinary people. Just as his protagonists find themselves locked in a giant oven or a casket underground, so do many people feel trapped in boring jobs, failed marriages, or self-destructive lifestyles. Matheson is one of the twentieth century’s premier fantasists, the power of whose writing derives from his method of injecting only a small amount of fantasy into real life.

BibliographyBrejla, Terry. The Devils of His Own Creation: The Life and Work of Richard Matheson. New York: Writers Club, 2002. A biography emphasizing Matheson’s role as the father of modern horror fiction.Neilson, Keith. “Richard Matheson.” In Supernatural Fiction Writers, edited by Everett F. Bleiler. 2d ed. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003. Provides an excellent overview and analysis of his work.Oakes, David. Science and Destabilization in the Modern American Gothic: Lovecraft, Matheson, and King. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000. After an overview of the American gothic genre from 1798 to 1900, the author covers the works of H. P. Lovecraft, Matheson, and Stephen King in depth, showing the ways in which all three authors represent science as a force that disrupts the lives of characters and the natural order of things.
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