Friday, January 30, 2015

My Take on "The Funeral," a short story by Richard Matheson

A moment’s preamble:  In June of 2014 I began graduate school at Seton Hill in pursuit of an MFA in writing Popular Fiction. I am enrolled in a course that focuses on monsters, and as a part of that course I am to write a blog post on each book/story/movie that we cover. This is the second installment in a series of such posts.
Since there are a bevy of reviews out there that you can find that will give you a “1-5 star” type review I’m going to attempt to go a different route. I’m going to break each review down into 4 parts: Strength of Character, Genre potency, Poignancy of themes, and Entertainment Value. For each of these I will assign a letter grade. My reviews will contain **SPOILERS**

A brief summary
: Morton Silkline is hired to host a funeral for an undead man, Ludwig Asper. During the funeral, a disagreement breaks out amongst the sordid company and Morton faints. After the event, Morton is counting his money when he is faced with another patron who’s been recommended to him by Ludwig. Morton decides his avarice outweighs his terror and accepts.

Strength of Character: B-
In a short piece such as this, you don’t have a whole lot of time for characterization. What time Matheson spends on building up his characters, he spends efficiently. Morton Silkline is our protagonist here, and we get a nice feel for him as a character by the way he interacts with his customer, delights over chances for fiduciary gain, and is prone to fainting. The story is a tongue-in-cheek sort that relies on the characters as being types for maximum effect, so I dock him a few points for sticking pretty well to the formula. Ludwig Asper is a vampire in the classical sense, as Jenny the Crone is a witch, and the Count is as a Dracula stand-in etc. The most memorable of the bunch is Jenny, and she jumps off the page in her limited action. Overall, I can’t award Matheson with a higher grade because these characters won’t stick with me for their well-rounded personalities, but that’s just fine for this story.

Genre Strength: B
This story is more humorous than frightening by design, and only could be labelled as horror by its use of monsters and not by any sort of fear that it seeks to elicit. It is a nice twist on the genre, genuinely funny, if not quite brilliant. You get the same sort of kick out of this as you might get out of The Adams Family. This is a good example of a story that pushes on the “boundaries” that we might set up in our minds for genres like horror.

Thematic Poignancy: C-
As opposed to his work in I Am Legend, this piece doesn’t do much heavy lifting when it comes to the potency of its themes. I can detect a wry sense of mocking for the frailty of human’s ability to accept things outside the status quo, and some satire leveled at people for being able to overlook distasteful things when money is concerned. Not particularly powerful, but interesting themes nonetheless.

Entertainment Value: B
This was an entertaining story. I got a kick out of all the monsters gathering together to celebrate the funeral of Ludwig, who keeps popping up out of his casket to scold the guests. It was an easy read, and one I would recommend. Part of why it works this well is because of its brevity, and I think it may have worn out its charm if extended.

Random Notes and Final Grade: B-
*I found Matheson’s prose charmingly pedantic here, serving to juxtapose itself against the silliness that was being described.
*More witches need to disappear into spume, orange or otherwise.


  1. Argh!!! I can't believe I didn't drop the Adams Family into my blog. Oh well, but nice connection! And totally true. Hell, it could almost BE an episode itself. And I agree with you on the length. If it had been much longer then I would have gotten very annoyed. I think that's a key in comedy, you can't overstay your welcome. Maybe that's why so many of the "great comics" died young? Who knows, probably a discussion for another time.

  2. I didn't make the adams family catch either...fine work. In other news, I kind of disagree with your character thing. I think there was plenty of opportunity to deepen the characters with one or two lines. Personally, I was more interested in what was happening in the story than what happens to the characters...I kind of found the whole thing to be kind of farcical...but I suspect that was kind of the point. Unfortunately I didn't really take humor in it