Books Magazine

Goodbye, Richard Matheson

By Storycarnivores @storycarnivores

1372111630000-OBIT-RICHARD-MATHESON-jy-03-1306241805_x-largeShaunta: By the time I was in high school, there was maybe a double handful of books that had had a huge impact on me. I kept them in two plastic milk cartons in my closet. When I think about the stories that have impacted me the most, these are the books I think about. I can still remember where and when I came in contact with each one. I took Richard Matheson’s What Dreams May Come from the take-one-leave-one shelf at the library when I was in the eleventh grade and it lived in my milk cartons where it reminded me that the world was bigger than my teenage angst and the real traumas of my life in the late 1980s.

Richard Matheson died yesterday. He was 87 years old. I’ve enjoyed lots of his work, but What Dreams May Come will always hold a special place in my heart. He was one of those incredible mid-20th-century writers whose stories manage to still be relevant 50-plus years later. I am Legend is such a good read that it kind of blows the movie out of the water. He wrote iconic episodes of The Twilight Zone, he adapted Poe, he wrote stories that inspired the authors who inspire me. And he wrote What Dreams May Come, for which I will be grateful for the rest of my life.

Matheson once said, “I think What Dreams May Come is the most important (read effective) book I’ve written. It has caused a number of readers to lose their fear of death – the finest tribute any writer could receive.” What Dreams May Come made it easier for me to process my mother’s death in the mid-1990s. I hope he’s enjoying his own version of heaven now, and if he’s got more stories to tell, that he decides to come back and tell them.

Brian: “Without Richard Matheson, I wouldn’t be around,” Stephen King once said, and I’m sure many authors of horror would say the same thing. Matheson was a genius writer, both in his novels, and in his screenplays and teleplays. One of my favorite shows growing up was The Twilight Zone, which my dad introduced me to when I was eight or nine. Matheson wrote sixteen episodes, including the innovative The Invaders, and the iconic Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. His episodes are always as frightening as they are thought-provoking.

When I was in my early teens I finally discovered the movie that put Steven Spielberg on the map. Not Jaws, mind you, but Duel, his amazing 1971 TV movie that Matheson wrote the script for, based on his short story. A young Spielberg was mostly directing TV episodes at the time, and Duel gave him his first big break. Forty-two years later, the movie still holds up as one of the most suspenseful ever made.

While I have been a lover of books my whole life, there was a period of about six years, age eighteen to twenty-four, that I didn’t read as much as I did as a kid, and as much as I do now. One of the few books I remember getting lost in during this time, however, was I Am Legend. I remember buying it at full price in a Barnes & Noble in Los Angeles, and spending most of my weekend scaring myself silly. I’ve already reserved his haunted house novel Hell House at the library, which I’ve heard is even more terrifying than I Am Legend, and I can’t wait over the next months and years to discover much more of his work. Rest in peace, Mr. Matheson, and thanks for the stories. And nightmares!

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