“The Funeral” by Richard Matheson: A Review

The Funeral, by Richard Matheson tells the story of a Funeral Director and his encounter with all things horrible, arcane, and witchy. The story, just under 10 pages long, begins when Mr. Asper shows up and books a viewing–for himself. Asper, it turns out, is a vampire and he and his undead friends (including a witch and a werewolf) would like to give him “a proper send off.” As you can imagine, calamity ensues, the funeral director gets bitten by a vampire, and, by the end of the book, has opened up his target market to include all those undead (but only if they pay in gold coins, of course).

As a short story, I didn’t really know what to make of The Funeral. It seemed underdeveloped and half-finished to me. Sure, it had a beginning, middle, and end, but the characters were flat and largely uninteresting. The story seemed to rely on the simply odd-ness of the undead invading a life of normalcy, rather than a cast of round characters with real wants and needs that are made present to the reader. I wonder if the story would have made it in today’s market–not that it was easier to get published in 1955 when The Funeral was first published–but the market has changed. No longer can writers rely on simply an intrusion by the supernatural to carry a story. Granted, at under 10 pages, it’s not hard to stick it out and finish it, but I found The Funeral to be a bit of a letdown from the masterpiece that was I am Legend. 

As with everything in life, however, The Funeral was a mixed bag. In matters of prose and sentences, it far outstrips its novel counterpart. It’s less down-and-dirty than I am Legend’s short, gritty Hemingway sentences. This, however, shows Matheson’s strength as an author. He can write in more than one style, which is harder than one would think.

Principally, however, the biggest problem that I had with The Funeral was that it all seemed very happenstance. For example: Vampire shows up without a real explanation, he schedules an undead viewing and invites all his weird friends, who get into a brawl and end up making a bit of a mess. To me, it looked like Matheson was pushing the story along. I had many questions that were left unanswered. For instance: why did Asper care that he didn’t have a “proper sending off?” As an undead vampire, one would think that he could do other cool undead stuff, like turn into a bat and infect young maidens with vampirism. I’m very big on creating stories that work logically together, meaning stories that don’t leave the reader with a massive “why!!?” At the end. Perhaps it’s just me, but I was getting that “why” when I put the book down.

All problems aside, however, I enjoyed this work as a reader. I turned off my writer brain and tried to allow myself to just enjoy the story. In the end, that’s really all that matters: did the reader enjoy your story. And I did, it was a fun story. I did not, however, connect with the characters or grasp any social commentary or subtext from the piece. But that might be a fault of my own, and not a fault of Matheson’s. After all, he’s published and I’m not.



4 thoughts on ““The Funeral” by Richard Matheson: A Review

  1. It’s interesting to see the variety of responses to the humor of this story. I’m in the camp of being rather amused by it and therefore, am a fan, so to speak. A lot of people seem to be holding it up to “I Am Legend” for comparison, and I admit I did the same, but I think I was able to forget about the novel we’d just read and enjoy the story with a clean palate. Reading the two back to back does make it difficult.

    I wasn’t overly concerned with the “whys” that you thought of, since I just took the whole thing as a bit of goofy Halloween-flavored humor. The characters weren’t particularly round, but I thought they played their parts well.

    All in all, it was nice to see Matheson not take himself so seriously. It gives me hope that no matter how serious a novel I might publish, I could still try and write something screwy.

  2. I like what you said Matheson pushing the story along. Now that I think about, while Asper has an active role in the story, Silkline never does. He simply follows instructions. Most stories don’t work for me unless, at some point, the protagonist becomes proactive. The Funeral worked for me despite this, but I think its shortness had something to do with that. This short story didn’t give me time to notice that the protagonist was being dragged along for the ride and nothing more.

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