Richard Matheson: I Am Authorial Legend

Sometimes, a storyteller can leave behind a multitude of stories that strike a chord with their audience. Perhaps it is the way of how the story is told that is so striking. Maybe it’s the idea that the story is centered around that is so inspired that people can’t help but take notice. Whatever it may be, a storyteller can grab the attention of people with the narratives that they leave behind. However, sometimes it may seem that while the stories are remembered, the storyteller might not. Sure, some circles will still keep that storyteller in mind, but the general public may lose sight and forget the person who gave them that story. This is a shame, for it is worth remembering the storytellers. By knowing who they are, we can explore their network of narratives beyond just the works that remain in the public eye. That is why I wish to remind readers of a particular author who I feel has fallen out of the public consciousness: Richard Matheson.

For those unfamiliar with Richard Matheson, let me offer a little backstory. Back in 1950, Matheson wrote a short story that was published in “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction”. It was a story called Born of Man and Woman, about a deformed child chained up in its parents’ basement. Weaving a chilling tale of abuse written from the point of view of the child’s diary entries, it caught people’s attention. From there, he continued to write short stories, but he didn’t limit himself to just that format. He also wrote full-length novels, along with writing scripts for television and movies. In fact, one series that he wrote for was The Twilight Zone, a classic science fiction anthology series for which he adapted several of his own short stories. His work was not just limited to the ’50s and ’60s, however. He kept on writing through the years, until his death on June 23rd, 2013. He left behind a large body of work, covering a wide variety of genres. It’s really impressive the sheer expanse of what he could write. Even more impressive is all the interesting ideas he could come up with for stories.

It almost seemed like there was no genre from with Matheson could approach with an interesting story. For example, plenty can be said of his work with science fiction, whether through short stories like Third from the Sun or in full novels like The Shrinking Man. He delivered horror of all kinds, from short stories like The Likeness of Julie which deliver quick jolts of fear and paranoia to full-length works like Hell House which allow the horror to build and simmer across the pages. He could craft a comedy, such as with stories like The Splendid Source (about a millionaire seeking the origin of dirty jokes) or The Creeping Terror (a parody of horror, presenting a story of Los Angeles spreading across the U.S. and infecting people with self-absorbed attitudes among other symptoms). He could offer romance, such as with the novel Bid Time Return, which concerns a man who travels back in time and falls in love with the subject of a beautiful portrait. Even Westerns were a genre he could find a sharp tale in, such as with his short story The Conqueror, about a city slicker who tries to act the part of a skilled gunman only to face the consequences of it. It’s so striking how much he could tackle with his considerable skill, yet the average person will probably not be familiar with his work. It’s even more incredible when you consider how many films or television shows have been based on his work.

As it was mentioned before, Richard Matheson did work for The Twilight Zone. He adapted a few of his own short stories for the series, some of which would become classic episodes. These include such episodes as Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, about a man who finds a gremlin on the wing of his plane, and Little Girl Lost, about a young girl who slips through a portal to another dimension and her parents’ desperate bid to find her. Of course, this show was not the only avenue in which his writing was brought to the screen. Numerous films have been based on his stories, whether by taking one of his novels and adapting it or expanding on one of his short stories. Bid Time Return was brought to the big screen as Somewhere in Time back in 1980, with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour as its leads. In 1957, The Shrinking Man became a classic sci-fi picture as The Incredible Shrinking ManSteel, a short story about a struggling manager in a world of robotic boxing, was reimagined back in 2011 as Real Steel with Hugh Jackman starring in the film. In fact, one novel that seems to have gained a particular focus for film is I Am Legend. It tells the tale of Dr. Robert Neville, a scientist living in a world where humanity was been struck by a virus that turns people into vampire-like creatures. He spends his nights researching and looking for a cure, while his days are spent hunting down vampires and killing them. This chilling story has not been adapted to the big screen before, it’s been adapted four times. Whether it is called The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, I Am Omega, or simply I Am Legend, all take their core inspiration from Richard Matheson’s novel.

Truly, Matheson’s mark has been left in the world of media thanks to his gripping narratives and fascinating story ideas. Sadly, though the stories may be remembered, I fear that most may not know of the skilled writer behind such stories. I recommend an easy and simply remedy for that: go out and pick up a copy of one of his books. There are plenty of classic novels of his to explore, but for first-time readers of his work I suggest starting with one of his short story collections to sample his writing. I’m sure you’ll find a story from Richard Matheson that grips your attention.


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