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Marc Haefele: genre writer Richard Matheson's works were great campfire stories

The magazine in which genre writer Richard Matheson first appeared.
The magazine in which genre writer Richard Matheson first appeared.
Fantasy and Science Fiction

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Richard Matheson stories, when you look back at them, seem to have been not so much read, as told to you around the dying embers of  campfire on a very dark night. Matheson, who died  Sunday in his home in Calabasas, was one of America’s greatest genre writers, whose works encapsulated the worst fears and terrors of the mid-20th Century.

Matheson published his first sci-fi horror story, Born of Man and Woman, in 1950.

I am not so glad. All day it is cold in here. The chain comes slow out of the wall. And I have a bad anger with mother and father. I will show them. I will do what I did that once. I will screech and laugh loud. I will run on the walls. Last I will hang head down by all my legs and laugh and drip green all over until they are sorry they didn't be nice to me. If they try to beat me again Ill hurt them. I will.

In 1957's The Incredible Shrinking Man, for which he wrote the screenplay, who can forget the ever-diminishing Grant Williams, fighting a spider to the death in the now-infinite cellar of his suburban home. Or the even stranger, weirdly optimistic ending that opened onto infinity itself.

But of all his work, what probably most infected the national imagination were his yarns that wound up on The Twilight Zone.


These tales quickly embedded themselves as deeply in the American consciousness as The Tell-Tale Heart or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

When The New York Times asked him in 1994 if he believed in life after death, Matheson responded: “To me, life after death and reincarnation are just slices of the pie. Life is a huge wheel and it goes around and around, and life after death is just a segment of that wheel.”