Matheson’s “The Funeral”

Matheson’s short story “The Funeral” took several stereotypical horror monsters of the times and spun them like a top laced with humor. And I have to say, it killed me. Okay, okay, not the best joke in the world but honestly, that’s about how the humor felt to me. Matheson tried to create some jokes but he may have overstepped his bounds just a little bit with this piece. It just wasn’t all that funny to me. However, even though the humor didn’t necessarily work, I thought the story was able to pull off a couple really cool things.

Before I get into what worked for me, I have to bring up the biggest issue I had when reading the story. As I was going along, I ended up having to pull up a dictionary app on my iphone just to know what some of the words that he used meant. There were context clues but it looked like he went through with a thesaurus in hand and changed any words that he could to increase the grandeur of his vocabulary. Words like “fiduciary”, “badinage”, “modicum”, and basically every word that came out of the Count’s mouth during the funeral speech. This made it so hard to read and get into the story and it may have played a role in ruining the humor for me. (There, that’s out of the way, moving on)

I think this story actually did a great job of humanizing the monsters. I could have easily seen this story being told about your everyday, dysfunctional family funeral. Just because they are monsters doesn’t mean that they can’t have feelings, wants, desires, and regrets. Most of the monsters in this story were human at one point. It would make sense for them to still have their desires for, oh say, a proper funeral. And Silkline just happens to be the person there who is responsible for ensuring that they’re worldly desires are met.

As for Silkline, he definitely was written as the protagonist. I kind of saw this as his own “coming of age” and “acceptance” story. He is introduced to the world of monsters and their desire to have even the simplest of things like a funeral. But at the end of the first two sections, we see him passing out because he just can’t handle it. “Quite suddenly, Morton Silkline found the floor” (a great line in and of itself) and “Then Silkline was at one with the rug” (p. 265, 268). But by the end of the story, he has accepted the existence of monsters and resolved to work with them, because quite frankly they pay well. It is his own evolution from a scared normal human being into a businessman who doesn’t see the people coming to him as monsters but as clients and people. I almost hoped this had some kind of racial undertone to it, about accepting people because they are people, not because they look different or act different. And if that is the point of the story, then I think it pulls it off well. (However, I worry about that reading after just having read I Am Legend)

Overall, the story was pretty good for what it was. The humor could have been better but it worked in making the monsters relatable. Not a bad choice to read after the depressing nature of I Am Legend.

8 thoughts on “Matheson’s “The Funeral”

  1. I agree on the humor falling a bit flat. It was a lot funnier to see actors playing out the scene than it was to just read it on the page.

    I’m not sure what he was going for with the ten dollar vocabulary, but I have seen him do it in other short stories too. Maybe it is just something Matheson did when he was trying to be funny?

  2. I think the big vocabulary worked well here, because Silkline and Ludwig are both very pretentious in their own ways. It added to the faux gothic ’40s horror movie vibe for me, too.

  3. I wonder if the humor in this story was considered funnier when it was first published? The horror monsters that we consider tried and true staples were still being remade and rediscovered in the 50’s I would think.

    I also wonder if Matheson used the big vocabulary to add even more age or supposed grandeur to the story. If the Count is pretty old it stands to reason that his vocabulary is probably more antiquated than anyone else there. But maybe the use of that language backfired and just made it confusing. Or was it supposed to be confusing on purpose? I’m so confused! 🙂

  4. I like your interpretation of Silkline’s acceptance of the monsters as just more clients potentially having racial undertones

    I think the Count’s straight-from-the-thesaurus vocabulary was one way Matheson gave the monsters a human twist. I’ve encountered a few people who thought they were being impressive by using obscure vocabulary, but they really just came off as pretentious.

  5. I saw the outrageous word choices as a written version of the declamatory acting of early (and B) movies. Instead of bothering me, it made it funnier–and I tend to stick to the five cent words in my own writing.

  6. I like your point about Silkline’s coming of age story. You can almost see this as the pilot episode for a wacy tv show where monsters come to this guy with their problems.

  7. Yeah, due to my love of B horror movies, I found the use of purple prose rather hilarious and enjoyed the fact that Matheson was poking fun at writers from an earlier age. It was fun for me.

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