Monsters Are Funny at “The Funeral”

As part of my MFA program, I’m taking a class on monsters in the horror genre. I read The Funeral, by Richard Matheson, as an assignment for that class. The below blog post may contain spoilers.

I spent the first couple pages of this story annoyed, because of the flowery language the author uses. It’s one thing to be descriptive; it’s quite another to bog your reader down in adjectives so awkward that one stumbles over them.

Blinking meditation from his liver-colored eyes, Silkline knit his fingers into a placid clasp, then settled back against the sable leather of his chair, a smile of funereal welcome on his face.
(Matheson, Richard. “The Funeral.” I Am Legend. New York: ORB, 1995. 261. Print.)

The man’s handshake was both cool and bone-cracking but Silkline managed to repress reaction to a momentary flicker of agony in his cinnamon eyes.
(p. 261)

Silkline’s eyes are, apparently, both liver-colored and cinnamon.

I found this writing style to be quite different from the one used in I Am Legend, also by Matheson. So I have to assume this flowery wording is by design. Once I choked down the first couple pages, I realized The Funeral was pretty entertaining, and the writing style (although still annoying) played a role in the entertainment value.

Silkline runs a funeral home, and Ludwig Asper hires him to plan his own funeral. According to Asper, his first funeral wasn’t “tasty” enough. Silkline agrees only because his new client throws money at him. When the funeral begine, Asper’s oddly monstrous friends attend, and Asper climbs into the coffin. While the funeral is happening, the friends behave in ways that display their non-human nature.

Although I found the writing style annoying during the funeral’s planning, it added to the humor of the funeral itself.

He ran his long fingers of the gold work on the sides and top of the casket, nodding appreciatively. “Splendid,” he murmured, voice husky with emotion. “Quite splendid. Just what I always wanted.”

“You picked a beauty, lad,” said a tall white-haired gentleman.

“Well, try it on for size!” the chuckling crone declared.

Smiling boyishly, Ludwig climbed into the casket and wriggled into place. “A perfect fit,” he said, contentedly.

(p. 266)

The primary word that comes to mind when I read that above passage is … ridiculous. This passage is just as full of descriptors as the ones I presented above, but somehow, here it works. The actions are ridiculous—three non-humans thrilled with the funeral arrangements, and one of them climbing into his own coffin. The over-the-top nature of the language simply adds to the absurdity of the scene. I love it!

Another thing that stood out to me was that the nature of the monsters was never revealed. Asper’s guests include a hunchback, a crone who speaks to her cat and shoots lightning from her fingers, a hairy-handed man, a waxen-face little man, and a tall count who occasionally disappears against his own will. An entertaining bunch. They come across as odd, rather than monstrous.

At first, I assumed Asper was a vampire. He suggested he had a previous funeral, and according to many myths, vampires must die before they become vampires. Plus, the image of him lying in a coffin also suggested vampirism. But I became less sure of this when, at the end of the story, a “huge, tentacled, ocher-dripping shapelessness” of a monster asks Silkline to arrange a funeral for him. Presumably, it’s not only vampires who want to plan their own funerals.

I’m curious about the nature of all these characters, but I think part of the fun of The Funeral is that the monsters are mysterious oddities. This was an entertaining read, and I’d recommend it.

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3 Responses to Monsters Are Funny at “The Funeral”

  1. It hadn’t occurred to me that Asper was anything but a vampire. Yet the fact that a cthonic entity appears suggests that maybe there’s more to the character than meets the eye. Or perhaps there is a league of monsters, a monstrous lodge somewhere in the world where monsters meet to share resources.

    I find that notion, of a secret society of monsters lurking in the shadows of society, truly compelling.

    • Alicia W. says:

      Your comment made me think of the show Charmed, which I admit that I watched from start to finish. In Charmed, there’s an underworld of bad guys, who apparently talk among themselves about how powerful the Charmed sisters are. I always thought the bad guys got along a little too well in that underworld. It was too much like another earth underground or in another dimension. But generally, I do love the concept of monsters who get together and hang out.

  2. K.P. Kulski says:

    I also assumed he was a vampire, but wasn’t entirely sure. I got the impression that Matheson purposely left that to the reader’s imagination. I had a sudden thought when reading your blog post, what if Matheson was just trying to create stereotyped characters and what was happening in the story wasn’t really as important as the silliness of these stereotypes. Most of us automatically figured Asper was a vampire. This story was really much closer to the literary tradition over popular fiction. I enjoy both, so it was a fun read for me too.

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