The Funeral

Published January 24, 2012 by Jennifer Loring

“The Funeral” is Richard Matheson’s absurd yet charming short story about a vampire who wishes to attend his own funeral. His guests include familiar faces, particularly from the 30s and 40s era of horror films–a hunchback, a werewolf, a witch and, well, more vampires. As with I Am Legend, Matheson questions our perception of the true monster, though in a far more amusing way. The vampire, Ludwig Asper, simply wants a funeral, the best that money can buy and for which he is willing to pay. Morton Silkline, the funeral director, is an arrogant and greedy man more than content to make a buck off of grief.  

The chaos that ensues is a reflection of similar human gatherings in which the guests behave monstrously, and more than a few I’ve experienced myself. For actual monsters, at least, it’s their nature to behave this way. The werewolf has an appointment to keep and leaves early, with only one syllable rudely grunted to mark his departure; the witch is like the family drunk who starts fights just for the attention she’ll get. Between witch and vampire magic, the room is severely damaged in the end, but one can hardly sympathize with either Silkline’s losses or his terror. It’s Ludwig who garners that sympathy; upstaged by the witch, whom he had asked to leave before things got really ugly, he is once again unable to experience a proper funeral.

Some people do not like the pompous, pretentious style in which “The Funeral” is written, but I felt it very appropriate to Silkline’s character. By the end, as some Lovecraftian beast lumbers into his office because the vampire has referred it, one wonders how long gold will comfort Silkline when faced with a potentially endless clientele of monsters and the inevitable destruction of more rooms. And yet, are these funerals all that different from the human ones over which he has presided? Perhaps this is exactly the opportunity he has been waiting for; monsters, after all, seem to have a great deal more money than people do.

“The Funeral” was an excellent counterpoint to I Am Legend. Matheson truly excels in the short form, and I look forward to reading the rest of the stories contained within the book.

8 comments on “The Funeral

  • I appreciate the touch of realism Matheson throws in the story about having to go through a few people to transfer the gold into money. With connections like that, I think Silkline is prepared to be comforted for a long time with whatever payment these ghouls bring in–I imagine the next score being a monkey's paw!I also had the notion Silkline wouldn't need any additional comfort because he's portrayed as the most macabre of the monsters. His role makes me wonder–who buries the undertaker? Basically, the monsters will treat him well and make sure he's content because once he decides not to help (or dies), their options for funeral services diminish. So, who buries the burier of monsters? I don't know… Maybe Chuck Norris?

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  • I really enjoyed the humorous spin Matheson puts on funerals and monsters. I enjoyed reading this story after the more serious "I am Legend." I agree that Silkline is motivated by greed. I'm glad you pointed out that this cycle will continue and there is a possibility for Silkline's motivation to alter over time. I would like to think that eventually, he realizes money is not the most important thing in life.

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  • I like a point you brought up about Matheson's writing style in this piece. I didn't care for the prose for much of the story. It was hyper descriptive but in an almost obnoxious way. But you said it fit Silkline, and that was the same conclusion I arrived at. Like on page 1: ""Ah, good evening, sir," he [silkline] dulceted," I imagine Silkline himself choosing to describe the way he spoke as 'dulceted,' rather than a simple 'said.' Every ostentatious word chosen felt like Silkline chose them. Or at least it read that way for me.

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  • Jen, I agree. The voice was so appropriate for Silkline. I very much like the piece as well as the absurdity of the situation. You did a nice job of mentioning the various monsters in attendance. You called the last monster a "Lovecraftian beast." I didn't realize that was the type of monster it was. Nice catch. I'm not a big Lovecraft fan. I, too, found "The Funeral" a nice break from the serious tone of "I am legend."

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