If you’re a fan of horror fiction, then there’s one name you’ve undoubtedly come across time and again—Richard Matheson. Matheson, a master craftsman of the macabre, is a towering figure whose influence permeates every corner of the horror genre. His contribution to literature is immeasurable, and the tremors of his tales continue to send chills down our spines.
The Man Behind the Horror
Born in 1926, Matheson nurtured an insatiable appetite for the fantastical from an early age. His work is a testament to his unique vision, a stirring concoction of horror, science fiction, and fantasy that strikes at our deepest fears and insecurities. From “I Am Legend” to “Hell House,” Matheson’s bibliography is as extensive as it is varied, his boundless imagination evident on every page. Beyond the realm of novels and short stories, Matheson also proved his mettle in the world of screenwriting, contributing to numerous films and television shows.
5 Must-Read Richard Matheson Novels
I know picking the top 5 novels from such an illustrious career is no easy task, but I’ve taken up the challenge. So, here’s my list of Richard Matheson’s most outstanding novels, with a little about what makes each one special.
1. I Am Legend (1954)
Perhaps Matheson’s most famous novel, “I Am Legend” is a post-apocalyptic horror story that redefines our understanding of loneliness and despair. It presents a chilling narrative of the last man on Earth, Robert Neville, combating a deadly virus that has transformed humanity into blood-thirsty creatures. Matheson’s powerful storytelling and exploration of the human psyche are at their best here.
2. Hell House (1971)
With “Hell House,” Matheson takes us on a terrifying journey into the supernatural. The story revolves around a group of scientists and spiritualists investigating the infamous ‘Hell House,’ reputed to be the most haunted place on Earth. This book is a perfect example of Matheson’s ability to meld scientific rationale with elements of the supernatural—a must-read for any horror enthusiast.
3. The Shrinking Man (1956)
“The Shrinking Man” is a masterful blend of horror and science fiction. The story of Scott Carey, who finds himself shrinking daily due to a mysterious condition, is as much an exploration of existential dread as a gripping thriller. Matheson expertly explores the terror of insignificance and loss of control in this standout novel.
4. A Stir of Echoes (1958)
This captivating novel takes us into the realm of psychic phenomena. “A Stir of Echoes” tells the story of Tom Wallace, an ordinary man who, after a hypnosis session, begins to experience disturbing visions. Matheson skillfully uses the supernatural to illuminate the human condition, offering a thrilling and thought-provoking read.
5. Bid Time Return (1975)
Known as “Somewhere in Time” in later editions, “Bid Time Return” might depart from Matheson’s traditional horror, but it is as compelling as any of his other works. A love story that transcends the barriers of time, it showcases Matheson’s versatility as a writer. Heartwarming and haunting, this novel is an emotional rollercoaster that’s hard to put down.
The 5 Best Richard Matheson Short Stories
Matheson’s genius wasn’t confined to full-length novels—he was a master of the short story format too. Here are five stories that you absolutely must read.
1. “Button, Button” (1970)
This story, later expanded into “Button, Button” and adapted for both film and television, is an unsettling tale about a mysterious box with a button that promises a vast reward—but at a terrible cost. It’s classic Matheson, drawing us into an ethical quagmire that reflects on human nature and the price of our desires.
2. “Dance of the Dead” (1954)
Set in a post-apocalyptic future, “Dance of the Dead” is a shocking exploration of society’s desensitization to violence and horror. The story showcases Matheson’s knack for social commentary, crafting a dystopian vision that lingers in the mind long after the final page.
3. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (1961)
Perhaps one of his most well-known short stories, thanks to a memorable ‘Twilight Zone’ adaptation, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” captures the panic of an airline passenger convinced a creature is damaging the plane’s wing. Matheson deftly explores the thin line between paranoia and reality, keeping readers on the edge of their seats.
4. “The Children of Noah” (1957)
In this story, a man gets pulled over for speeding in a strange, small town, only to discover something horrifying about its inhabitants. With a classic small-town setting and a sense of mounting dread, “The Children of Noah” is a testament to Matheson’s ability to turn the every day into the uncanny.
5. “Born of Man and Woman” (1950)
Matheson’s first published story, “Born of Man and Woman,” is a chilling tale told from the perspective of a deformed child hidden away in a basement. It’s an unforgettable piece showcasing Matheson’s skill at eliciting empathy and horror equally.
*If you want to check out a comprehensive collection of Matheson’s short fiction, look no further than the Penguin edition of The Best of Richard Matheson.
Richard Matheson: Screenwriting Virtuoso
Beyond his tremendous work as a novelist and short story writer, Matheson also contributed immensely to the screen, penning some of the most memorable episodes of ‘The Twilight Zone,’ including the aforementioned “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Steel,” which later inspired the movie ‘Real Steel.’ His film adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s works, especially ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ and ‘The Raven,’ are standout instances of his screenwriting prowess.
The Legacy of Richard Matheson
Richard Matheson’s words have sparked fear, awe, and wonder in the hearts of millions. As a master of horror, he created stories that continue to fascinate, inspire, and terrify us. His work’s unique mix of horror, science fiction, and fantasy and his exceptional ability to delve into the human psyche make Matheson a luminary in the literary world. His novels and short stories stand the test of time, and his legacy as a screenwriter is equally enduring. To every horror aficionado out there: the works of Richard Matheson are essential reading. So if you haven’t sampled his fiction yet, get out there and hunt down some copies. You won’t regret it.
What are some of your favorites by Richard Matheson? And are there any notable works LOD left off the list? Leave a comment and let us know.
Thanks for reading, dark ones.
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