Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Off Topic---Richard Matheson, Master of the Uncanny

Shadow On The Sun, Richard Matheson, TOR Books, 192 pages,$13.99 and Other Kingdoms, Richard Matheson, TOR Books, 320 pages, $24.99.

Richard Matheson is the author of the classics I Am Legend, Hell House, Somewhere in Time, The Incredible Shrinking Man, A Stir of Echoes, The Beardless Warriors, What Dreams May Come and others. Now forget the movies made from his books. Remember The Twilight Zone episodes.

Named a Grand Master of Horror by the World Horror Convention, and a recipient of the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement, Matheson has won the Edgar Award for Mystery and Detective writing, the Spur for Western novels and stories, and several of the Writer's Guild awards. In 2010, he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Yes, this is the author that the best storytellers, such as Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, Peter Straub and others, read.

Matheson has authored screenplays for film and television. His most recognizable work is for The Twilight Zone including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” based on his short story and featuring a very young William Shatner. Born in New Jersey and raised in Brooklyn, and a World War 2 combat infantryman, Matheson earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri.

Shadow On The Sun, originally published as a mass-market Western in 1994, has been out of print for years. This tale of supernatural terror is best described by a comment of a friend who had just finished the book. "Wow! Couldn't put it down. I wonder if the makers of Cowboys and Aliens [the film] read this before they made their movie." Set in Arizona, a century ago during a truce between the remote frontier community and the Apaches. A delicate peace is literally shredded when the mutilated bodies of two white men are found. Billjohn Finley, the local Indian agent, fears that darker, more unholy forces may be at work: a tall, dark stranger who rides into town and is wearing the dead men’s clothes.

In Other Kingdoms the setting spans decades in France, England and Brooklyn. In 1917 a young American soldier is recently wounded in the Great War. The young veteran, Alex White, travels to Gatford, England because of a promise made to a dying comrade. This pastoral English village, seems to be the perfect spot to heal his wounded body and soul. In truth for the reader, Gatford and its forests are not as distant as Narnia but closer that Brigadoon. The neighboring woods are said to be haunted by capricious, even malevolent spirits, but surely those are just old folk tales.

In the forest dwells Magda Variel known as a witch but confesses to Alex that she is merely a practitioner of Wicca and has healing powers. She warns him of a more real danger, one that is located deeper into the forest. It is another kingdom. A World War One veteran, Alex is bold and undaunted. He becomes a resident in three kingdoms: rural England, the Wicca religion, and live among shape-sifting spirits. He willing enters bondage to love, sex and magic and has dual citizenship in two of kingdoms. Each has a dominant woman who wants him.

To read these two shorter works by Matheson is to engage a master storyteller who will very subtly cause you to suspend your disbelief. The literary genre of The Uncanny deals with the notion that a person or a thing has or seems to have a supernatural basis. The Uncanny genre deals this events that are beyond the ordinary, that are mysterious, superstitious, fearful or dreadful. Like Stephen King's work, Richard Matheson work is both an uncomfortably strange but a comfortably thoughtful experience.

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