Who is the True Monster?
(WARNING: THIS POST IS FOR A CLASS ON HORROR FICTION. IT WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS ABOUT THE SHORT STORY “THE FUNERAL.”)
What a pleasant surprise to pick up a horror short story entitled “The Funeral” and find that it’s not a horror at all! There I was, thinking, Oh, dear. This is probably going to be depressing… and then I spent the afternoon laughing. 🙂 Wonderful!
Monster comedy is an interesting thing, at least when it’s done by Richard Matheson. I can’t say that I often read monster comedies.
The protagonist was not likeable, which threw me at first. I don’t mind flawed protagonists – even villain protagonists – but I want them to have some likeable characteristics. Perhaps his terrifying situation was meant to draw us closer to Silkline, but the guy just didn’t stick to me.
There was a character I liked, however: the customer. His botched funeral was laugh-out-loud funny as he kept sitting up from the coffin to beg his friends to take the event seriously. At the same time I felt genuinely sorry that he wasn’t getting something that clearly meant so much to him. He was undead, but he still wanted the same things any living human being wants.
I like monsters that are human. Vampires have always pleased me most probably because they are so often portrayed as nearly human still. Basically what it boils down to is that I like to know why my bad guys are acting the way they are, and if the monsters are even slightly human, I can understand them better.
But who or what was the real monster in this story? Matheson provided us with a huge cast of the most stereotypical monsters in monster lore. This added to the joke, the idea that monsters have all joined together as outcasts and have developed their own flawed social networks in which they bicker and treat each other just as badly (or worse than) we treat each other in life.
Matheson also gave us a funeral director for the main character. Typically in fiction these guys are the creepy ones, and he was. His lack of concern for the grieving made him difficult to love and nearly impossible to laugh at.
There is one other character in this short story: the bag of gold. Silkline thinks of money at the beginning, and he returns to it at the end. We see him go through a dangerous scenario simply because it is his job, and perhaps because he doesn’t feel that he has a choice when the first monster requests a service. His parlor is nearly burned down, and someone clearly wants to eat Silkline before the night is through.
Any man in his right mind would shut up shop the next day, or, at the very least, work to politely dissuade any future monsters from coming into his office.
Silkline does neither. When another beast comes lumbering in at the end of the story, our protagonist thinks again of the money. These dangerous deeds will surely make him stinking rich – though he might not live to enjoy his fortune.
I saw the money as the true monster here. Shiny gold coins have captured Silkline’s soul, and he is no longer able to make up his mind what is smart business and what is plain stupid.
Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: Tor, 2007.