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Reflections on Horror Literature: “The Funeral”

Last week, I discussed Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend—a dark, disturbing and trendsetting novel that cemented several horror tropes in literature and film (particularly in zombie-related pieces) we still see today. Comparatively, his short story “The Funeral” sets a completely different tone and serves a different purpose.

Where I Am Legend makes the reader question the nature of the monstrous, positioning it ultimately within the framework of humanity-as-scourge, “The Funeral” illustrates the more mundane query of “Would you sell out your principles for a fat paycheck?” Of course for our main character, Morton Silkline, the answer is “yes.”

Silkline works for a funeral parlor—either as a planner or director; the text is slightly unclear, but he is solidly in the sales end of things. When a vampire hires him to plan his own funeral, resulting in an event best described as “chaotic,” replete with guests of the supernatural variety, Silkline is horrified and disturbed. And yet, upon receipt of Ludwig the vampire’s vast piles of gold, Silkline “found strength” enough to rationalize to himself that “the affair had not really been as bad” as he’d originally perceived it. This avarice entices Silkline to take on a second client by story’s end, this one a Cthulhu-esque tentacle monster.

The funeral itself is ridiculous to the hilt, at turns eccentric and neo-Victorian, à la The Addams Family, and at other moments more monstrous, making Silkline’s conniption fit during the event seem more logical. These bits reminded me of the failed Bryan Fuller reimagining of The Munsters from 2012, Mockingbird Lane. (The mixed whimsy, decadence, and horrific nature of the characters in the latter seem much more inspired by this story than the original Munsters, in fact.) And yet the overall tone of the story is indeed comedic and difficult to truly take seriously, in stark contrast to I Am Legend, therefore it’s difficult to unpack any real deeper meaning here other than satire or perhaps an acknowledgement that family gatherings—whether your family is perfectly ordinary or whether it is a collective of vampires, ghouls, werewolves, and witches—it is not immune to the same petty arguments and tensions as any other family. Funerals, like weddings, tend to bring out the worst in people.

If there’s any seriousness to be found here, other than Silkline’s greed, it could be in the absurdity of tradition. Ludwig, still perfectly ambulatory and alive in his undeath, seems to feel it necessary to hold a funeral for himself, even as he rests—still speaking and addressing the guests—during the event, admonishing them on occasion for their bickering. The need to actually hold such an event for someone still perfectly capable of attending it is indeed ridiculous, but perhaps Matheson is attempting to address the artifice of the event even for mere mortals. To be put on display for people to publicly mourn, hors d’oeuvre in hand, is slightly odd. Silkline’s every mannered bit of pabulum-as-sales-pitch—“When loved ones lie upon that lonely couch of everlasting sleep…let Clooney draw the coverlet”—is offensive and exploitative.

Essentially, then, “The Funeral” is a story about tradition and greed going hand in hand to exaggerate and make monstrous the fragile human condition.


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Random new interesting steampunk thoughts…

Just had some fabulous comments on one of my older steampunk-related posts, “Is Doctor Who Steampunk?” (10/22/12). I encourage you to check out the new comment thread.

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Ten Tips for Getting Through NaNoWriMo without Losing Your Mind (Part IV)

3. Remember that this is 50,000 words, minimum. That means that for 30 days, you must write at a pace of approximately 1,667 words per day to stay on task. If you’re feeling slow and/or know that you can catch up on weekends, you could round this down to fifteen hundred or even round up to two thousand, whatever you feel comfortable with. Since you’re going for speed over quality during your first pass with this novel, you could even look at your typing speed for a rough guide as to how long this might take you. This blog post will hit about 300 words and took me about fifteen minutes to write, for example, so if I were trying to hit the magic 1,667 I’d estimate just under an hour for my daily goal. Of course, in practice, novel writing will take you more thought and more effort, especially if you didn’t already brainstorm enough ahead of time. But if you can keep to a pace that has you at the computer for about an hour a day, you could ostensibly get this accomplished without too much pain. Where do you find this magical extra hour a day? Lunch breaks, getting up a little earlier, going to bed a little later, cutting out that rerun of Cheers you watch when you get home. Whatever you do, it can be all in one sitting or in little bursts, but experience has told me that one sitting usually works better for keeping your narrative consistent. Get up an hour early every day and just get it done first thing, if need be. It’s only for a month, after all, and maybe you can use that as your regular daily writing hour from here on out.

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