Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Sep 032013

I need a good comedy, so my decision to pick up a short story called “The Funeral,” which I knew nothing about except that it was by Richard Matheson and assigned for my horror class, was not very logical. What I really wanted to do was play a video game (namely Stacking, but that’s irrelevant), but a thunderstorm raged outside and kept me from my computer. I’d already started and stopped about five different activities and realized I hated the story I was writing. I was running out of ideas. So I grabbed my copy of I Am Legend (my copy is a collection of Matheson’s work, so any pages I cite for “The Funeral” will come from that) and found the story.

My first impression was not favorable. I spent a while trapped on the first page. As the lines slid past my brain and I read them over and over to try to grasp their meaning, I thought something along the lines of, “Too many adjectives and crazy words really do get in the way!”

Everything improved once I got off the first page. Silkline’s attitude as he talked about the Eternal Rest Room and struggled to look sad instead of gleeful reminded me of “A Commercial Break,” one of my favorite episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati, in which a funeral home wants to advertise on the rock and roll station. (If you’re interested, it’s available for free on Hulu. It’s hilarious.) The insane commercialism is even a step up from Silkline’s. In both stories, that adds an edge of dark humor.

From there, I read “The Funeral” with mild amusement until I reached the line “When Morton Silkline reached the hall, his customer was just flapping out a small window” (Matheson 264-65). I started laughing and realized that this story really was a comedy, and that it had the potential to reach the height of absurdity that some of my favorite comedies do.

It did.

There is a certain feeling to the story’s structure during the funeral scene that is hard for me to explain. One aspect in particular stood out to me. When the service is about to begin, the witch asks Silkline to sit beside her: “‘I likes the pretty boys, I do, eh Delphinia?’ Delphinia said, ‘Mrrrrrow'” (266). The cat’s immediate dialogue in response to the witch is one example of the fast-paced, insane nature of the characters’ interactions throughout the scene. Once it begins, it sweeps you away with its absurdity and doesn’t relent until it’s through.

That feeling stood out to me, because I’ve tried to write like that. I don’t write comedy often, but when I do, I like to combine the dark, supernatural, and serious with the humor found in everyday life, and combine the two for new levels of wackiness. (I’ll be honest–most of my comedies are fanfiction of horror games.) That’s what Matheson excels at here.

Forget, for a moment, that the cast seems to have walked straight out of a Universal Studios horror set. When that is taken away, you have a familiar situation. How many times have you planned an event, something special to you, and just knew that somehow, your family or friends were going to ruin it? Maybe you walked into a social gathering with a family member and couldn’t stop thinking, “Please don’t embarrass me, please don’t embarrass me…” Or maybe everything was fine and then you heard the commotion on the other end of the room and knew without even looking that it was one of your friends.

If you know what I’m talking about, you probably felt a little sympathy for poor Ludwig, as his friends carried on and thoroughly embarrassed him at his funeral.

That human element is all the funnier when it’s paired with a cast of monsters. Ygor sobs through the funeral, the Count’s speech was written with a thesaurus close at hand, the other characters interject their opinions whenever they feel it’s necessary, and Ludwig has to repeatedly look up from his casket to beg them to behave. The characters’ antics go beyond weird, and you have to feel bad for Silkline.

The ending is somewhat predictable, but I liked it. It’s the sort of comedy stinger made for a story like this. All in all, I found “The Funeral” to be funny and delightfully absurd, despite my misgivings at the start.

Works Cited

Matheson, Richard. “The Funeral.” 1955. I Am Legend. New York: Tor, 2007. 261-269. Print.

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  10 Responses to “The delightful absurdity of Matheson’s “The Funeral””

  1. I think the end “stinger” is really in keeping with how expected a lot of the elements of the story are. Matheson shows his range and ability to surprise elsewhere, but definitely not in this story. Which isn’t a bad thing, it’s great fun, and sometimes the fun of comedy is partly almost the comforting knowledge of how something is going to play out.

  2. I also felt a bit bad for Ludwig, considering the way everyone carried on at the service. The note he left Silkline with the gold came as a bit of a surprise, after all the mayhem.

  3. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I wasn’t quite expecting the ending, or at least the character that showed up at the end to book his own funeral. When you think about monsters and about funerals (because everyone thinks about them in the same breath), really only an undead monster like a vampire, or I guess a zombie (if he had any sense left in his brains) could really want to have their own funeral. Witches and werewolves are monsters, but they’re technically still alive. Unless the funeral is also to celebrate when you crossed the line from human into monster. So tentacle-guy…not sure where he came from. But good for him, if he wants to have a funeral too!

  4. Asper flying out of the window is the same point where I started laughing, too.

    On one hand, I did feel a bit bad for Asper because he didn’t get his respectful funeral, which is all he wanted. On the other, he was pleased enough with it to recommend Silkline to his Cthulu-like friend. Maybe for Asper, it was more important to celebrate with friends than the pomp and circumstance like he originally thought.

  5. Maybe you have put your finger on why I found the story so hilarious. It’s *always* a member of my family who causes the ruckus. I hadn’t thought about that until I read your post.

  6. Yeah, I felt bad for Asper too, though the fact in the end he seemed more or less pleased with how things turned out made me question his intentions a little. Why was the funeral so important to him if he wasn’t upset with the disaster it became? Was his desire for a proper going off genuine, or was he just going through the motions, trying to tease out some memory of humanity? Sort of playing human for the evening.

  7. Funerals definitely fall into the “no fun” category, but they do provide a lot of possibilities for dark humor. Dysfunctional family antics keep things real, and most of the family funerals I’ve attended usually have an element of bizarre white trash cultural aspects that make them an anthropological fun fest. Polyester clothing, large hairdos, blue eye-shadow, chain-smoking, not-so-secret nips of booze behind the funeral home, and usually a buffet style meal afterwards at a locally owned restaurant, or my personal favorite, firehouse. Funerals are just plain weird most of the time and bring out strange behavior in people that you don’t normally see elsewhere. I think the monsters in Matehson’s story show much more restraint than some of my relatives.

    • I’ve only been to a few family funerals, but I think the atmosphere lends itself to more wacky behavior. Everyone’s upset and on edge, and a little absurdity helps relieve the pressure. Plus there’s a good chance that a lot of relatives who don’t often see each other are suddenly packed into one room–including the stranger ones.

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