The Funeral by Richard Matheson is a delightful short story about a mortician who gets hired to stage the funeral of a vampire and his monster friends. It’s a quirky little monster comedy that doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it knows what it is and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Because I’m reading this for a class on monsters I had to ask myself who was the monster of the piece? And since I tend to complicate things, seeing Mort Silkline as the human monster profiteering on the death of his fellow humans adds a bit a depth to the story.
The story goes out of its way to position Morton as the monster of his little world. The more people who die the happier he gets. If that isn’t monstrous then I don’t know what it.
We start with his disingenuous attitude towards death and the fact that he has to suppress his joy when his client asks for the very best of everything. He uses a gold pen and even his mannerisms are described in a way to convey unease with terms such as “fluttering” and “flaccid-fingered” and “voice a calculated drip”. He even refers to the grim reaper as “death’s bright angel,” leaving little doubt that he certainly profits from our untimely nature like a gluttonous buzzard.
Even the names can be morbidly dissected. Morton Silkline (Mort, death and Silkline is a reference to a silk lined coffin). Mr. Mossmound (obvious allusion to death) is the one who preforms the services. And Mr. Asper (Asp, a poisonous European viper) suggests a darker ending than the one we’re presented with. Although, since this is a comedy the ending accomplished what it needed to.
But, you may ask, there are literal monsters in this ranging from vampires to witches! Yes, there are, but I would argue that monsters are victims of their monster-ness, meaning you can’t really blame a vampire for eating people just like you can’t blame a lion for eating a gazelle (I don't blame myself for eating chicken wings; although, the chickens certainly would. I Am Legend anyone?). They’re doing what they need in order to survive. So ascribing our morality to any of the horrors is unfair. The more I think about it, the more this concept intrigues me. The creature from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein comes to mind. He can certainly be seen as a victim of circumstance no matter what he may have done after he was created. He didn’t ask for creation. It was thrust upon him!
I hope (expect) that I will get to explore this issue more in the coming weeks.
Morton though. He’s one of us and makes a healthy living from our untimely nature. If there is a monster worthy of a blood letting or a werewolf type disembowelment it is certainly good ol’ Mort. I think funeral directors in general are a nice bunch, but stay clear of the ones with flaccid handshakes and golden ink pens.