Writer Richard Matheson passed away at the age of 87. His might not be a household name, but his stories are widely known and often satirized. He is the author of Nightmare at 10,00 Feet upon which the famous episode of the Twilight Zone is based wherein a hysterical William Shatner watches a Gremlin no one else can ever quite glimpse tear apart the plane piece by piece. Matheson wrote many Twilight Zone episodes. He also wrote the iconic story and sci-fi classic The Incredible Shrinking Man. He wrote Stir of Echoes, What Dreams May Come and, The Duel which were all turned into well known movies.
But his most cult and most crowning achievement is as the author of I Am Legend. I Am Legend follows the trials and tribulations (and scientific curiosities) of the last man on earth in a world overrun by ghoulish vampires. Matheson evokes a scene we have all become familiar with as the survivor ekes out a living among the daylight ruins of his former town and the quiet nighttime desolation of his fortified home. Matheson brought the concept of the vampire into a broader sense. No longer was the vampire a loner, hiding in the crypt with a “bride” or two, rather he shows himself to be a social creature who, like all creatures, must face the inevitability of population demands: feast or perish. Previous to Matheson’s book there were few examples of this concept and certainly none as captivating as his.
I Am Legend and Nightmare at 20.000 Feet share one feature that may be hard to miss. Not because it I expressed subtly, but because it is expressed in opposites. In Nightmare we have a man who alone witnesses something; alone he sees the gremlin outside the plane window, no one else views this with him, no on else is aware. In I Am Legend the lone survivor must experiences everything alone though he fruitlessly searches for others to partake in his survival, which is the survival of humankind itself. Similar themes can be found in nearly all of his work both for page and screen. Time and again Matheson gives us consciousness without validation. This has become an underlying current in films and novels. The mind alone. The mind, if you will, in apocalypse.
Over the span of his career, Matheson wrote about 20 novels, half a dozen short story collections and about 100 television scripts. His mark is broad and will last for many generations to come. Many of his achievements have sunken into the popular mind and will be told and retold again for generations to come.
-Christopher J. Johnson