Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Mathews, Cheyenne, and Janet V. Haedicke, Eds. Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Mathews, Cheyenne, and Janet V. Haedicke, Eds. Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey

Article excerpt

Mathews, Cheyenne, and Janet V. Haedicke, eds. Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. 244 pp. Hardcover. ISBN 978-1-4422-3465-9. $75.

Finally, a major figure in science fiction and horror film, television, and literature is receiving his due; several factors have contributed to a recent mini-surge in scholarship on Richard Matheson, but sadly one of these was his passing in June 2013. In addition to renewed interest in his signal masterpiece, I Am Legend (1954) after the box office success of the 2007 film starring Will Smith, the novel's recruitment out of the vampire and into the zombie canon has spurred several essay-length studies as well. While Matthew R. Bradley's disappointingly superficial Richard Matheson on Screen: A History of the Filmed Works (2010) remains the only single-author book-length study of his work, a French conference volume (<< Il est une legende >>, eds. Vincent Chenille, Marie Dolle, and Denis Mellier, 2011) and a special issue of the Spanish on-line journal, Brumal (2.1, 2014), bring together a number of interesting analyses covering a wide range of Matheson's oeuvre. Cheyenne Mathews and Janet V. Haedicke's Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey now represents the first academically oriented edited volume in English devoted to an author whose "reach into popular culture" (xi), as Mathews puts it in her introduction, is both deep and wide.

Mathews, already the author of an essay on I Am Legend in Images of the Modern Vampire (2013), opens the volume with a disappointingly brief overview of Matheson's sixty-plus-year career, during which he produced "more than ninety short stories and twenty-eight novels" in nearly every popular genre (xii), in addition to the eighty-four writing credits listed in IMDb.com. She makes a compelling case that "there is a weight to Matheson's work that makes him more than a mere commercial author and thus an apt subject for critical appraisal within academia" (xiii). That weight appears no more clearly than in his most-studied work, the 1954 novel that is the topic of the six essays gathered in the first of the book's three parts: "I Am Legend: Influence and Intertextuality." Given a certain redundancy in recent essays linking Legend to the current zombie boom, Mathews and her co-editor Haedicke have admirably collected original contributions to our understanding of a richly polyvalent text. In his contribution, Charles Hoge explores "The Deep Literary Roots of the Vampires in I Am Legend," and by deep, he means medieval as well as Victorian traditions, a topic surprisingly absent from the secondary literature. In "I Am Legend and Bio-Vampire-Politics," Aspasia Stephanou analyzes the novel through the lens of Foucault's recently published lectures at the College de France, Security, Territory, Population (2009), Abnormal (2003), and "Society Must Be Defended" (2003). In his contribution, "'Wild Work': The Monstrosity of Whiteness in I Am Legend," Adryan Glasgow draws on Gregory Waller's concept of vampire slaying as "wild work," expounding on the novel's construction of whiteness as an allegory for US colonialism. Two essays examine its film adaptations; Ruth Ellen Covington covers unexplored territory in her analysis of "The Threat of Silence in Night of the Living Dead and I Am Legend," comparing and contrasting George A. Romero's 1968 film and the 2007 adaptation of Matheson's novel. Glenn Jellenik's cleverly titled, "Last-Person Narration: Cultural Imagination at the End of the World as We Know It," compares three of the film's four adaptations as "a record of productive and indicative shifts in the ways we see the world through time, a sort of cultural track-changes" (59). Several others--similarly undaunted--have attempted this task before him, but the format of the twenty-minute conference paper or ten- to fifteen-page book chapter leaves those attempts forcibly incomplete. Jellenik does offer some interesting and original insights on what he terms "the Legend cycle" (59), although he is missing one screen adaptation, the straight-to-DVD production: I Am Omega (2007). …

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