“That which you believe becomes your world. ” – Richard Matheson
Richard Matheson is a fantasy, horror, and sci-fi writer whom I discovered through the episodes he wrote of The Twilight Zone. That was my favorite TV series as a kid. It scared me, amazed me, made me think and sometimes amused me. I was happy to discover he was, like me, born in New Jersey (Allendale, 1926).
He also wrote for Star Trek and other shows. A good number of his more than 20 novels and 100 short stories became films. Later, I discovered Matheson’s books, including I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man, which was later retitled The Incredible Shrinking Man as a film.
Stephen King said that “When people talk about the genre, I guess they mention my name first, but without Richard Matheson I wouldn’t be around. He is as much my father as Bessie Smith was Elvis Presley’s mother.”
His 1978 novel, What Dreams May Come, is my favorite. The film that was made based on his novel stars Robin Williams. Along with The Fisher King, it is one of my favorite films with Robin. In the book, Chris dies and goes to Heaven, but descends into Hell to rescue his wife.
Matheson stated in an interview, “I think What Dreams May Come is the most important (read effective) book I’ve written. It has caused a number of readers to lose their fear of death – the finest tribute any writer could receive.”
As far as the science in the fiction, Matheson says in an introductory note that the characters are fictional but almost everything else is based on research. He even included a bibliography.
The title comes from a line in Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be…” speech: “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, / Must give us pause.”
The plot also makes several allusions to the journey through the underworld in Dante’s epic poem The Divine Comedy. Characters quote the 18th century Christian mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, theories from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Raymond Moody.
Matheson was struck with the stories told by revived suicides which were much more frightening tales than those near death experiences of others who came back. The references are often ones that might be termed “New Age.” For example, reincarnation is viewed as a choice rather than the automatic cycle found in Hinduism and Buddhism. It is a subject that everyone considers at some point in their life. A new TV show, Proof, focuses on investigating supernatural cases of reincarnation and near-death experiences funded by a terminally ill man who hopes to find evidence that death is not final.
Trailer for What Dreams May Come (film)