What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson

Thank you 2017! A book that sucked me in like few have done since… well technically since summer 2016 (On Writing by Stephen King glued me like a sucker despite having a rough time). What Dreams May Come is the 10th novel by Richard Matheson whom I knew for:

  • I Am Legend: a fantastic book about a man living in a world full of vampires, which was later on magnificently adapted in The Last Man On Earth (1964) with Vincent Price on the lead role, and later on in the Omega Man (1971)  with glorious seventies cheese and Charlton Heston doing a great Charlton Heston performance, and finally I Am Legend (2007) with Will Smith rocking two-thirds of the movie – despite horrendous CGI – and falling, nay, collapsing on the third act.
  • The Box: a Richard Kelly film (Donnie Darko) based on the short story Button, Button.
  • Stephen King’s praise on the author.
  • …. and yes. The movie “What Dreams May Come” starring Robin Williams (1998).

Now to be fair, I don’t remember much about the movie. Only that it looked beautiful and that Robin Williams dies in it, goes to heaven and, SPOILER, his wife commits suicide, goes to hell and he decides to save her. That is all I remember.

The cover artwork is by Brad Holland.

I guess I’ve hinted it but never fully addressed it, but the movies and images that shocked me as a little boy are stuck there and won’t leave. This movie scared me in some parts with its imagery  but it was beautiful to look at, magical at such young age, and the impact it had lingered. Taking all of the above into account and having it in my to-buy list for some time, I finally purchased it this last Christmas  and chose it as my first book of 2017. To my delight I got the version with the cover that I wanted. Nothing against paperbacks with the picture of the movie but I like to disassociate both things – I’m looking at you both George Clooney and Will Smith. I will not buy Solaris or I am Robot with your mugs all over the cover -.

The book’s title and beginning is taken from Hamlet (Act III, Scene 1)

“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,

when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

must give us pause”

This is not the only thing taken from this quote as the book is divided in four sections: “Sleep of Death“, “Summerland”, “This Mortal Coil” and “What Dreams may Come” (I just noticed that writing my review, clever me).

There are two things from the beginning that I want to highlight. First: the preface and in particular a quote regarding the book stating that “With few exceptions, every other detail is derived from research”. Second: the book is dedicated to his wife: “with grateful love, to my wife for adding the sweet measure of her soul to my existence”. Keep those in mind for later on.

The book itself is great. The author conveys vivid images with ease and is beautifully written without falling in the trap of being overtly verbose (Fun fact: I only had to look up tuft and acromegaly whilst reading it. Go on you lazy bastard look it up yourself!). Much like I Am Legend his writing is so good that I’ll definitely check other books from him (Somewhere in Time perhaps, and no, it is not because of the Christopher Reeves movie … it’s because of the Iron Maiden album).

The level of detail of the afterlife and death is astounding and very imaginative. It honestly made me want to believe in it and brings me to my first point. At the end of the novel there is a list of all the books that the author researched and from a little bit of digging it appears that Richard Matheson was way into metaphysics. His statement that the details are derived from research puzzled me. My first thought was that it was a gimmick, and coming from an author of such imagination just increased that feeling, and yet the list of books used for his research is extensive and included in the book itself. This leaves me wondering if there is real truth in what the novel represents of the afterlife. I will say this. If what happens after death is similar to what is in the book, it will be beautiful.

Still from the movie: Heaven. No wonder it won the Oscar for best visual effects.

The last chapter of the third part of the book (This Mortal Coil) is called “hell be our heaven”. Now, I have never been married, and I don’t think I’ve yet met a soul mate so my experience loving someone outside of my family has been “small” to put it tenderly, but this chapter is by far how I wish I could love somebody and how I’d like to show my appreciation for that person. I don’t know about the author’s relation with his wife, but with the dedication at the beginning, the relationship described throughout the book between the protagonist and his wife and what is written in this chapter I honestly feel that Richard Matheson truly loved and appreciated her. It is a chapter that I will most definitely go back to reading frequently.

This book was wonderful. It was just the book that I needed to read. It is why I read books. It is why I want to write books. I’ve checked out a couple of clips from the movie to prepare for this review and I think that for the time being I’ll not be re-watching it. I want to keep the sensations of the book a bit longer. I would still recommend watching it. I don’t know how it has aged. I don’t know if it will live up to the book, but without it I would’ve never found this great novel.

I finished reading this book the 15th of January. The review took me a while because I wanted to gather my thoughts on it. I can think of no better way of ending than this:

R.I.P Robin. Thanks for making me smile.

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