Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 443
The Shrinking Man was the basis of Richard Matheson’s first screenplay, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), which earned a 1958 Hugo Award, the first presented for best dramatic presentation. Now a science-fiction classic, the film is noted for its special effects, especially in depicting the terror generated by the protagonist’s...
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- Critical Essays
The Shrinking Man was the basis of Richard Matheson’s first screenplay, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), which earned a 1958 Hugo Award, the first presented for best dramatic presentation. Now a science-fiction classic, the film is noted for its special effects, especially in depicting the terror generated by the protagonist’s struggles for survival against a spider larger than himself.
Although Matheson often is classified as a writer of science fiction, much of his work is closer to fantasy. The Shrinking Man is not really credible as science even though it purports to explain Carey’s condition scientifically. His physical body shrinking at the precise rate of one-seventh of an inch each day is improbable, but his psychological reactions to his condition are convincing and provide the real interest of the novel.
As one of Matheson’s earliest novels, The Shrinking Man recalls “Born of Man and Woman” (1950), his first published short story, which appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In this story, a mutant offspring of the resident family exists hidden away from public scrutiny in a basement cellar, much like the diminutive Carey. Several of Matheson’s short stories develop ideas comparable to those of The Shrinking Man. In the futuristic story “Return” (1951), for example, a time-traveler dies, but his personality survives several centuries in the future. In “From Shadowed Places” (1960), the protagonist’s survival depends on him using his mind to resist the life-threatening power of a hex.
Matheson spent more than thirty years studying the paranormal, and in his novel What Dreams May Come (1978) he expresses his ideas about survival after death in detail. These ideas are only suggested at the conclusion of The Shrinking Man. In What Dreams May Come, Matheson develops his belief that an individual’s aura or energy field survives after death. This novel starts, in a sense, where The Shrinking Man ends, with the death of its protagonist.
In the same way that Carey’s condition was caused by freakish chance, Chris Nielson in What Dreams May Come dies a violent death in an unusual accident at the beginning of the story. Nielson’s personality survives in a dimension where thought is reality and heaven a state of mind. Life in that dimension is not static, for unresolved problems survive with individuals. Nielson is concerned for his distraught wife and tries to communicate with her, but grief and skepticism prevent any contact and eventually lead her to suicide. Matheson is intensely interested in psychic phenomena and takes their implications seriously. He is particularly concerned with possible answers to the questions of humankind’s place in the universe and humans’ fate after death.