The Shrinking Man Critical Essays

Richard Matheson


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

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...

(The entire section is 443 words.)