I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Read: 12 August, 2011

Robert Neville is alone, completely alone in a world overrun by vampires.He is alive, but he can’t figure out why he bothers.

I enjoyed the recent movie with Will Smith – mostly because I read into it far more than any of its creators intended. When I talk about the movie with others, it’s like we saw entirely different movies. Mine was a subtle commentary on racism, or perhaps our relationship with the mentally ill. My movie featured a brilliantly executed unreliable narrator and one of the best ironic endings I’ve ever seen. What other people saw was yet another mindless monster flick.

I Am Legend the novel is everything I saw into the movie, only better.

Neville is a fantastic character. He’s going nuts, making stupid mistakes, and drinking himself silly. But it’s never frustrating, and I never felt that I just wanted him to shut up and get on with things. That’s because Matheson has perfect timing, he never allows Neville to wallow for too long.

The sense of isolation and loneliness is palpable. As I was reading, I could really feel Neville’s despair. This makes the story creepy and even terrifying without ever resorting to monster-in-the-closet gimmicks. Quite the opposite – the vampires’ inability to wake during the day give Neville the advantage. He can scavenge safely during the day and then simply wait out the night in his house-come-fortress. The vampires are never the source of terror, the loneliness is.

This was one of the best, most perfectly executed books that I’ve read in a very long time. I highly recommend it for any fans of science fiction, distopian fantasy, post-apocalyptic fiction, and horror fiction.

NOTE: The copy I was reading was a first printing and had a truly creepy portrait of a young Matheson emerging from the shadows on the back. Yikes!

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4 thoughts on “I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

  1. Have you seen the other two adaptations? The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price and Omega Man with Charlton Heston? If so, which one (perhaps, of the three adaptions) do you like the best?

  2. I prefer The Last Man on Earth — but then again, Vincent Price has always been one of my favorites — the Heston film is plagued by a camp/silly edge — not my style I guess….

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