22 August 2012

My Thoughts on Richard Matheson, I Am Legend

Click on the image to buy it at Powell's
For he was a man and he was alone and these things had no importance to him.

I am having trouble coming up with something to say about I Am Legend. In fact, this is my third start to the post.  For those who have read the book (or seen the Will Smith movie), I Am Legend is the story of Robert Neville, who might be the last man on earth after a plague of some sort has killed all his friends and neighbors and/or turned them into mindless, zombie-like vampires.  Neville has managed to survive for years after the onset of the disease that has turned his friends and family to monsters, and the book focuses on what he does with his seemingly endless days.

Neville's loneliness in the book is painful.  He is self-punishing because he continues to feel desire for women, and for human companionship.  He is constantly scolding himself for feeling connected in any way to the past, and for allowing himself to slow down and remember.  He is a flurry of activity most of the time, but also has trouble staying sober to face the world as it is now.

The premise of the book is part mythology and part science fiction.  Neville spends much of his time investigating the disease, and what he finds creates a very interesting balance between the traditional vampire lore and the science of pathology.  There are also moments in the book that are quite scary, although they are subtle. Matheson does a good job of building tension as it becomes increasingly clear that Neville probably can't (or at least shouldn't) live the way he is forever.

There is also plenty of material for discussing the metaphor of vampire as representative of (often irrational) fear of a threatening Other.  Matheson wrote his novella in the 1950's and the story also serves (in part) as a metaphor for race relations in the era of Jim Crow, which is something that stood out to me as I read.  There is an interesting article about vampires and racial metaphor at the Huffington Post blog,  which quotes some of the passages that struck me while I was reading the book.  Neville himself seems to feel sympathetic to the vampires, although they try to kill him, and he frequently kills them as well (out of a mixture of fear and kindness).  Eventually it becomes clear that in order to continue to survive, Neville must somehow make peace with the other inhabitants of the planet. He makes it a goal to cure the disease, and that is when he starts collecting scientific knowledge about blood and the spread of disease.  I won't spoil it by pontificating on whether or not a cure is possible.

I liked the book, and there was a lot going on that caught my attention besides the story.  However, in the end, I found the book to be deeply sad, and maybe I wasn't exactly in the mood for that.  I would recommend  I Am Legend  for fans of vampire fiction, since I believe that it marks an important moment in the genre, but is also genre-bending, so it will also appeal to fans of post-apocalyptic fiction, science fiction, and horror.


Title: I Am Legend
Author: Richard Matheson
 Publisher: ORB Edition
Date: 1954
Genre: Horror, Sci Fi (a little), Post-Apocalyptic

170 pages.
Where I got it: Bought it used
 Challenges: Back to the Classics

Buy I Am Legend for Kindle

7 comments:

  1. "I Am Legend" really upset and unsettled me when I read it! I think it was his loneliness, and thinking about how truly terrible it would be to be that isolated, with little to no hope of ever connecting with anyone again.

    It was a good read, and really made me think (I wish I had read that Huffington Post blog before the book!), but I don't think I would revisit it.

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    1. Like I say in my review, I thought it was deeply sad, and I wasn't really in the mood for that, but I agree that it was a good book, and quite scary in parts.

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  2. Fantastic review! I actually added it to my "books to adore" list on my blog post today: http://authorjess.blogspot.com/2012/08/whats-up-wednesday-book-to-adore-books.html . Feel free to stop by and check it out!

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    1. Thanks for including me on your list. What a great idea for a blog feature!

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  3. What most struck about this book when I read it was the ending. It was so... refreshing and different. Interesting to see how the tables were turned. I was also appreciative of the scientific explanations for the vampiric disease.

    I was unaware of the racial metaphors while reading it, but those definitely make you look at the book differently!

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    1. It was definitely not the typical ending. I think I actually wanted something more typical, since the whole book is just so bleak.

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  4. Thanks for spreading the word about this classic book. If you're interested, the Will Smith movie was the third official adaptation of the novel. The others were THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964), with Vincent Price, and THE OMEGA MAN (1971), with Charlton Heston. LAST MAN is by far the most faithful, and Matheson worked on the script, although he substituted his "Logan Swanson" pen name for the screenwriting credit after it was rewritten by someone else. George Romero has also admitted that the novel was the inspiration for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. For further information, see my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN (http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-4216-4).

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I love your comments. Thanks for making me a happy blogger.

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