book review, horror

31 Days of Horror: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Terrifying, haunting and most likely the father of the modern zombie, I Am Legend is a must read for all horror fans.

Sole survivor of a global disease that has turned humanity into vampires, Robert Neville leads a miserable existence in dead LA.

After researching the disease, Neville discovers that the situation is slightly different than he thought, and that he has turned from the brave vampire hunter into a monster of legend.

I grew up in a town without bookshops (there’s a movie in that, Pageloose or Bookdance or something like that), so when I moved to Dublin in my late teens, one of my favorite pastimes was popping into a bookshop and browsing the shelves.

I Am Legend was one of the first books I bought at that time, and it transformed my life. Some books stay with you and become part of your skin, and that was what happened to me with I Am Legend. When I walked home from the bus, I’d imagine the other people as vampires. When I lay in bed at night, I pretended vampires were in the garden shouting at me. When daydreaming, I was thinking about how I’d spend my days if I was in Neville’s position.

At 19, the thing that struck me most was how Neville got up everyday and kept to a routine. I marveled at how he was able to keep fighting despite the horrific situation he was in.

Every time I read this novel, I get something new from it. My current take away is that everything gets replaced. If you live long enough, age makes you obsolete.

Another way this novel keeps surprising me is that today I discovered it was Romero’s inspiration for Night of the Living Dead. It makes sense, but it never occurred to me before. The vampires in the novel are much more like zombies as Romero reimagined them. However, I Am Legend’s vampires have greatly influenced bloodsuckers too. The creatures in 30 Days of Night and The Strain immediately come to mind as worthy successors of Neville’s adversaries.

When you consider how I Am Legend presented the global disaster and virus led disease, it makes sense how this formed the blueprint for the zombie apocalypse genre to come. While the science is creaky, and Neville’s experiments stretch credibility, it was an innovative take on an old monster and must have had a huge influence on what came after. If Romero is the father of the modern zombie, then Matheson is the grandfather.

However, the science fiction is the weakest aspect of I Am Legend. It’s enduring appeal, and why it’s one of my favorite books, is everyman Neville’s story of loss, isolation and loneliness against a powerful foe. Whether it’s a virus, a new world order, old age or death, the theme tackles a subject that we must all face, no matter when or who we are. How do we go on when we will die and fade into obscurity?

I award I Am Legend

17 thoughts on “31 Days of Horror: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson”

  1. Your reviews are so good. I saw the movie with Will Smith, but I only recently found out there was a 1964 movie based on the book. The ’64 movie is called The Last Man on Earth. Now I want to watch it, too. It’s probably cheesy being from the ’60s, but I don’t care.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! 🙂
      The Last Man on Earth is my favorite of the movie adaptations. I love Vincent Price, and his depiction of Robert Neville is surprisingly low key and nuanced.
      The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston was the second adaption. It’s ok, but it focuses more on the new society than on Neville’s isolation.
      I loved the German Shepherd in the Will Smith version, and Smith is always watchable, but I would rate it third on the book adaptations. It missed the existential crisis for me.
      Looking forward to hearing what you think of The Last Man on Earth.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Okay, I saw the movie with Vincent Price. He was really good at the turning points, like when he started to “lose it” and chuckled at something funny, and then his chuck turned into a hysterical sob. The movie is dated, of course, with lame fight scenes and so forth, but it was a great movie!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s a great book, and your review is a reminder that I must read it again (it’s been a while!). I would also like to watch the movie Pageloose (or Bookdance) as well as the Vincent Price adaptation of I am Legend.

    Liked by 2 people

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