Friday, July 8, 2011

I Am Legend - Richard Matheson

Cover of the first edition.
 ' Books like I am Legend were an inspiration to me '.

Stephen King.

 Yes this is the novel of the 2007 Will Smith movie....of which  it train wrecks Richard Matheson's chilling post-apocalyptic sci-fi /horror masterpiece. If you know your cinematic history you will be aware that this novel was first adapted to film in 1964 as, The Last Man on Earth, and more famously in 1971 as, The Omega Man, with Charleston Heston in the lead role. Both of these adaptations, along with Will Smith's, are complete bollocks and cannot hold a candle against the novel. Like so many great novels the movie adaptations are either poor or just straight out abortions of the original source.

 I must admit I like The Omega Man , and the first part of I am legend ( the second half stunk I'm afraid ), but  god alive they completely hash up the novel. And what a novel it is...I'd go as far as to say it is the most enjoyable novel I've read this year ( and very, very unique, not to mention highly influential ). Firstly forget everything about the movies..they are crap. Richard Matheson in 1954 wrote this novel that first introduced the idea of a post-apocalyptic world due to war and/or infection of some sort. Sound familiar? It should because the likes of 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, The Book of Eli, Resident Evil etc ALL owe their debt to this novel. It is an incredible feat because it is only 160 pages long and can be read in a matter of a few hours. But those few hours will see any reader put the book down at the end with dis-belief, and wonder, at how the movie adaptations have been so bad because the novel's premise is sheer brilliance.

 The novel was written in 1954 but based in the then future of  1970's Los Angeles. It opens in January of 1976 five months after an unspecified war. Protagonist Robert Neville is seemingly the only man left alive after a plaque of some sort has killed off humanity. Neville lives in his own house that he has fortified against the other 'survivors', those infected who have become vampiric in condition. The novel is a horror cum sci-fi novel and has several really chilling moments that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! Firstly Neville's wife dies of the infection, and contrary to the law of having to burn her body in a communal pyre, he wraps up her body and buries her. Several days later he is inside and hears someone turning the outside door knob. He opens and the doors to find his wife standing there saying 'Rob.....ert'.!!!!!!!!!!!! He says he let out a 'silent scream'. Honestly I shit myself when I read that scene!

 The other chilling scene sees him caught outside his house after dark due to his watch stopping. He is chased around his neighborhood by a group of the 'undead'. One of whom was a man who he used to share a ride to work with who now stands outside his house shouting, 'come out Neville'. The chase sees him gain the safety of his house but it was chilling and believe me a real page turner!

 Richard Neville is well written as a man totally alone. His character is never delved into but his situation is. He goes through bouts of deep depression which he fights with heavy drinking. He is lonely and is taunted by the women vampires who flash their bits at him. His sexual needs are driving him nuts and he contemplates letting them have him so he can satisfy his lust. It may be a short novel but Neville's lonely existence is starkly written and the reader feels empathy for him as they contemplate themselves in his situation.

 What sets this vampire novel apart from the rest as it doesn't follow the traditional Bram Stoker vision of vampires. It updates the vision and ads a sci-fi element to it. I can't go into too much as it will give it all away. Suffice to say forget the crap movies as they totally butcher this element of Matheson's novel. As a vampire novel it is superb as it takes the myth of vampires and twists around on humanity. Garlic, crosses, stakes, daylight, etc abound, but then the reader hits the twist, and it is a stunner!!!

 The novel doesn't finish how you expect. Like I say the movies must be forgotten as they fail miserably in the true spirit and premise of the novel. The end is brilliant and simply breath taking in its originality. As I got toward the end I was expecting the movie, but oh how wrong I was. As I began to realise that things weren't heading that way I thought they would I found myself totally engrossed, and the pages began to flick by quicker and quicker. I was going oh my god, oh my god, honestly the phrase 'page turner' is not over used here because it is just that. The end was stupefying and I finished the novel absolutely awestruck by Matheson's vision and originality in updating and twisting the vampire story. The title becomes apparent in the very last sentence!

 I am Legend is an extremely influential novel. Not only did it inspire the post-apocalypse genre it also influenced a certain man called George Romero. If you don't know the name George Romero then there is no hope for you! Of course he is the man who popularized the zombie movie and this novel is the inspiration behind Romero's vision.

  What else can I possibly say? It is a novel of extreme brevity and yet puts so much into its few pages. It spans three years and has a ripper of twist which only expands and plays on the myths and legends of vampires. It is chilling and has two quite scary moments, especially the one when Neville's wife coming home! I felt my skin crawl which is rare as horror novels don't work for me, hence I don't generally read them. I'm sure this will satisfy any horror/sci-fi/ apocalypse aficionado. Without question a unique, intelligently thought out novel that takes an old myth and turns it on its end.

 A totally original, chilling and satisfying read. Don't miss it, and whatever you do.......forget the movies!

Amazon has this with 4 of out 5 stars from 592 reviews. For me it is 5 out of 5.

Click here for an interesting blog dedicated to the novel:


  1. Its not rare by any means and well worth a read...hope it lives up to the build up I've given it!!