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Robert Neville has witnessed the end of the world. The entire population has been obliterated by a vampire virus. Somehow, Neville survived. He must now struggle to make sense of everything that has happened and learn to protect himself against the vampires who hunt him constantly. He must, because perhaps there is nothing else human left.
I Am Legend was a major influence in horror and brought a whole new thematic concept to apocalyptic literature. Several humanistic and emotional themes in this book blend the horror genre with traditional fiction: we see Neville as an emotional person, and observe as he suffers bouts of depression, dips into alcoholism and picks up his strength again to fight the vampiric bacteria that has infected (and killed off) most of humankind. Neville soon meets a woman, Ruth, (after three years alone), who seems to be uninfected and a lone survivor. The two become close and he learns from Ruth that the infected have learned to fight the disease and can spend short amounts of time in the daylight, slowly rebuilding strength and society as it was.
The novel was adapted to film in 1964 as The Last Man on Earth, as Omega Man in 1971 and finally as I am Legend in 2007, starring Will Smith.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Burton Matheson (born February 20, 1926) is an American author and screenwriter working primarily in the fantasy, horror, and science fiction genres. Between 1950 and 1971, Matheson produced dozens of stories, frequently combining elements from the different genres in which he works, making important contributions to the further development of modern horror. Matheson wrote fourteen episodes for the American television series The Twilight Zone, including the famous "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." Notably, Steven Spielberg's first full length film (made for television) was based on the story “Duel,” for which Matheson also wrote the screenplay.
Matheson's first novel, Someone is Bleeding, was published in 1953. His thirty novels since then include The Shrinking Man (filmed as The Incredible Shrinking Man, again adapted from Matheson's own screenplay), and a science fiction/vampire novel, I Am Legend (made into film as The Last Man on Earth, 1964, The Omega Man, 1971, and
I Am Legend, 2007).
A new film based on Matheson's story “Steel,” entitled Real Steel, is a major motion picture that was released in October 2011. His most recent novel, Other Kingdoms, appeared in March 2011.
According to film critic Roger Ebert, Matheson's scientific approach to the supernatural in I Am Legend and other novels from the 1950s and '60s anticipated the "pseudorealistic fantasy novels like Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist." In 2010, Matheson was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and Stephen King has cited Matheson as a creative influence; his novel Cell is dedicated to Matheson along with filmmaker George A. Romero. Author Anne Rice has said that Matheson's short story, "A Dress of White Silk" was a primary early influence on her interest in vampires and fantasy fiction.
One of the most influential vampire novels of the 20th century, I Am Legend regularly appears on the "10 Best" lists of numerous critical studies of the horror genre. As Richard Matheson's third novel, it was first marketed as science fiction (for although written in 1954, the story takes place in a future 1976). A terrible plague has decimated the world, and those who were unfortunate enough to survive have been transformed into blood-thirsty creatures of the night. Except, that is, for Robert Neville. He alone appears to be immune to this disease, but the grim irony is that now he is the outsider. He is the legendary monster who must be destroyed because he is different from everyone else. Employing a stark, almost documentary style, Richard Matheson was one of the first writers to convince us that the undead can lurk in a local supermarket freezer as well as a remote Gothic castle. His influence on a generation of bestselling authors--including Stephen King and Dean Koontz--who first read him in their youth is, well, legendary. --Stanley Wiater
I am Legend is arguably the greatest short horror novel ever written, and its influence on the horror genre has been profound. Stephen King and many other of today's masters rank this book highly in their personal top ten lists of favorites. It is a short novel that can be read in one sitting; it is hard to put down, building in intensity from start to finish. Matheson creates an entirely new type of vampire fiction herein. Transcending the traditional vampire tale, he adds science fiction elements to produce a refreshing new interpretation of Stoker's legend. The most fascinating part of the story is the protagonist's (Richard Neville's) attempts to explain the legendary aspects of the vampire myth in scientific terms. His discovery of a bacterium, which he dubs vampiris, as the true source of vampirism struck me anew reading the novel again after the events of September 11, 2001. Although we only get pieces of the story regarding the outbreak of the vampiric plague, including a reference to bombings, it can easily be seen as the fruits of germ warfare. Neville even conjectures that the Black Death of the Middle Ages was caused by this same vampiris germ, and he extrapolates facts and ideas from that history in his attempts to understand why such defenses as garlic, crosses, and stakes driven into the heart actually are effective against the hordes of undead creatures menacing his own time. He studies academic texts and conducts experiments with the blood of these creatures, which is the means by which he identifies the bacterium. The essence of garlic has no effect on the germ when injected into a blood sample, which initially he is unable to explain, but he later is able to explain garlic's effectiveness. Less scientific tests lead him to conclude that crosses are only effective against "Christian" vampires; the cross has no meaning to for vampires who were once Jews and Moslems, but sacred symbols of those religions, such as the Torah and the Koran, do. All of these scientific tests and speculations are just fascinating. Neville is essentially the last man on earth, and the loneliness of his situation is the central part of the story. Matheson is able to communicate Neville's emotional feelings vividly, making him very real. We gradually acquire the story of the deaths of Neville's wife and daughter, essentially experiencing the pain he goes through when these memories overcome him. We watch him drink himself into a stupor as each night finds him besieged in his fortified house, surrounded by vampires, including his old friend and neighbor, calling for him to come out. We watch him slowly lose his grip on sanity and come very close to giving up. Then, however, we watch him overcome his depression and courageously fight to live in the nightmare world he is trapped in. The scenes with the dog he finds are full of emotion and really gripped this reader. This is Neville's first contact with nonvampiric life, and his attempts to befriend and help the poor creature (at the same time finally finding a companion) touched me greatly and brought tears to my eyes. His eventual discovery of another human being like himself is also powerful and emotional, although to speak more about this aspect of the story is to risk giving something away to the future reader. This is a story of one man overcoming all obstacles and fighting to defend his way of life and his very humanity. The novel deals with the human condition, the essential ingredient to effective horror writing. Neville struggles constantly with his doubts and fears, particularly as he commits acts that he would have condemned as barbarous in the time before the plague. His needs for companionship of any kind offer us a clear image of the inner soul of man. By the end of the story, he does indeed become legend, both in his world and in ours.Read more ›
This novel, although short, is absolutely outstanding. While this book is advertised as one of the best vampire novels of all time, it is really not about the vampires at all, but about a man. This is the story of what one man can endure, what his limits are, how much he can accept, and what will happen when he goes too far. Yes, there are vampires in the book, and yes, he does hunt them by day, but it's not an action story; the suspense is more pyschological. This is also one of the more different vampire books you will ever read. Somewhat short and written precisely, words are not wasted here, and the beauty and simplicity of the language is part of the appeal that this book holds. Robert Neville is an amazingly real character, and the ending of this book is perfect. While I have not yet read the multiple other stories by Matheson in this volume, I Am Legend alone is worth the cover price.
This is where it all started. The pioneering work that later inspired George Romero's "Night Of The Living Dead" and Stephen King's "Salem's Lot" and every other tale of a normal human being fighting against the odds in a world gone mad with the hungry hordes of the undead. Matheson, a TV writer (most notable work, "The Twilight Zone"), places us in a world where a mysterious virus has not only killed off virtually ever other man, woman and child but causes them to return as zombielike vampires intent on only one thing... to drain the blood of the living. Matheson's hero holds up in his old family home, now a battered fortress assaulted nightly by what were once his friends and neighbors and who have become the walking dead intent on taking hold and devouring him. He, in turn, waits until the morning light and searches out there hiding places in order to destroy the revenants when they are at their most vulnerable. A one man army, who is patiently, skillfully ridding his world of this vermin. Fortunately, in one of his sweeps he finds that there is another who is doing the same thing. He is not alone in the world afterall. Unfortunately, this other wants to destroy him as well.
Matheson wrote a thinking man's horror novel. He touches on that feeling of alienation and loneliness that pervades so much of our modern world. A world that places us as pawns, used (and often victimised) by the science and technologies of our own creation. However, Matheson also inspires in the reader a feeling of hope and fighting back even if the odds are staggeringly against us. He appeals to the survivalist instincts that every healthy, normal man and woman possess. He builds the anger in us to strike back and overcome the menace to our existence. Two movies made were based on "I Am Legend": "The Last Man On Earth", starring Vincent Price and the classic, "Omega Man", starring Charleton Heston. Neither of these came close to the quality of this novel. This book is essential reading and keeping for every horror fan, especially us zombie fanatics. Now go order this book!Read more ›
Matheson's I AM LEGEND has been made into three bad movies:
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH starred Vincent Price. Made back in 1964, it's the most faithful of the adaptations, but hindered by a very low budget.
THE OMEGA MAN starring Charlton Heston, 1971, could charitably be described as "based upon" I AM LEGEND. Worst of the bunch.
I AM LEGEND the big budget action movie starring Will Smith (2007) was reasonably faithful in an "amp it up and blow it away" manner, but continued the tradition of totally missing the ending. Hint: To see what Matheson was getting at with the ending, look at the title!
Anyway, the book remains one of my all-time favorites. It's still the only book I've ever finished and then immediately returned to page one to read again!
If you're expecting a "zombie gross-out" or anything along those lines, you'll be disappointed. There's suspense a'plenty, but mainly it's a personal drama as Robert Neville strives to find meaning in a world in which he no longer belongs.
Richard Matheson was born in 1926. He began publishing SF with his short story 'Born of Man and Woman' in 1950. I Am Legend was published in 1954 and subsequently filmed as The Omega Man (in 1971), starring Charlton Heston, and I Am Legend (in 2007), starring Will Smith. Matheson wrote the script for the film The Incredible Shrinking Man, an adaptation of his second SF novel The Shrinking Man. The film won a Hugo award in 1958. He wrote many screenplays as well as episodes of The Twilight Zone. He continued to write short stories and novels, some of which formed the basis for film scripts, including Duel, directed by Steven Spielberg in 1971. A film of his novel What Dreams May Come was released in 1998, starring Robin Williams. Stephen King has cited Richard Matheson as a creative influence on his work.
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