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.
on January 27, 2000
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.
on March 22, 2004
SO BUY THIS BOOK!
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!
on June 7, 2011
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.
on April 26, 2001
I am astonished at the fact that this novel recieved any bad reviews. I can understand the fact that some readers felt cheated by the fact that the book included short stories after the novel, but this was simply an added bonus for any Matheson fans. Enough about other ratings, now I'll explain why I feel the book deserves five stars.
The idea of the book alone is enough to make you try reading it. A plague has turned the Earth's humans into vampires, and there is only one man left.
After hearing this idea some readers may be thinking that it sounds silly, or has been done before, but belive me; nothing like this has ever been done before. For many vampire novels, the author simply gives the vampires the traditional powers and weaknesses, (crosses, garlic, etc.) but Richard Matheson goes so far as to explain why all this is true. The explanations he gives, though they may seem far-fetched, are extremely plausible when Matheson describes them. It seems as if Matheson did a lot of scientific research for this novel, because his explanations of DNA are terrific.
Finally, don't read this novel if you're just looking for a normal horror novel. Read it if you're looking for an intelligent, suspenseful tale of a world overtaken by vampires.
on August 30, 1998
A long time ago, I saw "The Omega Man" and liked it so much that I sought out the book it was adapted from. "I Am Legend" was nothing like the Charlton Heston movie, but it was the best damn vampire novel I had ever read. Since reading the book, I have collected all of Richard Matheson's other novels and short story collections, but "I Am Legend" remains my personal favorites. Robert Neville's struggle to survive in a world of vampires robs him of his humanity, transforming him into a legndary boogyman, who stalks and murders the planet's new nocturnal citizens as they sleep. No true horror fan should go without reading this landmark novel. Matheson always leaves his readers wanting more, which is more than can be said for most of the post Stephen King bloated bestsellers.
on July 25, 2008
Robert Neville is he who strives for perfection, he whose goal is to soar among the stars with the angels on high; Neville is the man who, despite everything, has fallen into the eternal charnel pit of the soul. The bleakest and farthest regions of the dismal are his and his alone. How then did Neville come to this winter of discontent? How then did he, who sought the beautiful, become the ugly? His lustrous silver wings melted in the shining sun that he blindly mistook for redemption and when it was too late to save himself he fell like a beautiful yet poignantly destructive shooting star plummeting to earth in a ball of unquenchable fire.
In the latter days of the latter years hidden in the home of his oblivion, he has come full circle pondering over the joys and the discontents of a "normal" life that like the best of fiction is so believable yet so totally alien. Yes, truly he is Icarus dying, the embodiment of dead hopes and dreams and the paragon of destruction. Yes, truly he is the aching longing that will never be fulfilled, the imagined sound of a loved one calling in the midst of a dream. He, and he alone, is the bright and shining hope that failed. He is alive in body only for the soul has fled. Is he any better than the living dead that haunt him so, the mythical vampires who, sadly, turned out to be so real? Those miserable souls of legend that were tortured into an eternity desiring to be with their brethren yet destroying all those who were near. In a dead and howling world, Neville is all that survives to remember what civilization was once like before the virus came, the mysterious virus that turned the world into a legend. In this sea of pain, Neville must make his way alone embracing the eternal solitude amongst the wailings of the damned, but the vampires have a little surprise for Neville that might just change everything. Fly Neville, fly on your beautiful wings and touch the sun before you fall to earth, incinerated and desolate. Goodbye Neville. . .
I Am Legend is a poignant narrative conducted by the forlorn Neville, the only man left standing among the charred ruins of a formerly grand civilization . . . our civilization. All those that have gone before him have returned only they are not the same. They want blood for sustenance and in the deepest pits of the night they await Neville, their eternal hunger gnawing away at their humanity. And so, Neville's long journey through the bleak passages of the heart begins and we, the public of readers, join Neville wishing that we could reach out and grant him comfort because Neville's forced loneliness, his desire to see another human, his desire for his dead wife, is truly heart wrenching making the desolate, apocalyptic aura of the book come alive filling the reader's heart and soul with Neville's undying pain. Neville is a narrator that demands sympathy. The author's emulation of a classical, gothic horror style requires the audience to understand Neville's mental degeneration as he seeks solace in whisky and music as the damned howl outside his door. We love him because in him humanity is portrayed at both its best and its worst and his continual flashbacks remind the audience how temporarily life can be and how easily everything that is good, that is noble, can be suddenly ripped away from our grasp. While the tale echoes science fiction, the real story of one man's pining for a life that will never return is what makes the tragedy so forceful, and so believable. Yes Neville, we shed a tear for you because in your bleak existence we see our own moments of pain and loneliness and because of your humanity we are overcome with compassion.
Likewise, the drama of the plot echoes Neville's degeneration as his slow, bleak days and lonely black nights plod by and he gives himself away to contemplation, flashbacks, and the false hope promised in the bottom of a bottle. However, everything is about to change as our hopeless hero is overcome with one life mission: he must finally understand the reason behind his enforced agony, he must understand the gruesome plague, he must teach himself the mysteries of medicine and perhaps, in his quest for knowledge, redemption from loneliness will be found. As Neville finally finds a mission in life, a reason to live again, the world starts to shift and his lonely days are suddenly interrupted by an enigmatic woman. What could this mean? Is it salvation, a mirage from a dying mind, or a sinister prelude? Neville cannot decided and so the plot spirals eternally downward, dragging Neville into a shocking climax where the truth of the legend is finally revealed, leaving the reader breathless and tearful. Yes Neville, we hear the pain in your grim requiem.
Richard Matheson, the author, has a wonderfully poetic and metaphoric style that combine to bring Neville's bleak world into a shocking, surrealistic picture before the reader's mind. Originally penned in the 's, I Am Legend echoes the literary style of the classics allowing the readers to care deeply for Neville due to the concentration on characterization and the exquisitely beautiful manipulation of the English language. Matheson's eloquent, descriptive language and his evocation of emotion combine to entrance the reader.
A note to those who have seen the movie:
Although, I Am Legend: The Movie was "based" on this novel, the movie was not even remotely similar. The plot and some of the characters (including the woman and the dog) are not the same in the book as in the movie. Also, the deaths of both Neville's wife and his daughter are very different in the novel. Once the novel gets rolling, it becomes instantly obvious that the movie deviated massively from the original storyline, so don't expect the same plot. The novel, while very different, was still equally as enjoyable as the movie. I highly recommend both. The movie and the novel are both classics in the horror genre.
This addition of I Am Legend includes several short stories from Richard Matheson including the following:
The Near Departed
Dance of the Dead
Dress of White Silk
From Shadowed Places
Person to Person
I Am Legend concludes at the half way mark of the novel on page 159 and the short stories begin, unannounced on page 160, at first causing the reader to falsely believe that they pick up Robert Neville's saga. For the most part the stories are rather unspectacular, possessing none of the author's insight into human nature and knack for implementing stunning literary phrases. The best stories are Mad House, The Funeral, and Person to Person. These three stand above the rest and break the general mold of boredom. Other than these three short stories, I would recommend that potential readers skip the other stories. They were only added to this addition to make the novel look fuller and thus attract more potential buyers.
I Am Legend is a bleak testament to one man's isolation and his eternal longing for those who have gone before him. Thought provoking and highly emotional, this is not a novel to be missed. Days after Neville's last word has fallen neatly onto the last page, the readers are still casting their minds back to visit their forlorn friend. Yes Neville, although you thought you were no longer wanted in a dead world, you live on in our memory's museum. Emotional, descriptive, and highly imaginative, I Am Legend is a story that everyone can relate to. Unequivocally recommended.
This earlier appeared in the Kindle Store as an ebook of 312-pages containing the novella "I Am Legend" AND numerous short stories (referred to in various older reviews). Those additional stories were removed, and the page count was modified to what it presently is (substantially under 175 pages).
When I initially read "I Am Legend" in paperback in the 1960's, I was too young to fully appreciate it and was disappointed by its ending. Ten years later I re-read it and was better able to appreciate both the story and its thought-provoking conclusion. However, I was also able to recognize its stylistic imperfections; in particular, specifics and background explanations are sometimes lacking, vague, imprecise and/or contradictory. Nevertheless, it is a good story, and after more recently reading it again, my regard for it remains positive. I do think, however, it has gained a greater reputation and cult-following than it qualitatively deserves. It is good, even arguably very good, but not truly great.
So, is it too short? No, not given its ending; any longer to reach that same conclusion would have been mere padding. Is it a SF classic? It is arguably a minor classic within the ranks of vampire tales, but I think it belongs more properly in the horror category since its "science" is on the light side, merely enough to render the global vampire epidemic seemingly plausible enough to permit Matheson to make his essential point regarding majority/minority reversal and what constitutes normalcy (this idea being comparatively superior to its execution, a typical characteristic -- some would say "weakness" -- of early Matheson).
Earlier in his career (the period in which "I Am Legend" was written) Matheson was usually better at coming up with imaginative ideas than fully and stylistically developing them; that's why so many of his ideas/stories were better suited to the half-hour television format than to that of the full-length motion-picture. In a shorter venue, a brief exposition would lead to the fully revealed idea, the "punchline" as it were (for example, in a "Twilight Zone" episode). That is also why movie adaptations of his early stories (such as "I Am Legend") are so very different from the actual stories on which they are based; he supplied the seed-thought, but someone else had to develop a considerably more substantial plot to fill a two-hour time-span. His later works are better-written and more fully developed, two notable novels-to-movies being "What Dreams May Come" and the enchanting "Somewhere in Time" (originally his novel "Bid Time Return").
In "I Am Legend" the title/punchline/theme dominates, and all else (though not without some merit in its own right) is subservient to its revelation. Vampires, once legendary and dreaded have become real and the norm; untainted humanity, once numerically superior and the norm, is down to one (now legendary) individual; hence my reference earlier to majority/minority reversal. Readers initially relate to this seemingly lone human, his plight, and his terror, and as long as the vampires are regarded as monsters to be avoided and/or killed, they are rooting for him. It is when we realize THEIR fear and awe OF HIM (their hunter and slayer) that we perceive the shift. THEY have become the "normal" population, and to them, HE is the awesome and legendary monster!
This is certainly thought-provoking, and Matheson can be credited with some degree of prescience inasmuch as we can see similar role reversals that have taken place in today's enlighteded, pluralistic, multi-cultural society: Yesterday's all-but-invisible and/or feared minorities (blacks, homosexuals) today have become visible and mainstream; yesterday's political and/or war-time enemies (U.S. and Japan, U.S. and Viet Nam) have become today's trade-partners and/or allies; and yesterday's societal taboos (marijuana-use, same-sex marriages) have become acceptable practices (to cite just a few such reversals).
The theme of this book is certainly well worth pondering, but you will also have to decide if the price (which has fluctuated) is currently a fair one for so short a tale, however good it may be.
on November 16, 2000
As a child (and young teen) I'd had the opportuntity to see many of Richard Matheson's works converted into movies (Incredible Shrinking Man, Hell House, Last Man on Earth & The Omega Man), but being an avid reader at heart I eagerly hunted his novels & stories down one by one over many years...until at last I found his terrifying novel..."I am Legend".
Robert Neville, the hero of Matheson's brilliant work, is a tortured man living a life of loneliness, despair, frustration and paranoia. Driven into this existence by a genocidal plague that wiped out humanity, and the prowling vampires of the night that seek nothing more than to drain his flesh of every drop of his precious blood.
Matheson so vividly conveys the terrible loneliness of Neville's plight and his monotonous existence trying to get through each solitary day...and each white knuckled, pulse pounding night. I found myself experiencing such a wide range of emotions reading this book...sadness, pity, anger, euphoria and symapthy....Matheson really outdid himself with this excellent piece of writing !
By far and away one of my favourite fantasy novels...If you don't already own a copy....do so now ! You won't be dissapointed !
on September 12, 2007
Robert Neville is the lone survivor of a vampire plague which has wiped out most of earth's inhabitants. by day he single-handedly stalks the city laying undead to rest. At night he drinks himself into a stupor and listens to classical music. After 5 months alone Robert realizes that some of the legends about vampires are true and begins to seek scientific explanation. With all the time in the world, he reads books from the library and steals an expensive microscope to help him analyze the bacteria in the victims. This book reminds me a lot of Robinson Caruso. At first Neville rails against his loneliness, the vampires and the world in general... Eventually he develops a survivor mentality which allows him to deal with the situation. When Neville finds a dog things begin to look up... Can Robert survive humanity's near extinction or will he become the last survivor of earth's great plague?
I read the book in anticipation of the movie in December starring Will Smith. I can't wait to see how this is treated in film. Neville is an interesting character who I took a while to get to like. Mostly because the first 1/4 of the novel he drinks, smokes, and feels sorry for himself (who wouldn't). I really warmed to the character once the dog arrived... Overall this was a compelling audiobook well narrated and worth a listen.