Summary: Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth…but he is not alone. Every other man, woman, and child on Earth has become a vampire, and they are all hungry for Neville’s blood.
By day, he is the hunter, stalking the sleeping undead through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn.
How long can one man survive in a world of vampires?
I am legend —
Buried talents —
The near departed —
Witch war —
Dance of the dead —
Dress of white silk —
Mad house —
The funeral —
From shadowed places —
Person to person
Source: I purchased a paperback copy from a used bookstore in GA.
Without a doubt, Matheson is a terrific horror writer. I was definitely impressed by the style of writing, especially in some of the shorter stories following the novella I Am Legend. I love that he was an inspiration to other well known and talented writers such as Ray Bradbury, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King, all of whom were quoted in or on my copy of the book. I Am Legend was written in 1954 and is widely referred to as the first of its kind and the idea of a plague creating horrible creatures and decimating the human population was new in his time. The building blocks for many familiar stories were evident in I Am Legend and there were multiple horrors in the book aside from the existence of vampires.
Robert Neville found himself utterly alone as a human being and struggled with that for much of the book. The past haunted him along with his own emotions and urges and the lack of motivation, focus, and purpose haunted his present day. Matheson captured the feeling quite well.
Unfortunately, the movie I Am Legend somewhat spoiled my expectations for the book. The book wasn’t bad at all, but it paled in comparison to the themes of the movie. If I were to compare the two, I prefer the movie by far. So after awhile, I stopped trying to compare the two and started trying to appreciate the story for what it was.
I did like the differences in the book, like Robert Neville’s hopelessness, alcohol problems, and his fierce determination to understand the phenomenon of vampires scientifically using textbooks and finding supplies such as microscopes. I liked part three of the novella the most, when Robert Neville sort of overcame himself and his emotional issues and appeared to have a routine and purpose and and understanding of the world around him.
But if I’m to be perfectly honest, I disliked Robert Neville. I found him to be a lot whinier and unfocused than I preferred. While it made sense for him to lack purpose, too much of the novella was spent watching Robert Neville argue with himself, get upset or angry, and drink himself into a stupor. I felt about 50% of those scenes could have been cut because I got the point and it was getting annoying. And it didn’t make that much sense, given that he seemed to have a impenetrable home, a generator, plenty of food, and music. He was 50% set and prepared and 50% a bumbling idiot. Perhaps he would have been more likeable if the Robert Neville of the movie wasn’t so much better adapted to the harsh world.
While the overall gist of the book was terrifying, the actual vampires themselves didn’t seem all that scary to me standing outside of his house asking him to come out. Everything else about the book was full of that gut-clenching fear of emptiness and hopelessness like that of the movie and books like The Stand by Stephen King. Losing your humanity, not being able to go outside at night.. all of that was great. But the actual creatures themselves weren’t as terrifying as other reviews would have me believe. I suppose I’m just more terrified of the animalistic vampire zombie-like creatures of the movie. A pale undead guy standing outside of my house just doesn’t have the same effect.
Despite not caring for the main character all that much and not being all that impressed with the undead creatures of the night, I thought the novel was intelligent and well written. All of the themes of post apocalyptic horror that I love were present, even if some where better developed than others. I could see how so many horror and science fiction writers were inspired by his ideas. I loved the ending and part three of the novella was my favorite part, where external connections were made and the plot began to thicken.
I also loved the short stories following I Am Legend, particularly The Near Departed. They were short and sweet, but full of horror.
Some great quotes:
“A man could get used to anything if he had to.”
“‘The strength of the vampire is that no one will believe in him.’ Thank you, Dr. Van Helsing, he thought, putting down his copy of Dracula… It was true. The book was a hodgepodge of superstitions and soap opera clichés, but that line was true; no one had believed in them, and how could they fight something they didn’t even believe in?”
“And, before science had caught with the legend, the legend had swallowed science and everything.”
“World’s gone to hell. No germs, no science. World’s fallen to the supernatural, it’s a supernatural world.”
“There was something grotesquely amusing in that; the frenetic attempt to sell papers while the world died.”
“In a typical desperation for quick answers, easily understood, people had turned to primitive worship as the solution. With less than success. Not only had they died as quickly as the rest of the people, but they had died with terror in their hearts, with a mortal dread flowing in their very veins.”
I gave I Am Legend 4 stars because I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped, but I did like it and loved the writing. I almost gave it 3 stars, but I felt it was a bit unfair to the writing. Despite the fact that the story was good, later generations have improved upon the overall themes and I enjoy those improvements more. I would recommend I Am Legend to fans of horror and post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s worth a read and it was written very well.
My name is Robert Neville. I am a survivor living in New York City. I am broadcasting on all AM frequencies. I will be at the South Street Seaport everyday at mid-day, when the sun is highest in the sky. If you are out there… if anyone is out there… I can provide food, I can provide shelter, I can provide security. If there’s anybody out there… anybody… please. You are not alone.
All right, let me tell you about your “God’s plan”. Seven billion people on Earth when the infection hit. KV had a ninety-percent kill rate, that’s five point four billion people dead. Crashed and bled out. Dead. Less than one-percent immunity. That left twelve million healthy people, like you, me, and Ethan. The other five hundred and eighty-eight million turned into your dark seekers, and then they got hungry and they killed and fed on everybody. Everybody! Every single person that you or I has ever known is dead! Dead! There is no god!
He had this idea. It was kind of a virologist idea. He believed that you could cure racism and hate… literally cure it, by injecting music and love into people’s lives. When he was scheduled to perform at a peace rally, a gunman came to his house and shot him down. Two days later he walked out on that stage and sang. When they asked him why – He said, “The people, who were trying to make this world worse… are not taking a day off. How can I? Light up the darkness.”