Review: (3.75 / 5) The novel, I am Legend, written by Richard Matheson is a 1954 horror piece that I learned was influential in today’s Zombie Apocalypse fiction. The book has been adapted for film four times, the most recent 2007. I am Legend has received some critical reviews, most often said that is slow paced, however in 2012 the Horror Writers Association gave it the Vampire Novel of the Century Award. Goodreads gives the story a rating, 3.98 out of 5.
I for one enjoyed the story, and looked forward to reading it when I heard it made the list for books in the SHU Horror Monster RIG. I didn’t score it as high as Goodreads, mainly because the plot was the same—over and over—but I did like it. I was first introduced to Matheson’s books in my second term in the MFA Program at Seton Hill. We read Hell House, and I’ll admit, it had me looking over my shoulder at night in my own home. I am Legend was different though, it didn’t have that scare factor, but I learned a lot from Matheson’s writing. The book is not rich in dialogue, instead the author drives has Neville drive the plot through his quest for survival in a world run by vampires, which personally I thought were more zombie-like.
The book jumps right into it with the vampires outside Neville’s door. The protagonist is the sole survivor of a pandemic that spread during wartime. Somehow, Neville was immune to the disease, assumedly by getting bitten by a vampire bat, which built up antibodies needed to ward off the bacteria.
The setting for the book takes place in Southern California, mainly around the South Central Los Angeles area. What I found interesting is that dust storms and mosquitos were the means in which the pandemic spread. I lived in So. Cal for thirty-five years and not once saw a dust storm. In fact, I didn’t even know what they were until I moved to Arizona. Now mosquitos, they’re everywhere!
As time went on, the vampires took over the world, reducing the population one-by-one until after three years; Neville is believed to be the last man standing. As the vampires attempt to get to Neville, he learns that garlic, crosses, and mirrors help ward off the vampires—unless they’re Jewish of course, then they didn’t believe in the cross. Yes, they really said that in the book.
In time, isolation gets the best of him and he turns into a drunk, but a smart one. He learns other ways to beat the enemy—daylight for one, and also a little science. Neville breaks out his little science kit and learns how the convert the bacteria from anaerobic to aerobic, which in turn consumes the host. Yeah, that was a little to much for me. I simply conceded to the author that he knew what he was doing and accepted Neville’s means of killing the vampires while they slept during the daylight hours. So instead of driving the stake through the heart, which he did initially—he got tired of taking his neighbors fences I guess—he simply chopped off part of their body in order to inflict deep wounds and expose the parasite to the elements. This in turn killed them while they slept.
I’ll leave it there for now so that I don’t spoil the ending. One thing I will forewarn readers. It is written in 1954, so expect to think hmm when you come across things that were accepted during that era. There were a couple words some might consider racially insensitive, and there is also a little misogamy going on where Neville is man, you, woman! While it didn’t bother me, I’ll admit I did stop and go hmm when I read those passages.