I am Legend by Richard Matheson

It never occured to me to read I am Legend as I have already seen the film (the Will Smith version) and I prefer to read the book first so that I don’t have any preconceived ideas.  However, this book was strongly recommended to me by somebody who’s opinion I value so I decided to take a look (and also the film and the book are completely different).

Simply put this book is a masterpiece.  A work of art and frankly a legend itself.  There are countless books flooding the market about vampires and other supernatural creatures and a lot of them make very good reads – however, they’re not iconic.  Bram Stoker’s Dracula brought to us these creatures of the night with all the folklore and superstition, Richard Matheson’s I am Legend brings to us the new concept of vampirism being a plague that has swept through the world killing and recreating in it’s path and wiping out humanity as we know it.  Surely this book must have provided the inspiration for any number of books and movies, including zombie films and certainly updates this particular story and brings it into the modern era turning all the old superstitions on their head.

To quote the back of the book:

‘Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth …. but he is not alone.  Every other man, woman and child on the planet has become a vampire and they are hungry for Neville’s blood. By day he is the hunter, stalking the undead through the ruins of civilisation.  By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for the dawn.  How long can one man survive like this?’

A combination of horror and sci fi, I am Legend is only a short story.  It’s dark and atmospheric but not overly descriptive.  We begin with Robert barricaded in his house at night being driven to distraction by the monster’s outside who appear every night to attack his house and try to lure him outside (even shouting ‘come out Neville’).  During the day he himself becomes the hunter, going out into the city to kill the vampires who plague his nights.

This book manages to convey such a lot of emotions.  We start the story living with the fear (and temptation) that Robert experiences every night.  We read about him being driven to distraction and despair and almost giving up the will to survive.  We also feel his loneliness and through his thoughts it almost feels as though his enforced isolation will eventually drive him crazy.  The scenes involving the dog were really touching to read as Robert desperately tries to befriend the animal.  (Keep a tissue handy for that bit).

We are gradually given the back story in chapters where Robert recalls events from his past.  And are made aware of an infection that quickly swept throughout the population.  Robert survived due to an incident with a blood infection during his past but he appears to be the only person immune to the disease.  Eventually Robert goes on a search for the truth behind the illness, I don’t suppose his findings will hold up to a great deal of scrutiny but then he isn’t an expert, just somebody desperately seeking answers and a cure.  I liked the way that all the old myths were examined, garlic, crosses, daylight, etc,.

What is really clever about the writing is that there isn’t a great deal of detail that will eventually date the book.  This book was first published in the 50s but was set looking forward into the future (the 70s) and yet if you look back there is no really significant detail say clothes, food, equipment, houses, etc,  everything is kept very bland and in writing in this way when you read the book it could read as though it’s set in the here and now.

On a final note I think the ending is brilliant.  As Robert has changed over the years – so have the vampires.  They have evolved and adapted.  Ironically, in being the only human left and in hunting the vampires during the day Robert has himself become a feared monster.  He is now the bogeyman, the myth, the legend, that the vampires now whisper about and fear.  Outstanding.

A must read (although, be warned, this is a blunt, unromantic and dark story.  There are no sparkly or handsome monsters, no love and no lyrical prose).

Rating A+

I am Legend

I am Legend

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22 Responses to “I am Legend by Richard Matheson”

  1. Heather

    As soon as I found out that the movie was based on a book, I decided I want to read it. I’m glad you found it so good! I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

    • lynnsbooks

      It’s only a short read but it’s definitely one of those ground breaking books. The movie is only loosely based on the book – and I would say that the creatures are more fearsome in the film – stronger and faster and more intimidating. I think the book is much more thought provoking though.

  2. jdbookworm

    I agree – definitely a masterpiece and a legendary read!

  3. Bibliotropic

    I read half of this book a while ago, and to be honest, I can’t remember why I didn’t read the other half. It certainly can’t be that the book was too thick and daunting, and it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy or appreciate the story. Regardless, I know I’m going to have to pick it up again soon and give it the full reading it deserves.

    Great review!

    • lynnsbooks

      I suppose it depends on your frame of mind at the time? It’s not exactly a feel good book after all.

  4. nrlymrtl

    You’re right that this is an excellent book. I had quite the gambit of emotions while reading this, riding along in Robert’s head, as he swings from lonely despair to lonely duty to lonely hope and back through them all again. It’s a great spin on vampirism/zombieism.

    • lynnsbooks

      It’s not a pretty story for sure but it’s groundbreaking for its time and I loved the ending.
      Lynn 😀

  5. You will, you will, you will… | Lynn's Book Blog

    […] I am Legend, Richard Matheson – this is a fantastic book, nothing like the film by the way and my very brilliant friend Jenny at Wondrous Reads put me onto this (she absolutely made me!) as it’s one of her all time favourites (along with the Book Thief) […]

  6. Wendleberry

    I read this recently. I heard about the film and was interested, but like you, i like to read the book first. So, i held off on seeing the film, but now i’ve read the book i don’t want to see the film!

    The atmosphere of the book is amazing. For the first few chapters in particular, i was terrified. And the perfect mix of horror and science fiction was perfection for me.

    • lynnsbooks

      When I started reading I almost wondered if I would like the book. It’s written in a very blunt fashion but what I think the writing does do, now I think back, is reflect the different shifts in Neville, show how he goes through certain stages as he realises that he is the last living person. The ending of course is just great and that for me is the worst part in the translation to screen. I really don’t see why they couldn’t have left the ending. I think they maybe believe people wouldn’t be able to handle it.
      Lynn 😀

  7. I2Q

    Dear Lynn,

    I read Richard Matheson´s classic “I Am Legend” and found it fantastic. It´s original and captivating. I understand why people say that it has influenced so many other books and movies.

    I have to say that the character of Ben Cortman had me cracking up laughing too, even though it is a serious story with the character of Robert Neville in a seriously bad condition. The ending is completely unpredictable and great.

    I cannot recommend this masterpiece enough.

    check out my blog at http://www.ink2quill.com

    I2Q

    • lynnsbooks

      Thanks for stopping by. I agree about I am Legend – I think it not only inspired a whole new wave of films and books but I also think there was a hit record that used the ‘come out Neville’ chant!
      Lynn 😀

      • I2Q

        “Come out Neville.” That´s too funny. A good alternate ending would be for Neville to find a cure and become buddies again with Cortman.

        The funny conversations they would have. It would be like someone telling his friend all the stupid things he did while he was drunk and blacked out.(Not to mock alcoholism) and Cortman would be saying “I really don´t remember that.” This classic continues to stand the test of time.

        Your blog is really good too. It´s fun to read others opinions and thoughts on good books and movies. If you decide to write a book let me know so I can put the cover on my blog and review it.

        I2Q

      • lynnsbooks

        Thanks! I would love to write a book – let’s face it, probably most people would! But, I enjoy reading too much and it takes up all my spare time. Plus, really, I’d describe myself as a reader not a writer. Writing a book is the dream I suppose.
        Have you read any more of Matheson’s works. I haven’t but I quite fancy reading Stir of Echoes?
        Lynn 😀

  8. I2Q

    OK Lynn. You just strike me as someone who could write a really good because your blog is so well written. It reads like butter.

    I2Q

  9. Vishy

    Beautiful review, Lynn! I loved ‘I am Legend’ when I read it. The ending was fantastic. Have you seen a movie called ‘The Duel’? I think that it is either based on a Richard Matheson story or he wrote the script for that. It is Steven Spielberg’s first movie. It is fast-paced and scary and has very few characters and is a masterpiece.

    • lynnsbooks

      Thanks Vishy
      I’ve not seen Duel but thanks for the mention – I’ll definitely check it out.
      Lynn 😀

      • Vishy

        I hope you enjoy watching it, Lynn. I will look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. Happy watching!

  10. The immortality of the immortals. | Lynn's Book Blog

    […] other absolute must read is I am Legend by R Matheson – a fantastic tale with a wicked twist and another very important book in that […]

  11. Ode to bloggers.. | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] I am Legend by Richard Matheson – this is one of many titles that I came to read courtesy of Jenny at Wondrous Reads. […]

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    […] I am Legend by Richard Matheson – I don’t even need to say anything about this book surely? […]

  13. “But, oh, Mina, I love him; I love him; I love him!” #Spooktasticreads #Vampires | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] I am Legend by Richard Matheson.  This is not a book that you could ever class as fun – watching one man’s slow spiral into loneliness and madness is difficult – but this book is worth the read.  The ending – that is all. […]

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