I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

I AM LEGEND, Will Smith, 2007. ©Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection
I AM LEGEND, Will Smith, 2007. ©Warner Bros.

I’ve always loved Richard Matheson’s work. He was writing genuinely good scary stuff back when everyone else equated “scary” with “juvenile, stupid monsters”.  This is the first time I had actually read this novella, though. I did see the movie starring Will Smith, which was excellent. But now, I’ve got Will Smith stuck in my head while I’m reading the story, and in many ways, I preferred the movie version.

Don’t get me wrong – I did appreciate that Matheson’s Robert Neville was a more nuanced guy than the average horror story protagonist, but every time Matheson mentioned the guy’s “blond hair” it threw me out of the story, because the whole time I was imagining Will Smith! Nevertheless, there was a lot here that I admired about Matheson’s take on this “the last man on Earth” story.

For one, I can totally see how, after several hair-raising months (years?) of dealing with these “things”, you would turn to drinking. A LOT of drinking, in his case.  I thought all that was both realistic and understandable. And, even though it is probably realistic, I really did not like how Neville kept obsessing over the female vampires. Has nobody told this guy about the wonders of masturbation?

Then again, this was written in the Fifties, so the answer is NO. And that’s why homeboy was half out of his mind with all those “forbidden desires.” Sheesh.

However, between the guy’s generally cranky demeanor, and all these other issues, I thought Neville was not a very sympathetic character. Interesting. Realistic. But not somebody I was rooting for.

Another thing, when I first see Robert Neville trying to figure out the nature of his vampire/zombies, I actually felt a little impatient.  Come on, man — Everybody knows what causes vampires/zombies, right?

But then I remembered. Everybody did NOT know about them back in the Fifties!

So, Matheson was kind of feeling his way around in the dark on that one. Interesting that he hit on the virus idea, though. And unlike some people, I liked the idea of the pathogen being spread across the country by dust storms. For one thing, it gave the setting more of an apocalyptic feel, plus it was a nice, fresh idea with visual appeal. I imagined these huge, brown dust storms blowing through a desolate and decayed Los Angeles. Cool.

I liked how Matheson chronicled Neville’s daily existence. It gave me lots of good ideas to use for when the zombie apocalypse really happens. I also liked how, once he sees, and then captures, the woman he then spends a lot of time stewing in paranoia and distrust. That felt realistic, too. After being alone for so long, he was bound to be suspicious of anything new that looked too good to be true.

The only thing that didn’t ring true in this story was the ending. Frankly, I did not get the reasoning behind why they felt they had to kill him. It made no sense to me. The guy was immune to the virus AND he managed to survive all this time on his own. Give the guy a medal, or at the very least, EXPERIMENT on him to find out his secrets! But, kill him? Bleh.

I also felt sorry for the way the so-called humans killed off Neville’s private pain-in-the-ass, Ben Cortman.

Anyway, I still love Matheson, and I think this story has a lot to offer us horror geeks. If for no other reason than to see the origins of so many future vampire/zombie story lines.

 

Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: Tor, 2007. Print.