I Am Legend

Richard Matheson
I Am Legend Cover

A powerful critique of conformist tendencies ...


...and a stark, gripping expression of our greatest fear in the universe: that of utter loneliness.

Richard Neville is the only survivor of a plague, which he later discovers is caused by a bacterial infection, a germ that is killed by sunlight, to which he himself is immune. He forages and loots the remains of the city by day, and barricades himself indoors by sunset ... or when it's overcast. Ominously, he's not alone, for the victims of the plague are around him still, neither alive nor dead. They have turned into the living dead - vampires.

Whereas some tropes in the horror genre uses the supernatural or real life events as inspiration, Matheson make use of rationalist and scientific explanations for his explorations of fear in general, but paricular for the sum of all fears: human loneliness and alienation.

The novel has a stunning, somewhat tragic yet inevitable conclusion. Matheson never reliquishes concerns for his characters, however doomed they may (both the inflicted, and Neville). He is always at pains to argue the exceptional importance of human dignity no matter how frightening and horrific his characters' circumstances. And on his way in doing so, he also dispells a few myths ... and legends.

The book has been filmed three times: Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971) and I am Legend (2007), none of which paticularly satisfying. The films might be able to catch a glimmer of what Matheson brought to the pages, but they can never (and did not with their typical Hollywood "legend" and heroic endings) truly translate the story (for the heroic death of the "legend" is exactly what this novel opposses). But the novel did become the inspiration for a whole subgenre of sf feauturing flesh-eating zombies, in examples like George Romero's proficient Night of the Living Dead (1968), in itself striking commentary on the human condition.

This is a story of one man overcoming all obstacles and fighting to defend his way of life and his very humanity, doing what is necessary to survive. As do the vampires. By the end of the story, Neville does indeed become legend, both in his world and in the new society.