I Am Legend

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I Am Legend  

1st edition cover
Author Richard Matheson
Country USA
Language English
Genre(s) Sci-fi/horror
Publisher Walker and Company
Publication date 1954
Media type paperback
Pages 160 (1954 edition)

I Am Legend is a 1954 science fiction/horror novel by Richard Matheson about the last man alive in Los Angeles. It was influential on the developing modern vampire genre as well as the zombie genre, in popularizing the concept of a worldwide apocalypse due to disease, and in exploring the notion of vampirism as a disease. The novel was a success and was adapted to film as The Last Man on Earth in 1964, as The Omega Man in 1971, and as I Am Legend in 2007.

Later releases of the novel include several of Matheson's short stories: Buried Talents, The Near Departed, Prey, Witch War, Dance of the Dead, Dress of White Silk, Mad House, Funeral, From Shadowed Places, and Person to Person.


[edit] Plot

I Am Legend is the story of Robert Neville, apparently the sole survivor of a bacterial pandemic apocalypse, the symptoms of which resemble vampirism. The author details Neville's daily life in Los Angeles, as he attempts to comprehend, research, and possibly cure the disease that killed mankind, and to which he is immune (Neville assumes this is because he was bitten by a vampire bat who was "infected". Because it was not a human, it did not kill Neville, instead, he became ill for a period of time). Neville's past is revealed through flashbacks, while his emotional struggle to cope with losing his humanity is dealt with by going about a daily routine.

Every day, Neville prepares for nightly sieges from a vampire horde. Neville spends the daylight hours repairing his house: boarding windows, hanging garlic garlands, disposing of vampire corpses and gathering supplies. Once darkness falls, the infected come out of hiding and lay siege to Neville's house. They taunt him and attempt to entice him out — he recognizes one vampire as a former friend, Ben Cortman.

After bouts of depression and heavy drinking, Neville decides to find the cause of the disease. He obtains books and other research materials from a library, and through painstaking research he discovers the root of the vampiric disease: a strain of bacteria capable of infecting both deceased and living hosts. However, he does not realize that the living hosts (the infected) are still inherently human, even though they exhibit all the signs of vampirism.

Neville comes across a seemingly uninfected woman, Ruth, abroad in the daylight and captures her. After the initial shock of seeing another human wears off, Neville becomes suspicious of Ruth and is skeptical of her story. He also notices that she is strongly against the killing of the vampires - he feels that if her story of survival was true, she would have become hardened to their fate. As Ruth agrees to let him take a blood test on her the following morning, she knocks him out just as he realizes she is infected.

When he wakes up, Neville discovers a note left by Ruth. In it, she tells him that the infected have slowly been able to adapt to their disease to the point where they can spend short periods of time in sunlight and they are even attempting to rebuild society. They fear and hate Neville since he has unwittingly destroyed some of their people along with true vampires (dead bodies animated by the 'germ') during his daytime excursions and view him as a predator — the "legend" of the title. In their quest to capture him, the infected sent one of their own to Neville. She adds that they have evolved enough to hunt the true vampires and even manufacture pills that keep the basic vampire instincts at bay. She warns Neville that their hunters will come for him. Neville finally believes Ruth but decides not to leave, weary of his lonely and monotonous existence. Eventually the infected come to capture him; Neville watches from his house as they emerge from cars, kill the vampires outside, (along with Ben Cortman), and storm the house. He puts up a struggle but is badly wounded and, once captured, is taken to their headquarters.

Neville meets Ruth again in his prison; she informs him that she is a ranking member of this new society but unlike the others she doesn't fear and hate him. She tells him she had come to his prison to try and help him escape but that is now impossible. She acknowledges the need for Neville's execution, and slips him pills, claiming they will 'make it easier'. Emotionally broken, Neville finally accepts his fate and tearfully asks Ruth not to let this society get too brutal and heartless. Ruth kisses him and leaves.

Neville goes to his prison window and gets a glimpse of all the infected milling around in the yard waiting for his execution. When they spot him, he sees the fear, awe and horror in their eyes and he understands to them he is a scourge, just as they were a scourge to him at the beginning of the novel. Previously Neville saw the destruction of the infected survivors as a right and a moral imperative to be pursued for his own and mankind's survival, but now he finally acknowledges defeat. He is the only immune human left in the world, the only survivor of the "old race".

He glimpses a future society where infection is normal and he, Neville, is a murderous biological deviant. As he turns away and swallows the pills, Neville grasps the reversal that has taken place and that just as vampires were legend in pre-infection times now he, an obsolete exemplar of old humanity, is legend in the eyes of the new race born of the infection. The sheer ridiculousness of it all causes Neville to chuckle as he dies, his last thoughts being "I...am a superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend."

[edit] Influence

First hardcover edition cover art

I Am Legend influenced the zombie genre and popularized the concept of a worldwide disease apocalypse. Though classified and referred to as "the first modern vampire novel",[1] it is as a novel of social theme that I Am Legend impressed itself to the cinematic zombie genre by way of director George A. Romero, who acknowledged its influence and that of its 1964 adaptation, The Last Man on Earth, upon his film Night of the Living Dead (1968).[2][3][4] Moreover, film critics noted similarities between Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Last Man on Earth (1964).[5][6]

Stephen King said, "Without Richard Matheson I wouldn’t be around."[7] Film critics noted that the British film 28 Days Later (2002) and its sequel 28 Weeks Later both feature a rabies-type plague ravaging Great Britain, analogous to I Am Legend.[8] The recasting of zombies and vampires as products of infectious disease or radiation is now commonplace, as seen in the Resident Evil series, B movie Night of the Comet, the Blade series, Fallout series, Ultraviolet and The Addiction.

[edit] Adaptations

I Am Legend has been adapted to a feature-length film three times. The book has also been adapted into a graphic novel titled Richard Matheson's I Am Legend by Steve Niles and Elman Brown.[9]

A nine-part reading of the novel performed by Angus MacInnes was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

[edit] The Last Man on Earth

In 1964, Vincent Price starred as Dr. Robert Morgan (rather than "Neville") in The Last Man on Earth (the original title of this Italian production was L'Ultimo Uomo della Terra). Matheson wrote the screenplay for this adaptation, but due to later rewrites he did not wish his name to appear in the credits; as a result, Matheson is credited under the pseudonym "Logan Swanson."

[edit] The Omega Man

In 1971, a far different version appeared as The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston (as Robert Neville) and Anthony Zerbe. Matheson had no influence on the screenplay for this film; it deviates from the novel's story in several ways, completely removing the vampiric elements except for sensitivity to light.

[edit] I Am Legend

Will Smith stars in the film directed by Francis Lawrence, released on December 14, 2007. This movie also deviates from the original novel. The infection is caused by a virus originally intended to cure cancer. Some vampiric elements are retained, such as sensitivity to UV light and attraction to blood, though the infected are largely portrayed as mindless creatures, but with some animal intelligence, throughout the movie. The film takes place in New York City and in the years 2009 and 2012 instead of '76-'79, and Neville is given the dog by his daughter as she and her mother are about to escape.

The ending is completely different, with Neville discovering a cure and sacrificing himself to allow another immune person to take the cure to a hidden sanctuary. In an alternate ending viewable on the film's 2 Disc Special Edition DVD, Neville releases the captured female creature after confronting the Alpha Male and realizing he's become an interruption to their existence rather than a savior, an aspect retained from the novel.

[edit] Popular Music

American rock band He Is Legend named their band as a homage to the book.

The band White Zombie has a song named after the book.

Arch Enemy has a song called "I Am Legend / Out For Blood".

The Italian metal band Stormlord has a song called "I Am Legend", with lyrics inspired by the novel

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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