Friday, December 18, 2009

I Am Legend

I Am Legend was a brilliant story conceived by a serial science fiction writer. I really enjoyed reading it. I think Matheson, like so many other sci-fi writers (including a household favorite, Dick), create and create and sometimes come away with a flash of supremely worthy material.

The story's novella length was perfect. The style was not embellished; Dick did not try to milk his story for more than it was worth. We read just enough about Robert Neville to sympathize and route for him. Whenever he twinked out his pad I cheered for him. And I got tense when he realized his watch no longer worked. Matheson treaded the line between short story (of which he has numerous) and full novel really well. I think he correctly identified that character development was crucial for this story, where as his other stories can rely more on bursts of cleverness and captivating twists.

That said, I think this novel was exceptionally clever - I think Matheson stumbled upon a story that captures the eternal "us and them" struggle that has contributed much to humanity's history. After reading his other stories - which seemed content to not allude to the human narrative - I wonder if Neville's grey struggle to make a place for himself and to create a new personal identity was planned or accidental.

And this leads me to why I appreciated the book so much. Neville became the terror that "we" associate with vampires! All cultures are fraught with lore of supernatural creatures of horror an threat. Europe has long been obsessed with vampires. Matheson drew deeply from that tradition, and brilliantly reversed it in the closing segment. All of the "new society" were terrified of Neville. While they hid from the sun Neville would creep upon them and coldy, methodically murder them. The reader spends the whole book hoping Neville can kill enough of them and keep others at Bay long enough for some salvation. The final scene most wholly offers a salvation, but not so much for Neville. And from then on Neville becomes the legend of the new society. You'd better tidy your room before bed or Robert Neville will come get you!


  1. Oh, and on the us and them thing, I think Matheson weaved a great layer when there were three groups! The new society were awful towards the actual vampires - so much that Neville sympathized with them. When Cortman finally met his end Neville was visibly affected.

  2. As often happens, the points of interest noted and enthusiasm for a book one of us reviews has already affected my view on this one — I am Legend. I was not so impressed by it as Christopher when I read it. I am not so now, but I believe I appreciate its qualities better. For starters, history is a factor; this book was written some time ago, in the 1950s I think (I don't have my copy with me) so it was ahead of it time, and ahead of the waves of vampire and apocalyptic stories we get regularly nowadays. On the other hand, the premise and writing style were not my cup of tea. I avoided a lot of "sci-fi" literature because of its rough cut prose, with lots of tagged on clauses beginning with 'that,' that should should have been new sentences, and other basic, rough writing. But within its genre, it is a compelling story. It reminds me of a lot of the detective stories I enjoyed reading in the 70s, such as the two MacDonalds—John D. and Ross. Robert Neville is a character chiseled in that same hyper-masculine / but sensitive underneath fellow we find in those detective stories and in some of Clink Eastwoods better characters. The cartoonish is not far away. It would have worked as a graphic novel too. The book has that movie quality to it already — or perhaps tv quality. It was of that same era as Hitchcock's tv show and The Twilight Zone. As Chris notes, the Novella length fits that tightened story. — About the length and the ending: At the end, because of the way the book was layed out, I thought the next story in what turned out to be a collection continued the story !! That's how uncertain I was that it had come to an end. But even that reminds me now of how the old Twilight Zone shows would develop their premise arrive at it, often suddenly, and then ... that's it. Story over. I am Legend had that same effect. Going back over it I get it. I agree its a fine premise and twist. I finally "got it" — how and why he is legend. So I enjoyed it overall, though I wonder if I would have stayed with it were it not a book club piece.
    Now. I've managed to write and post a comment but do not see what I need to do to make this an actual post... ? a techical-senior moment.

  3. Wikipedia is curiousity's best friend:Richard Matheson "wrote a number of episodes for the American TV series The Twilight Zone." He was born in 1926. These guys were all of an age: Rod Sterling of Twilight zone 1924-1975, Ross MacDonald, Lew Harper series detective story writer, 1915-1983. John D. MacDonald Florida based Travis McGee series detective writer, 1916-1986. These are Grandpere, Grandmere and Grandma era folks. (As is Clint Eastwood, the baby of the bunch: born in 1930. The genre and characters are often referred to as 'hardboiled.' That would be Robert Neville. Richard Matheson is still alive, born the year Grandma was born, 1926.