Humanity, Monsters, and Isolation: A look at I Am Legend

Authors. Writers. Books. Poems. Literature History. Photo by Magali Guimaru00e3es on

Curled up on my bed in the November of 2011, listening to the rain hammer my bedroom window, I voraciously consumed Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, thinking I had a massive, science fiction novel on my hands that dealt with survival, action, and vampires! However, I was incorrect for two reasons: 1) the massive novel was actually the short-novel (just barely cracking novella length) I Am Legend paired with a collection of Matheson’s short stories, so the abrupt ending took me by surprise, and 2) I wasn’t just reading a science fiction novel, but a book about humanity and what it means to be a monster.

Now that we know a little of Matheson’s background from the previous post, I think it is only appropriate that we take a spoilery look at one of my favorite Matheson novels.

The novel

I Am Legend was written by Richard Matheson and was published in 1954 by Gold Medal Books. It tells the tale of Robert Neville who appears to be the sole survivor of a pandemic that has ravaged the world and turned the dead into vampiric monsters that come out at night to terrorize the protagonist. The novel delves into the depths of humanity and explores plausible (or according to some critics: entirely unplausible) theories about vampiric creation.

Without divulging too much information, the book focuses on scientific musings, but the moments of action and adventure offset anything that might be misinterpreted as boring. As I mentioned in a previous post, the book really sits with you after you are done reading it because there are many profound moments of revelation and humanity due to the perspective of Neville.

Overall impressions

Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend is an excellent, fast-paced book about the perils of being different (and, thus, it’s a book about humans and monsters). There are pure moments of pistol-firing action and vampire slaying, which elevate this book to levels of swashbuckling excitement. Meanwhile, there are moments of contemplation and meditative reflection about the fallible nature of human existence. Matheson’s balancing of the two types of storytelling is why I love his writing and why I love this story.