Sunday, January 13, 2008

I Am Legend (Novel) Review

After watching I Am Legend, which you can read my review of here, I decided to do a little research on the original book knowing that the film was very different. What fascinated me was that I Am Legend is credited as being a huge influence on the modern day zombie genre, a genre I'm quite the fan of.

So of course, this means I had to go pick up the novel and read it for myself.

I Am Legend was first published in 1954 and written by Richard Matheson. Thought short (159 pages in the 2007 edition I purchased), I must say I have not been this gripped by a novel since A Dream of Eagles; I read almost all of it in one night.

I Am Legend begins in January 1976 (excluding flashbacks), and follows the life of Robert Neville. Less than a year earlier, an unknown sickness spread throughout the national, and likely global, population, infecting people and turning them into vampires. Now, Neville may very well be the last human alive on Earth. By day, he travels throughout Los Angeles slaying the comatose creatures where he finds them, gathering supplies, and preparing his own defences. By night, Neville remains barricaded inside his home as the infected and true undead continually search for a way inside to feast upon his blood.

Like the film, the power of the novel is not in the creatures themselves, but the isolation and psychology of Neville himself. Seriously, if you were the last man on Earth, what kind of mental state would you be in? I know I'd crack, and Neville proves he's just as human as myself. He goes through his fair share of despair, loneliness, and alcoholism, and the novel also immediately brings up a real and important issue that was neglected in the film: Sex. Being the last man alive, Neville will never be able to satisfy his own biological urges with another living partner ever again, and its tormenting him. The infected have also clued in on this, as many of the female infected will remove their dresses and strike suggestive poses whenever Neville peaks outside, and he's in such a state that its an internal struggle not to even try.

While certain aspects of the novel are, of course, cheesy like all "zombie flicks," its the simple, plausible humanity that is so alluring, and the easy identification that readers will have with Neville. The flashbacks also provide an interesting perspective on society's own initial reaction to the sickness, and its failure to react properly.

Due to the short length of I Am Legend, and the publisher's desire to be able to sell the novel at full price, they also added several short stories previously published by Matheson. They were published between 1951 and 1989 respectively, and range from great to smeh, but its certainly interesting to see the other influences that Matheson's works have had.

When all is said and done, like most novel adaptations, I Am Legend was of a much higher calibre than its recent film rendition, and is certainly worth a read for anyone who's a fan of post apocalyptic tales. To see and read the kind of influence this novel has had over the years, well, it truly is legend.

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