I Am Legend (novel)
First edition cover
|Genre||Science fiction, horror, zombie fiction, vampire fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction|
|Pages||160 (1954 edition)|
I Am Legend is a 1954 horror fiction novel by American writer Richard Matheson. It was influential in the development of the zombie genre and in popularizing the concept of a worldwide apocalypse due to 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, along with a direct-to-video 2007 production capitalizing on that film, I Am Omega. The novel was also the inspiration behind the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead.
Robert Neville is the apparent sole survivor of a pandemic whose symptoms resemble vampirism. Neville survives by barricading himself by sunset inside his house, further protected by garlic, mirrors, and crucifixes. Neville also discovers efficient means of killing the vampires on a daily basis. Eventually Neville is captured by the vampires, who have a complete alternate society opposed to the one he has known.
The book is full of good ideas, every other one of which is immediately dropped and kicked out of sight. The characters are child's drawings, as blank-eyed and expressionless as the author himself in his back-cover photograph. The plot limps. All the same, the story could have been an admirable minor work in the tradition of Dracula, if only the author, or somebody, had not insisted on encumbering it with the year's most childish set of "scientific" rationalizations.
Galaxy reviewer Groff Conklin described Legend as "a weird [and] rather slow-moving first novel ... a horrid, violent, sometimes exciting but too often overdone tour de force." Anthony Boucher praised the novel, saying "Matheson has added a new variant on the Last Man theme ... and has given striking vigor to his invention by a forceful style of storytelling which derives from the best hard-boiled crime novels".
...despite having vampires in it, [the novel] is not a novel on vampires, nor even a horror nor sci-fi novel at all, in the deepest sense. Instead, it is perhaps the greatest novel written on human loneliness. It far surpasses Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in that regard. Its insights into what it is to be human go far beyond genre, and is all the more surprising because, having read his short stories - which range from competent but simplistic, to having classic Twilight Zone twists (he was a major contributor to the original TV series) there is nothing within those short stories that suggests the supreme majesty of the existential masterpiece I Am Legend was aborning.
Although Matheson calls the assailants in his novel "vampires", and though their condition is transmitted through blood and garlic is an apotropaic-like repellant, there is little similarity between them and vampires as developed by John William Polidori and his successors, which come straight out of the gothic novel tradition. I Am Legend influenced the zombie genre and popularized the concept of a worldwide zombie apocalypse. Although the idea has now become commonplace, a scientific origin for vampirism or zombies was fairly original when written. According to Clasen:
"I Am Legend is the product of an anxious artistic mind working in an anxious cultural climate. However, it is also a playful take on an old archetype, the vampire (the reader is even treated to Neville’s reading and put-down of Bram Stoker's Dracula). Matheson goes to great lengths to rationalize or naturalize the vampire myth, transplanting the monster from the otherworldly realms of folklore and Victorian supernaturalism to the test tube of medical inquiry and rational causation. With I Am Legend, Matheson instituted the germ theory of vampirism, a take on the old archetype which has since been tackled by other writers (notably, Dan Simmons in Children of the Night from 1992)."
Though referred to as "the first modern vampire novel", it is as a novel of social theme that I Am Legend made a lasting impression on 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 seminal film Night of the Living Dead (1968). Discussing the creation of Night of the Living Dead, Romero remarked, "I had written a short story, which I basically had ripped off from a Richard Matheson novel called I Am Legend." Moreover, film critics noted similarities between Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Last Man on Earth (1964).
Stephen King said, "Books like I Am Legend were an inspiration to me". 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.
The book has also been adapted into a comic book mini-series titled Richard Matheson's I Am Legend by Steve Niles and Elman Brown. It was published in 1991 by Eclipse Comics and collected into a trade paperback by IDW Publishing.
I Am Legend has been adapted to a feature-length film four times (one of which does not credit Matheson as the source). Differing from the book each of them portrays the Neville character as an accomplished scientist. The first three adaptations show him finding a remedy and passing it on.
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 original screenplay for this adaptation, but due to later rewrites did not wish his name to appear in the credits; as a result, Matheson is credited under the pseudonym "Logan Swanson."
The Omega Man
In 1971, a far different version was produced, entitled The Omega Man. It starred Charlton Heston (as Robert Neville) and Anthony Zerbe. Matheson had no influence on the screenplay for this film, and although the general premise remains, it deviates from the novel in several ways, completely removing the infected's vampiric characteristics except for their sensitivity to light. In this version, the infected are portrayed as nocturnal, black-robed, albino mutants, collectively known as The Family. Though intelligent, they eschew all modern technology, believing it (and those who use it, such as Neville) to be evil and the cause of humanity's downfall.
I Am Legend
In 2007, a third adaptation of the novel was produced, this time titled I Am Legend. Directed by Francis Lawrence and starring Will Smith as Robert Neville, this film uses both Matheson's novel and the 1971 Omega Man film as its source. However, this adaptation also deviates significantly from the novel. In this version, 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. The infected are portrayed as nocturnal, feral creatures of limited intelligence but with superhuman strength who feed on the uninfected. Other creatures, such as dogs, are also infected by the virus. The ending of the film was also altered to portray Neville as sacrificing his life to save humanity, rather than being executed for crimes against the surviving vampiric humans. The film takes place in New York City in the years 2009 and 2012 rather than Los Angeles in 1975-1977.
I Am Omega
The Asylum production I Am Omega was 2007 American feature length direct to video release, starring Mark Dacascos. The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, which is overrun by savage, cannibalistic humans who have degenerated into a feral subspecies as the result of a genetic virus. Once again, the adaption deviates from the novel, and does not credit Matheson.
In this adaption, 'Renchard' has been forced to live in a daily struggle for survival against the mutants. Renchard is contacted via webcam by Brianna (Jennifer Lee Wiggins), another survivor who was stranded in Los Angeles while trying to find Antioch, a community of survivors. Renchard is forced to aid her and two others escape the city in which he has strategically placed time bombs, set to go off in 24 hours.
This film was rushed into production by The Asylum and released a month prior to the bigger budget Francis Lawrence project.
- Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction
- Vampire literature
- Zombie (fictional)
- Knight, Damon (1967). In Search of Wonder. Chicago: Advent.
- "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1955, p.121
- "Recommended Reading," F&SF, November 1954, p.99.
- Schneider, Dan (1953-01-05). "I am Legend by Richard Matheson". hackwriters.com. Retrieved 2013-06-03.
- 2011 Bram Stoker Award™ winners and Vampire Novel of the Century Award winner
- Deborah Christie, Sarah Juliet Lauro, ed. (2011). Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human. Fordham Univ Press. p. 169. ISBN 0-8232-3447-9, 9780823234479.
- "Nashuatelegraph.com: Tale with long history has legendary opening"[dead link]
- Clasen, Mathias (2010). "Vampire Apocalypse: A Biocultural Critique of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend". Philosophy and Literature.
- David Carroll and Kyla Ward, "The Horror Timeline" Burnt Toast No. 13.
- "House of Horrors Presents: The Night of the Living Dead"
- "Steve Biodrowski, Retrospective: Night of the Living Dead (1968)"
- Richard Matheson Interview, in Tom Weaver, Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers: The Mutant Melding of Two Volumes of Classic Interviews (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1999), p. 307, ISBN 0-7864-0755-7.
- "One for the Fire: The Legacy of Night of the Living Dead" — Night of the Living Dead DVD, 2008, Region 1, Dimension Home Entertainment
- "Thomas Scalzo, The Last Man on Earth (Film Review)"
- "Danel Griffin The Last Man on Earth (Film Review)"
- "The Legend that inspired me". The Times (London). 2006-07-22. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
- "28 Days Later Movie Review (2002). Channel 4 Film. Retrieved 2011-03-19.
- Nashuatelegraph.com: Tale with long history has legendary opening
- I Am Legend at the Grand Comics Database
- I Am Legend at the Comic Book DB
- I Am Legend: Awakening at the Comic Book DB
- "BBC Radio 7 - I am Legend, Episode 1". Bbc.co.uk. 2011-01-18. Retrieved 2013-06-03.
- Stan Wiater; Matthew R. Bradley; Paul Stuve (2009). The Twilight and Other Zones: The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson. Kensington Publishing Corporation. pp. 177–. ISBN 978-0-8065-3113-7. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
- "Omega Man, The". Sf-encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2013-06-03.
- end credits: "Based on the screenplay by John & Joyce Corrington, and the novel by Richard Matheson"
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