I Am Legend
Richard Matheson, 1954
Richard Matheson, 1954
I'm having a really hard time planning this post. I really enjoyed this short novel, but most of what I found fascinating about it really belongs under a spoiler warning. Yes, even though the book came out in 1954, has been adapted into three movies, and is a seminal work of modern horror. You ought to read it before I can give you my full reaction.
So all I'll do first is fit it into the context of vampiric literature. I Am Legend famously inspired many modern horror writers and filmmakers. The opening premise - guy alone in a house staving off waves of undead - inspired much of what we think of as the modern zombie. For the most part, the vampires here are less intelligent than humans. They are only possessed by a desire for blood and an instinct to hide during the day. On the other hand, similar to Dracula, female vampires seem to also acquire a preternatural wantonness, which is creepy, and at times makes one wonder about the author.
Because it came out in the 50's, it attempts what is possibly one of the first “scientific” explanation of vampires, which is really interesting all by itself. Also, it's set in the “future” of 1976. Awesome.
It's a really good, creepy, dark book. Go read it.
4 Stars - A Really Good Book
Moderate Spoilers Below this line!-----------------------------------------------------
Okay, this book is so cool. The 'twist' is cooler the more I think about it. It's awesome. In the end, I actually completely get behind Neville's weird issues with the female vampires, because they parallel Dracula's obsessions so well. I'm not sure that the narration should have played up directly how cold and awful he was becoming without human companionship, but it's a minor criticism.
The science-y explanations wore a little thin eventually, although I like that the only major vampire power (from Dracula) that was borne out in the 'real' vampires of I am Legend was turning to dust, since that was very important in Dracula, although we don't often think of that one in the context of modern representations of vampires. Even though in this case it isn't so much a power as it is an effect of their death, you could guess from Neville's experiences how it became part of the vampire legend. I'm not sure how I feel about holy symbols, etc. only having an effect because the vampires themselves believe it will, but it's a nice spin on debunking a myth.
Below, quick snapshot of the 'type' of vampires from I Am Legend.
Possible Light Hypnosis (Females' affect on Neville referred to as such in passing)
No Animal Control
Can't turn into bat, wolf.
Dissolve upon starvation into dust
Blood sustains living dead, more akin to zombies than previous vampires.
Extraordinary healing powers.
Asleep during the day, Sunlight painful or lethal.
Some sleep in soil
Don't seem to need to be invited into a building
Repelled by garlic
Driven back by holy symbols, dependent on faith of human pre-vampirism.
No difficulty crossing running water
Made by infection by bacteria, either via bite from a current vampire or via poisonous dust. Possibly also spread by insects. Not “fully” undead until death of host, but acquire most characteristics (sharp canines, sleep during the day, etc.) upon infection. It is possible to be immune to the infection.
How to destroy:
Stab the body with something large enough to prevent healing. Fully undead vampires revert to dust.