Sunday, September 12, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 37

This is an ongoing series looking at books that influenced me as a fantasy author.

I Am Legend
by Richard Matheson

I'll say right up front, this is my favorite vampire novel. Forget Anne Rice. Forget Dracula, even. I Am Legend has been my favorite vampire novel ever since I read it nearly 30 years ago.

I Am LegendIf you're only familiar with the movie versions of this tale, you're missing out. Read the book. It's much, much better, though I did like some of the movies for what they were. But they weren't the book. The movie that comes closest to the book, in my opinion, is 1964's The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price, and even that pales in comparison to the novel.

The plot? Basically, everyone on the planet except for one man has been turned into a vampire. At night this lone fellow barricades himself in his house, then during the day he comes out to go from house to house, building to building, in search of vampires to stake.

I Am Legend is a short book, and can easily be read in a day or two, but it packs a lot of punch into its pages. Also, without hitting the reader over the head with it, this is one of those classic novels that makes you think. I wouldn't say it's themes are necessarily political, but they are definitely sociological, and are worth thinking upon.

Some of the science mentioned in the book is a little iffy, but keep in mind this novel came out in the 1950s. It's kind of funny to read the goofy (by today's standards) science portrayed in the book.

I discovered this novel more or less accidentally in the very early 1980s. It was one I purchased as a member of a book club, and I've been glad I picked it out ever since.

I Am Legend is truly a masterpiece of speculative fiction.

Up next: Interview with the Vampire


Paul R. McNamee said...


"I Am Legend" sticks with me because of one scene. The hero is running around, doing his business, watching the clock, must get home before sunset. The tension builds - and then he realizes he didn't wind his watch (again, remember when this was written) - he barely has time to get home safely.

It took the tension and cranked it to 11 at that moment.

I remember saying aloud, "Oh f---."

Not many stories ever make me blurt aloud.

"I Am Legend" did.

Ty Johnston said...

That was a fantastic scene in the book. Definitely a great tension builder. Not sure how it would be pulled off today. Maybe the battery dies on his cell phone. Not that there'd be anybody to call (well, nobody he'd want to talk to, anyway), but perhaps he'd still use the phone for other purposes ... clock, calendar, maps, etc.

Charles Gramlich said...

Not my favorite vamp novel but I did enjoy it. I liked his "hell house" even better.

Matthew Bradley said...

The "unwound watch" sequence was definitely a dramatic highlight in the novel. Presumably, the makers of THE LAST MAN ON EARTH thought it wouldn't work onscreen, and effected his inability to return home before sunset by having him doze off while visiting his wife's last resting place. LAST MAN is by far the most faithful version, and the irony is that although Matheson put his pen name of Logan Swanson on the screenplay after another scenarist rewrote it, it is in some ways closer to the novel than THE NIGHT CREATURES, his script for the aborted Hammer Films version. For further information, see my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN (, tentatively due out in early October.