Review: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Alright, not gonna lie here; when I picked up this novella, I was ready for the same storyline I’d watched on TV countless times before. Let me tell you now, if you pick up this novella with the same thoughts in mind, you will be sorely disappointed.

I Am Legend is a post apocalyptic novella that deals with a plague I like to call Vampirism. That’s right, if you thought they were zombies in the movie, you’ve got another thing coming; they’re all vampires! I mean, thinking back on it, it’s not that far off. The directors of the film do an impressive job portraying them, but it seemed like a majority of the people (the ones I was talking to when I was reading the book) had this zombie mindset for them. To their credit, though, when I think apocalypse, I think zombies, not vampires, but let’s put that to the side; we’ll get into the differences of the movie and text later on. For now, let’s talk novella characteristics.

“It was not the heavens he was concerned about. Man’s lust for the stars had died out with the others.”

Matheson does an amazing job with his world building, crafting this deserted city that’s now almost abandoned by all human inhabitants. The MC, Robert Neville, is living in his house, trying to survive every night that brings more of these vampires to him. While reading, I noticed that the text wasn’t heavy on descriptions in the sense that we could picture the setting. Certain books will map out all these little details for the readers; rather, Matheson focuses on the facts that we can probably already picture what a deserted city would look like with the slight hints and details he drops to us from time to time. A vast majority of his world building lies around his character, Robert Neville; without him, the story would not be the same.

“For a while he stood on the front lawn looking up and down the silent length of Cimarron Street. He was a tall man, thirty-six, born English-German stock, his features undistinguished except for the long, determined mouth and the bright blue of his eyes, which moved now over the charred ruins of the houses on each side of his.” — I Am Legend.

Neville’s character is the perfect example of dynamic, and one we get to watch change in a brief period of time. For those who have read the book, you’ll know what I’m talking about, and for those who haven’t (especially the writers out there) once you read it, you’ll understand. Matheson does this superb job at not only making Neville unique to the storyline, but molding him with the effects of three years in an apocalyptic city on his own. We’re gradually given the details of events he went through that give him the twisted, manic personality we see in the first few chapters.

“As he left the Science Room, he looked up at the clock over the door.
The red hands had stopped at four-twenty-seven. He wondered what day they had stopped.” — I Am Legend

It’s little instances like these that give Neville’s character a more realistic personality that readers can get behind. We all do this; I do this more times in a day than I can count. We have this one random thought pop up after seeing, hearing, or doing something, and it doesn’t go at all along with what we were originally doing. I love reading minor side features like this because of what it adds to the story, giving it that bit of downtime for some character understanding before escalating the stakes once again.

Another feature of the text I loved are the small lines that just added flavor to the chapter. They didn’t hold a vast amount of leeway in the overall plot, but they gave the story this little push that made it more enjoyable to read.

“Really, now, search your soul; lovie-is the vampire so bad? All he does is drink blood.” — I Am Legend

The flow of this line gets me every time. It also gives us a look into Neville’s character.

“In a few minutes she stopped moving, stopped muttering, and her hands uncurled slowly like white blossoms on the cement.” — I Am Legend

Beautiful use of the simile in this one. These are just two lines I found captivating to read, which show Matheson’s talent as a writer. Moving away from the novella, though, let’s look into the film adaptation, which was grossly different.

Who here loved the film I Am Legend? I can eagerly raise my hand. Will Smith did a stunning job in his role, and the storyline was well written. When we compare it to the text they based it off of, though, man, I can’t stress enough how terrible it as an adaptation.

The dog only shows up about halfway through the novella.

There is no child.

Neville is not a scientist in the book.

Neville is in a much more manic state in the book.

The ending is way off.

The list goes on and on so I won’t dwell on it, but I can say that both have their perks. I loved reading the novella, because of how different and interesting it was. I felt the reader could easily get behind the storyline and the characters within. Likewise, I loved the film because Smith does an outstanding job in his role, and they develop enough of the storyline that it could be its own standalone film. Usually, I’m more unforgiving on these things, but it may be because I watched the film when I was a child, before I even knew it was based on a novella. Plus, it’s in my top ten films. If you haven’t watched, or read, I Am Legend I highly recommend checking both out.

That wraps up this book review. If you’re interested in reading the novella, you can find it on Amazon. If you’re interested in the film, find it here! I hope you enjoyed this review; until next time.

All the best.

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