Sunday, December 6, 2009
I am Legend
Not the movie folks, the book.
This is the famous work by Richard Matheson that has inspired three major movies - one with Vincent Price, one with Charlton Heston, and of course the latest with Will Smith.
Robert Neville is a husband and father in the L.A. area when mankind is wiped out by a plague that turns its victims into modern day vampires. Neville is the last known survivor of the human race, presumably because he recovered from a vampire bat bite while in the service. For three years he makes a virtual fortress of his home and wages war against the vampires, until it becomes clear that he is the oddity. As the only remaining human, the only objection to the 'new race', he is, in fact, a monster. He has become, as Dracula once was, something to fear in the night.
He is legend.
Matheson's gone on record as saying the book was just what is seems on the surface, and nothing more. Yet I have read academic essays that ran thousands of words and placed the book behind only Moby Dick and Tom Sawyer in the realm of American literature.
It's a fine novella, but it has plenty of flaws. Some can't be helped: references to a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Soviets, dates that have long since passed, etc. Others are silly. Matheson has a habit of trying to rationalize his books with pseudo-scientific explanations. That vampire bat bite, for instance, or a goofy description of how vampire's gummy blood seals bullet holes.
It was giggle-worthy science in the '50's. Now it's just foolish.
[if I may drift into adult territory here: for much of the early part of the novella Neville is very horny, and understandably so. But here's where the '50's culture constricts the character. The guys aroused, he's been without sex for years, he's so horny female vampires are looking hot, and to settle the matter he goes and takes cold shower after cold shower.
For pete's sake man, rub one out.]
As I mentioned, I am Legend is a novella, not a full scale work. Nearly half the book is comprised of short stories. Some are good (Mad House), some are ho-hum, and one (Person to Person) is damn good.
Not a book for everyone and every taste, but I enjoyed it.