Tuesday, 10 July 2012

My Favourite Books: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

My Favourite Books

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I've been meaning to start this series of posts for ages. AGES. I'm dying to talk about my favourite books, but recent personal issues prevented me from blogging properly for almost six months so this got left to the side. Now that I'm almost back to blogging normally, I thought it was about time I started talking about my favourite books, so here I am, and I'm starting with I Am Legend by Richard Matheson!

Now, I Am Legend isn't my favourite book of all-time, that little award belongs to The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It is, however, my second favourite - basically it's on the list of books I'd save if the house was on fire. I recently bought a new edition of it (the bright yellow one you can see in the blurry picture above) so decided to re-read it for what I think is the fifth or sixth time. It still holds up today, and the final paragraph still makes me cry and sends shivers down my spine. It's incredible.

I first read I Am Legend when I was around eleven years old, in 1998. My vampire obsession had started (thanks Buffy!) and my dad gave me his 1971 copy of Richard Matheson's classic novel about the undead. I read it straight away, then read it again as soon as I turned the final page. I don't remember any other book ever creeping me out as much as this one did, and there aren't many books that make me cry. Especially not ones about vampires. I still treasure that copy of my dad's. He bought it when he was fourteen, and covered it with protective plastic. The pages are yellowing now, it smells like musty book and the pages are starting to come away from the spine. I don't read it any more for fear of damaging it, but it will always the most cherished book I own and I still think it's the best I Am Legend cover out there. Here are a couple of scans of the edition I'm talking about:

Yes, this edition was only 25p! Wow, if only books were that price now...

Although I Am Legend is a vampire novel, it's so much more than that. It details one man's struggle for survival, his loneliness, and his unwavering determination to find a cure for a virus that has taken over the world and destroyed everyone and everything he loves. It's part science fiction, part horror, and I can't think of any other book that has terrified me like this one does. There are scenes in the book where Robert Neville, the last man on Earth, barricades himself inside his house so that the group of vampires prowling around his front lawn can't get to him. Those vampires include his best friend, Ben Cortman, and countless other people he once knew. I find the whole concept of this novel horrifying - I can't imagine being the last person alive - but especially these parts. How truly awful it must be to watch your friends and neighbours want nothing more than your blood, your life. Yet Robert carries on, night after night.

I think Richard Matheson was way ahead of his time with I Am Legend. It still stands today as one of the greats, and his ideas are often above anything else I come across. It was first published in 1954 and is set in 1976, a time that Matheson obviously had no knowledge of. Cleverly there is very little in the way of electronics or gadgets mentioned in the book, really only a record player and TV. Nothing feels dated, even the language and writing style was easy for me to read and, even now, I struggle with classics or anything written before 1980. I don't know why, I just lose concentration when reading stuff like that. Not this book, though!

I Am Legend has been adapted for the big screen three times: The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971) and I Am Legend (2007). I don't think any of them have done the book justice, and the closest to it is The Last Man on Earth. One day I hope someone just takes Matheson's script and makes a low-budget vampire film true to the source material. It's an endless topic of discussion for me and my dad, we like to talk about how they could do a good job and how they need to leave the creatures as vampires, not turn them into zombies. It could happen, and I hope it does. The vampire-loving world would love a straight-up adaptation of it.

I wish I could post the final paragraph here, but it's a huge spoiler for the end of the book so I can't. I wish I could do that because it's possibly the best paragraph I've ever read. It only spans six lines, but wow do those six lines leave a lasting mark. I know it by heart, and often recite it to my dad (I'm sure he thinks I'm bonkers). He just smiles and laughs, safe in the knowledge that he fuelled my vampire obsession and helped create a monster who now has a room full of Buffy merchandise and far too much undead memorabilia to list.

I hope this post might inspire someone to pick up and read I Am Legend, even if they've never heard of it before. It truly is a sci-fi classic, without a doubt one of the best out there. For me it represents a lifelong interest in the undead and supernatural, and I have very fond memories of cracking open the spine and meeting Robert Neville for the first time. Very fond memories, indeed.


Karen said...

Yes, awesome choice! I Am Legend is one of my favorites of all time, too! Many of Matheson's books are dated now but I agree with you, this one doesn't feel dated at all.

So Many Books, So Little Time said...

I guess I better read this if you love it that much!

John Scoleri said...

"Full circle, he thought, as the final lethargy crept into his limbs."

Nice write-up! You know a book is a favorite when you keep buying multiple copies of it, right?

Well, it's definitely my favorite book, and I'm up over 100 editions from all around the world now. Check out my site and my blog to see a bunch of the other covers:



I a lso think I'll have to check out TheBook Thief by Markus Zusak, as if you're able to put it above Legend, it must be worth reading.