Notes on “I am Legend”

Cover of First Edition, 1954(Please note that this cover is protected by copyright; please refer to Wikipedia for details on permissible use)

Cover of First Edition, 1954
(Please note that this cover is protected by copyright; please refer to Wikipedia for details on permissible use)

I have been reading Richard Matheson’s I am Legend recently whenever I have the opportunity.  I would not say it is a fascinating book, but it is interesting.   One particularly interesting aspect is that the book is not just about one man’s fight against zombies (which he terms “vampires”, but which fit better into the modern concept of zombies) , but that it also deals extensively with his fight against depression and loneliness in a post-apocalyptic future.   Today, I happened to look up the work on Wikipedia and found the following interesting review written by Dan Schneider of International Writers Magazine:  Book Review n 2005:

“…despite having vampires in it, [the novel] is not a novel on vampires, nor even a horror nor sci-fi novel at all, in the deepest sense. Instead, it is perhaps the greatest novel written on human loneliness. It far surpasses Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in that regard. Its insights into what it is to be human go far beyond genre, and is all the more surprising because, having read his short stories – which range from competent but simplistic, to having classic Twilight Zone twists (he was a major contributor to the original TV series) there is nothing within those short stories that suggests the supreme majesty of the existential masterpiece I Am Legend was aborning.”

Mr. Schneider may very well be right that it may be the greatest novel written on human loneliness.  If it is not, it is very close to the top.  I have read Robinson Crusoe and my impression is that I am Legend surpasses that in describing the mental and emotional anguish of loneliness and bringing that inner struggle home to the modern reader.

In my view, one reason I am Legend is important to the horror genre, is because it shows another aspect of horror: personal, inner anguish and turmoil, which probably should be classified as a form of horror, if no one has done so yet.  Anyone who has suffered extreme inner turmoil would probably agree that it is worthy of being termed horror.  It may even be the most common form of real-life horror.  I do not know the statistics for how many people are tortured at the hands of serial killers or executioners or other true-to-life monsters, but I would guess that it is far less than the number of people experiencing extreme negative emotions without actually having been physically tormented.

This aspect of inner horror can add another dimension to the otherwise average horror novel or movie, which, based on what I have seen, tends to emphasize physical violence or the threat of physical violence.   In those works, the inner horror of the protagonists is usually assumed, but not examined in detail.   Examining the inner emotions of protagonists and antagonists will help form empathy and sympathy for the characters within readers, particularly in those who have experienced a similar emotion, and will help form a tighter emotional connection between work and audience.  

I recommend reading the Wikipedia article on I am Legend.  It is quite fascinating.  However, do not do as I have done and read it before completing the book.  You will only spoil the ending for yourself.

Thoughts?  Comments?


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