Friday, 20 August 2010

I Am Legend

I Am Legend is a classic science fiction-horror mix that turns the old monster story clichés on their heads; Is the line between good and evil so well defined? Is man versus beast so black and white?

For Robert Neville every day is a struggle for survival. He lives alone in the suburbs of an unnamed, post-catastrophe city. By day he roams the streets looking for supplies. By night he locks himself into his home and waits for the dawn. When darkness falls Neville's home is beset by a hoard of hungry vampires, all intent on feeding on Neville's blood.

The book is one of my favourites, I have read it several times and intend to read it again soon. The book challenges the reader to really think about Neville's situation. He is alone, but at the same time he isn't. He is fighting a constant battle not just against starvation and the vampires but against the onset of complete insanity brought about by a mixture of his desperate situation, loneliness and sexual frustration. Neville is a wonderful anti-hero; regularly drinking himself to oblivion, enraged by his inability to do anything but sit in his house every night listening to the vampires outside taunting him and trying to get in.

As the story develops Neville becomes more pro-active in his approach to the vampires. He tries all manner of methods for ridding himself of them such as hunting them during the daytime and studying exotic diseases to see if the vampires are caused by some kind of infection.

There is a great deal of originality; early in the story a female vampire notices Neville has made a small hole in his front door so he can watch them. She begins exposing herself in an effort to entice him out of the house.

There is even some humour to be found in the pages. An example would be the nefarious Ben Cortman, a man who was once Neville's neighbour and has long since become a vampire. Cortman remembers enough about Neville to taunt him perhaps more efficiently than the others with his constant refrain;

“Come out, Neville!”

Neville spends a lot of time hurting Cortman almost as a way of venting his frustration at the whole situation. Before the book ends Neville has run Cortman over in his truck, tied him to a chair and attempted to torment him with a cross and shot him several times.

The opening line of the story still sends a shiver down my spine

“On those cloudy days Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back”

The end of the book has a fantastic twist and I wouldn't dream of giving it away but I will say that the book is so much more than a horror story and has truly lasted the test of time because of this. Reading it now you would never guess it was written in the 50's. Although it is a cliché this is one of those occasions when an accurate phrase would be 'ahead of its time'

As for the recent Hollywood effort staring Will Smith...this is a perfect of example of when the book blows the movie clean out of the water. I won't even dignify the movie with listing all the ways in which it is bad and the book is excellent. All I will say is that the movie was just a mindless action film whereas the book forces us to take a look at how we perceive ourselves, our society and where we fit in the grand scheme of things.

Final rating 5/5



  1. I am glad I read this post in the morning instead of before bed. The cover alone creeps me out. LOL

  2. I really want to read this book, but:
    a) I haven't enjoyed a single book containing vampires yet
    b) I'm scared I'll have nightmares.
    I'm sure I'll get to it one day - perhaps when I can read it during the daytime!

  3. @ Bibliophile By the Sea: It certainly is a frightening book in parts but its much much more than that and well worth a read (I'm sure you could find a copy without a scary cover! lol)

    @ Jackie: I am happy to stake my reputation (no pun intended!) on this book and say that if you give it a try it will be the first vampire novel you enjoy! Sometimes its nice to be scared a litte...

  4. A nice alternative to The Shack, eh?

  5. I've not seen the Will Smith movie, but you can put me down as a fan of the book. I won't go to Will Smith movies. That guy just irks me. (Okay, I did enjoy Ali.) The book does work very well as a piece of horror fiction and has something to say about good/evil. It's darn good.

    I do like the Charlton Heston movie "The Omega Man" which is loosely based on the book. The DVD has some very fun documentary behind the scenes footage. It's a very 70's movie, almost groovy really. There's also a low-budge, Italian version starring Vincent Price that is called "I Am Legend" I think. It's got some interesting stuff in it, too.

    I bet there will be another film version sometime around 2017 or so.

  6. i've never read this, but heard that it was a million times better than the movie (which i quite liked actually - probably because i've never read the book!). i must get around to reading it soon.

  7. I really wanted to dislike this story because I picked it up just about the time previews for the movie with Will Smith were surfacing.

    But I loved it! I marvelled at the profound loneliness felt by Neville. It's the type of loneliness felt by prisoners or anyone else who is lonely even with a hundred people around.

    I wasn't in love with the ending at first, but looking back, I can't imagine any more satisfying, realistic ending for one who is likely the last of his kind.

    Great review!

  8. This movie really freaked me out so I don't think I could get through the book.

  9. @ Kathy: LOL I am going to start 'The Shack' today and I've been dreading it! ;o) I daresay I'll put another post up when I've finished

    @ C.B James: I don't rate Will Smith highly either. I was aware of the Omega Man but haven't had a chance to see it yet. I think you are right, they will make another film version in 10 years or so. I just wish someone would try to make a version which was more faithful to the book.

    @ Mummazappa: As a standalone film 'I Am Legend' is not bad however when compared to the book i'm afraid it pales and (in my opinion) shouldn't bare the same name as such a classic. I think what vexed me the most about the film was that they completely ignored the main point of the entire story.

    @ irishrosedkm: I know what you mean about the ending but as you said, once you've thought about it for a while it makes perfect sense. I'm really pleased you didn't let the film spoil the story for you

    @ Ladytink_534: I cannot stress enough that the movie and the book are leagues apart and very very different. It would be a terrible shame if you didn't read the book and you'd regret it one day! :O)


  10. Isn't this one fantastic! I was shocked by how old it was. Sometimes it's easy to forget that creepy zombie stories weren't created recently.

    (Sorry you're reading the Shack. I read that too. Ugh. Sometimes I dread friend's book recommendations.)

  11. Ooh. You've just convinced me to read this book.