Dan Sandman

07: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

In Books, Fiction, Science Fiction on 15/02/2013 at 12:00 pm

It amazes me that science fiction, despite its creative and literary content, is often not taken seriously by newspaper critics and university lecturers. Not only is I Am Legend by Richard Matheson an expertly crafted, thrilling story; it also delves deep into the human psyche and makes the application of the scientific method exciting. Robert Neville, trapped inside his house at night-time by a horde of marauding vampires, is driven to adopting an analytical approach as he tries to figure out why he appears to be the only remaining member of his species. Whilst working on scientific experiments, Neville is haunted by past memories of his departed wife and child. Through the vampire novel’s heroic protagonist, Matheson explores the theme of psychological suffering caused by a lack of human contact.

“Not only is I Am Legend an expertly crafted, thrilling story; it also delves deep into the human psyche and makes the application of the scientific method exciting.”

If you have seen the film of the same name, then you won’t have spoilt the book – they are two different kettles of fish. The book was written in 1954, the film was released in 2007. In the book, Robert Neville is white and lives in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles 1976; in the film, Robert Neville is black and lives in post-apocalyptic New York 2012. There is a different feel to the book because it offers more psychological detail when delving into Neville’s interior world, particularly his alcoholism and flashbacks to the past. In my opinion, books are more capable of bringing their character’s inner thoughts to life than films because books are better suited to interior monologues. In contrast, films usually rely on the quality of the actors to convey the state of mind of the characters.

“I found this plastic covered copy of I Am Legend in an amazing book sale that my local library were having.”

I found this plastic covered copy of I Am Legend in an amazing book sale that my local library were having. The library’s old stock was 50p a book or three books for £1. Now, considering a new book would cost at least £6.99, I thought it well worth taking home six retired library books for £2. Indeed, the sale was a treasure trove for book lovers with something for everyone. I couldn’t believe my luck when I picked up a beautiful hardback edition of Ted Hughes’ Flowers and Insects with carefully drawn colour paintings inside. Later, my mum found a book for my dad about The Titanic which I’ve seen him read since. It’s great that such books are practically being given away but it’s also quite sad: is it symbolic of the decline in physical book sales?

“Nowadays, in the age of the e-book and the easy to digest film version, libraries appear desperate to get rid of their old stock.”

To many people, the word library used to mean ‘place where you can find a book’. Nowadays, in the age of the e-book and the easy to digest film version, libraries appear desperate to get rid of their old stock. Ironically enough, I am Legend sees its central character rooting around an empty library, searching for science books. When Neville needs to connect with human history, he uses the library and not the internet. If the world wide web was destroyed by an advanced computer virus, libraries would once again be filled to the rafters. I bought Flowers and Insects for approximately 33p; I wonder if it will be replaced with a new edition.

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