Sunday, November 24, 2013

November's Book: I Am Legend

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Horror (1954 - 96 pp.)

I Am Legend occupies a weird space in literary history. It's too late to be Dracula yet too early to be about zombies. It's far past the Victorian era of Gothic revival yet predates the slasher movie by a solid 24 years. (For anyone wondering why I'm being so exact, it's a reference to the release date of the original Halloween, which I consider to be among the greatest horror movies ever created.) Yet here it is, vaguely in the same era as a book like Brave New World or 1984. Perhaps that's the kind of book that makes the most sense as a comparison for it.

The dominant theme in the book is that of the self and the other, at least from what I can tell. Who is the in-group? Who is the out-group? Why do they differ? Consideration of why we maintain our selves and others is important to consider when reading I Am Legend, especially in light of the racial issues present in America at the time of its writing. Much of the rest of the book deals with the difficulty of dealing with one's own mind: "He turned away from the bar as if he could leave the question there. But questions had no location; they could follow him around." (44) Such a thought is chilling, as it makes the reader consider his or her own unanswered questions. Being left alone with them is almost as scary as the vampires besieging our protagonist, Robert Neville.

The question I am certain every scholar has asked bears repeating here: what if instead of Neville being a human and all the other characters being vampires, the situation had been reversed? What if Neville was the only vampire and everyone else was human? The reader's perception of Neville would likely be very different.

This is a very easy read. A few hours should be enough for anyone, even when re-reading some of the key passages like I did. It teaches the reader plenty about the human condition but not much else - but then again, I'm sure that's just an issue of the book focusing where Richard Matheson wants it to focus. As an aside, the Peggy Lee lyrics from her classic 1948 single "Love, Your Magic Spell Is Everywhere" humanize Neville in a way almost anything never could.

Ease of Reading: 8
Educational Value: 5

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