I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Genre: Horror, Science-fiction, Classics
Literary Awards: Tähtivaeltaja Award (2008)
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I’m not usually a Classics person, because let’s be honest, I’m (sometimes) intimidated by them. They’re huge, hard to read, difficult to digest, and nerve wrecking to talk about because I don’t want to sound stupid if I make a ‘wrong’ interpretation (Thanks, college). Imagine the hallelujah moment when I found a tiny Classic. Plus its about ’em vamps. Part of me was excited to find out how this would fare against the Mother of all vampire novels — Dracula, and another part of me was scared by the cover art (Tell me it’s not terrifying. No, shut up.). The excited part won.
Neville is the only man left in the world. Everyone else has become a vampire, and they’re hungry for his blood. At night, he locks himself in his (safe)house as any sane survivor would do, listening to the infected scratching at the barricades he has built, shouting for him to come out. But Neville is far from being the weak, scaredy-cat last survivor who hides in a corner waiting for his death. By day, he hunts. He hunts for tomato juice, fresh steak, and the infected humans. He drives a wooden stake through their hearts, and justifies his actions. “If it’s not them, it’s me”; “It’s either I hunt, or I’m the hunted”; “If they had any human left in them, they’d have begged me to kill them off anyways”; “This is not living”.
But who’s to say what’s living and what’s not?
Who’s the monster? It must be the original vampires, for they have infected the world with their deadly plague. What about the infected, for they are now nothing more than mindless creatures, prowling to feed their appetite, much like beasts. Or could it be Neville? He kills, justifying every action he makes, naturalizing his deeds, not thinking if there is actually a thread of human left in the infected as he drags them out to burn in the sun, or driving a stake into their hearts. He experiments on them, picking the weakest of the lot (a.k.a. women), and when the results are unsatisfactory, blows up into a fit and destroys everything within two feet of him.
If Neville is the killer, what then, can be said about those who kill the killer? The men in black boots who exemplify Neville’s ideology whilst adding large does of archaical pedagogy. They would and eventually, kill literally anyone in their sight who is not a part of their cult. Brutally.
Legend explores humanity from the stance of the favored, until the favored loses favor. The priviledged tends to be myopic, thinking solely from their viewpoint, and rarely anything else. The infected are the priviledged at night, Neville is the priviledged in the day. The men in black boots, however, create priviledge. They are the new world order, the cultured, the ‘survivors’. Through them, Matheson hints towards the the question of societal building. Does the starting of a society need always be cruel and archaical? Was “Normalcy a majority concept, the standard of many and not the standard of just one man.”? What does it mean to be in a society? Does sacrificing one’s thoughts and opinions like that of Ruth, be the basic and hence, standard requirement of acceptance into one?
Overall, Legend was a fantastic read. It explored many themes without having the reader overwhelmed, and at the same time, allowing him to think for himself what it means to be a survivor. There are lots of take home messages in Legend, which was exactly what I would not expect to find in such a thin book. Job well done.
Rating: 5/5 stars
If you’ve read this, did you enjoy it? If you’ve not, would this book be on your tbr list?