I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I Am Legend

by Richard Matheson

published October 2007 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

ISBN 9780765357151

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson is in fact a short story. It is amazing that they managed to make a movie of it, much less one that differed so much in content from the original story. In I Am Legend the main character, Robert Neville, is a blond haired man who spends his days killing the victims of a plague that has swept the entire earth, though I applaud the film’s use of Will Smith as the main character. At night he hides within his fortified house hearing the screams of the undead to come out to them.

If  you’ve seen the movie you should still read the book because there are next to no similarities between the book and the movie. There is a possible explanation provided as to why Neville has proved immune to the the virus that has taken over mankind.

While on his daily searches for virus-afflicted “people” to kill Neville encounters another human being. He takes her into his house, giving her refuge, but a short-time later she is gone. I’ll leave the rest for you to read. The entire story shouldn’t take more than four hours from start to finish and that’s if you read slowly.

What follows is a brief excerpt from I Am Legend:

“Come out, Neville!”

Robert Neville sat down with a sigh and began to eat.

He sat in the living room, trying to read. He’d made himself a whisky and soda at his small bar and he held the cold glass as he read a physiology text. From the speaker over the hallway door, the music of Schönberg was playing loudly.

Not loudly enough, though. He still heard them outside, their murmuring and their walkings about and their cries, their snarling and fighting among themselves. Once in a while a rock or brick thudded off the house. Sometimes a dog barked.

And they were all there for the same thing.

Robert Neville closed his eyes a moment and held his lips in a tight line. Then he opened his eyes and lit another cigarette, letting the smoke go deep into his lungs.

He wished he’d had time to soundproof the house. It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t that he had to listen to them. Even after five months, it got on his nerves.

He never looked at them any more. In the beginning he’d made a peephole in the front window and watched them. But then the women had seen him and had started striking vile postures in order to entice him out of the house. He didn’t want to look at that.

He put down his book and stared bleakly at the rug, hearing Verklärte Nacht play over the loud-speaker. He knew he could put plugs in his ears to shut off the sound of them, but that would shut off the music too, and he didn’t want to feel that they were forcing him into a shell.

He closed his eyes again. It was the women who made it so difficult, he thought, the women posing like lewd puppets in the night on the possibility that he’d see them and decide to come out.

A shudder ran through him. Every night it was the same. He’d be reading and listening to music. Then he’d start to think about sound-proofing the house, then he’d think about the women.

Deep in his body, the knotting heat began again, and he pressed his lips together until they were white. He knew the feeling well and it enraged him that he couldn’t combat it. It grew and grew until he couldn’t sit still any more. Then he’d get up and pace the floor, fists bloodless at his sides. Maybe he’d set up the movie projector or eat something or have too much to drink or turn the music up so loud it hurt his ears. He had to do something when it got really bad.

He felt the muscles of his abdomen closing in like tightening coils. He picked up the book and tried to read, his lips forming each word slowly and painfully.

But in a moment the book was on his lap again. He looked at the bookcase across from him. All the knowledge in those books couldn’t put out the fires in him; all the words of centuries couldn’t end the wordless, mindless craving of his flesh.

The realization made him sick. It was an insult to a man. All right, it was a natural drive, but there was no outlet for it any more. They’d forced celibacy on him; he’d have to live with it. You have a mind, don’t you? he asked himself. Well, use it!”

As I already said the book is very different than the movie, so much so you’ll find yourself amazed that they used the same name for the movie as for the book. Until the movie though the book was a little read text but since it there has been a renewal of interest in the book. I have to admit I didn’t read the book myself until after I saw the movie trailers. I’ve always preferred books to movies so I bought the book. When I finally saw the movie several years later I was stunned by the differences. Both were interesting, but in very different ways. I suggest you enjoy both of them. The book is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, other fine booksellers and can be ordered or may be available from your local bookstore.

The book, or short story actually, is Pigeon Gold. I can’t speak for the rest of the stories in the collection because frankly I didn’t read them. Maybe I will someday, but as of now they are still on my “to do” list.

Reader Feedback

2 Responses to “I Am Legend by Richard Matheson”

  • Tracy Riva says:

    Hi there. Seeing The Last Man on Earth sounded interesting, but even though I searched through the length and breadth of Hulu I wasn’t able to find it. Could you possibly post the link to it. I’ve never heard the audible.com version of the book either. Does it contain all of the stories in the book or just the one, “I Am Legend?”

  • dpcwollmann says:

    If you want to see a brilliant film rendering of I Am Legend, go watch The Last Man on Earth on hulu. This is the best of the three films based on the book.

    I also recommend the audible.com audiobook. The reader sounds so much like Vincent Price at times I have to wonder if it wasn’t intentional.

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