“A coughing chuckle filled his throat. He turned and leaned against the wall while he swallowed the pills. Full circle, he thought while the final lethargy crept into his limbs. Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.” - Matheson, 170
I am Legend by Richard Matheson was, in my opinion, brilliantly written. When I first saw the movie a few years ago, I’ll admit, I was horribly disappointed. I couldn’t tell what the creatures were, the plot seemed to move to slow, and frankly, the movie (although fiction) didn’t see accurate or plausible for that matter. So when I saw that we were reading the book, I was a little weary upon re-entering that world. Clearly, I stand very much corrected as I was roped into the story right from the beginning and read it in one day’s time.
In the beginning of the novel, I noted Matheson’s style of repetition - especially with the character of Ben Cortman. I also liked that the story began without any explanation of what was going on because it allowed the imagination to play with all of the sensual imagery that Matheson provided. We didn’t know what was waiting for him, if Virginia was still with him or merely a figment of his imagination, and frankly we had no idea of the position that he was in (unless you had the movie to go off of). I personally like this approach to writing because I like to work out plausible scenarios before I know what is exactly going on - that makes it all the more interesting to me when I come to a conclusion.
I thought that the novel was also one of obsession, whether Robert was dealing with a battle against his carnal pleasures, alcohol, or simply survival. Once again, this was reiterated by repetition. At night, and frequently during the days, Robert would pour himself some whiskey or what not to attempt to numb the pain of loneliness that came to him in stronger waves during the night. This was primarily due to the explicit and often vulgar poses of the women who were trying to entice him to come outside. To me, this was one of the high points in the novel because it so often tempted his methods of survival for Robert often wondered to himself why he was even trying to survive and what was really keeping him from walking outside and taking his chances. This back and forth motion of survival vs. suicide helped add great suspense throughout the novel because one was never sure of his intentions….especially when he met Ruth (which might I add, was an amazing addition to the book!). I liked that he was so skeptical of her throughout the entire situation, but the need for companionship was simply too great. I think that is one of the characteristics of the book that makes it so realistic is that it plays off of human nature—which we can all easily relate too.
Another aspect of Matheson’s writing that I enjoy, is his ability to add a morbid sense of humor to his pieces, as a type of comic relief that only horror readers can appreciate. For instance, “There were five of them in the basement, hiding in various shadowed places. One of them Neville found inside a display freezer. When he saw the man lying there in this enamel coffin, he had to laugh; it seemed such a funny place to hide.” I think adding humor to horror is a valuable tactic to writers because sometimes we get so caught up in the gore and the grotesque that we often forget to give our readers a break from the tension that we have built up. In this case, I think Matheson added relief to a very morbid situation, which helped make it a little less concentrated.
Some other parts of the story that I particularly enjoyed were the legends and myths of the vampire that were explored throughout: crosses, garlic, beheading, burning, etc. Also, the scientific exploration of the bacteria in their blood won me over immediately because I found it to be so believable, to be honest. I have to admit though, when he grabbed Ruth’s leg, and the tanner that she used wiped off, my jaw probably hit the floor - I loved the vampires method of a structured society and how they incorporated the pills to survive into daylight through their own scientific advancements.
***Also, in my version of the book, there were several additional short stories. I would greatly recommend Buried Talents, The Near Departed, Prey, Witch War, and Madhouse. Great pieces, however The Near Departed was by far my favorite of the above thus far.