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Alone With the Dead

I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson, 1954

This is one of the iconic vampire novels, maybe not as classic and powerful as “Dracula”, but it's close. “Legend” has been compared and contrasted with “Dracula” before: rather than showing a single monster invading the world of men, here we are shown a world of monsters, with only a single living man.

This book has been made into movies starring Charlton Heston and Will Smith, but the first one, featuring Vincent Price, comes the closest to the book's narrative. Like that film, the book features more pathos than action. The protagonist, Robert Neville, wracked with tragedies both personal and global, finds his only solace in a bottle.

But he hangs on, fighting when he can and analyzing the problem when he can't. As he has not become one of them, he begins to suspect his blood holds the key to dealing with the Undead. Indeed, a possible cure may flow through his veins.

In the novel, there are the uninfected, the living infected, and the dead—who still walk and feed on blood. The interaction between the three factions—and one of the factions consists of only Neville—propels the story.

The book can be considered supernatural horror, science-fiction, or dystopian. But it is also a tragic, human story. Robert Neville is not a very good hero; he deals with his defeats by soaking in alcohol, he wastes ammo on creatures he know won't stay dead, and he often sits in a lethargic state when he could be working on a cure. Given the apocalyptic circumstances, who would do better? Robert Neville may not be a hero, but he is a believable and very human character.

5 stars.


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