I Am Legend

The Birth of Legends

Richard Matheson, I Am Legend - e-book

Read from May 30th to June 05th, 2013

My rating: 3/5 stars

“We want action! Horror! Chills and thrills! “I Am Legend” is too self-contained, too cerebral for its own good.” – exclaims a frustrate reader whose blog I accidentally stumbled upon. Why, this is exactly what I liked about this book! Apart from the interesting mix of urban gothic and dystopia, I Am Legend touches (not always deepening them, it’s true) some well-known themes, like survival, loneliness, prejudice, and of course, as announced in its excellent title, the birth of legends.

Behind an apparently typical horror story – the invasion of the earth by some zombie-like vampires – there is this bleak voice gradually questioning the essence of humanity, while describing Robert Neville’s struggles in his dramatic quest for survival.
A first question concerns human nature: is the man a social animal or a lonely one, whom society only weakens? After three years, the hero is surprised to discover he doesn’t want to share his life anymore:

“He suddenly realized that he had become an ill-tempered and inveterate bachelor again. He no longer thought about his wife, his child, his past life.”

However, the solitude is a burden until the end: “’Last?’ he muttered, feeling the heavy sinking of utter loneliness in him.”

Another question concerns human knowledge: how come all scientific progress could not find a way to rescue humanity?
“All these books, he thought, the residue of a planet’s intellect, the scrapings of futile minds, the leftovers, the potpourri of artifacts that had no power to save men from perishing.”
There is also a question concerning ethics: who has the moral ground (provided that morality has not, after all, “fallen with society”): Robert, in destroying the living vampires or Ruth’s new society in killing his kind? In other words, who is the monster?
“’—Violence is no stranger to you. You’ve killed. Many times.’ ‘—Only to—to survive.’ ‘—That’s exactly why we’re killing,’ she said calmly. ‘To survive.’”
But the most interesting question concerns the birth of myths in revealing a gradual change of parts: the legend slides into reality (the vampires) whilst the reality slides into myth (humankind)
“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.”

Hence a last question (with a philosophic touch Rigolant): what is the meaning of the new legend? The celebration of life in any form or the mourning of humanity? Take the reading key you like or look for another one – like all great stories, there are meanings for everyone to discover and follow.

Some today horror-story-tellers (like Stephen King, like Anne Rice, like Dean Koontz, etc.) state they were influenced by Richard Matheson’s works. Although I wonder whether they would be able to join him someday in that gallery of impressive names, next to Shelley, Poe, Lovecraft…

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