I am Legend - Richard Matheson - New
I Am Legend is a 1954 science fiction novel by Richard Matheson about the last man alive in a future Los Angeles, California. It is notable as influential on the developing modern vampire genre as well as the zombie genre, in popularizing the fictional concept of a worldwide apocalypse due to disease, and in exploring the notion of vampirism as a disease. The novel was a success and was adapted to film as The Last Man on Earth in 1964, as The Omega Man in 1971, and again in 2007 as I Am Legend.
This release of the novel includes several of Matheson's short stories: Buried Talents, The Near Departed, Prey, Witch War, Dance of the Dead, Dress of White Silk, Mad House, Funeral, From Shadowed Places, and Person to Person.
I Am Legend is the story of Robert Neville - apparently the sole survivor of a Bacterial pandemic apocalypse, the symptoms of which resemble vampirism. The author details Neville's daily life in Los Angeles from January of 1976 to January of 1979, as he attempts to comprehend, research, and possibly cure the disease that killed mankind, and to which he is immune. Neville's past is revealed through flashbacks, while his emotional struggle to cope with losing his family is dealt with by going about a daily routine.
Every day, Neville prepares for nightly sieges from a vampire horde. He spends the daylight hours repairing his house: boarding windows, hanging garlic garlands, disposing of vampire corpses and gathering supplies. Once darkness falls, the infected come out of hiding and lay siege to Neville's house. They taunt him and attempt to entice him out - he recognizes one 'vampire' as his friend Ben Cortman.
After bouts of depression and heavy drinking, Neville decides to find the causes of the disease. Books and other research materials are obtained from a library, and through painstaking research Neville is able to discover the root of the vampiric disease; a strain of bacteria capable of infecting both deceased and living hosts. However, he does not realize that the living hosts (the infected) are still inherently human, even though they exhibit all the signs of vampirism. He demonstrates during experiments on an unnamed woman and Ben Cortman that fear of the crucifix is a purely psychological trait. Since Cortman is Jewish, it is the Torah to which he reacts, rather than Christian religious artifacts.
At one point, Neville notices a wounded dog which has somehow survived outside. Initially wary, after some weeks the dog becomes more responsive, to the point where Neville is able to finally drag it inside his house and treat its wounds. Soon after, it gets infected and dies.
In June 1978, Neville comes across a seemingly uninfected woman abroad in the daylight and captures her. After the initial shock of seeing another human wears off, Neville becomes suspicious of Ruth and is skeptical of her story. He also notices that she is strongly against the killing of the vampires - he feels that if her story of survival was true, she would have become hardened to their fate. Too late, he discovers that she too is infected and just as he realizes this, Ruth knocks him out and leaves.
When he wakes up, Neville discovers a note left by Ruth. In it, she tells him that the infected have slowly been able to adapt to their disease to the point where they can spend short periods of time in sunlight and they are even attempting to rebuild society as they now know it. They fear and hate Neville since he unwittingly targets and destroys their people during his daytime excursions and view him as a predator. In their quest to capture him, the infected sent one of their own to Neville. She adds that they have evolved enough to hunt the true vampires (dead bodies animated by the 'germ') and even manufacture pills that keep the baser vampiric instincts at bay. She warns Neville that their hunters will come for him since they view him as a threat. Neville finally believes Ruth but decides not to leave, weary of his lonely and monotonous existence. Eventually the infected come to capture him; Neville watches from his house as they emerge from cars, kill the vampires outside with weapons and storm the house. He puts up a struggle but is badly wounded and, once captured, is taken to their headquarters.
Neville meets Ruth again in his prison; she informs him that she is a ranking member of this new society but unlike the others she doesn't fear and hate him. She tells him she had come to his prison to try and help him escape but that is now impossible. She acknowledges the need for Neville's execution, and slips him pills, claiming they will 'make it easier'. Emotionally broken, Neville finally accepts his fate and tearfully asks Ruth not to let this society get too brutal and heartless. Ruth kisses him and leaves.
Neville goes to his prison window and gets a glimpse of all the infected milling around in the yard waiting for his execution. When they spot him, he sees the fear, awe and horror in their eyes and he understands to them he is a scourge, just as they were a scourge to him at the beginning of the novel. Previously Neville saw the destruction of the infected survivors as a right and a moral imperative to be pursued for his own and mankind's survival, but now he finally acknowledges defeat. He is the only immune human left in the world, the only survivor of the "old race".
He glimpses a future society wherein infection is normal and he, Neville, is a murderous, biologic deviant. As he turns away and swallows the pills, Neville grasps the reversal that has taken place and that, just as vampires were legend in pre-infection times now he, as obsolete exemplar of old humanity, is legend in the eyes of the new race born of the infection.
I Am Legend influenced the zombie genre and popularized the concept of a world-wide disease apocalypse. Though classified and referred to as "the first modern vampire novel", it is as a novel of social theme that I Am Legend impressed itself to the cinematic zombie genre by way of film director George A. Romero, who acknowledged its influence and that of its 1964 adaptation, The Last Man on Earth, upon his film Night of the Living Dead (1968). Moreover, film critics noted similarities between Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Last Man on Earth (1964).
Stephen King said, "Without Richard Matheson I wouldn’t be around." Film critics noted that the British film 28 Days Later (2002) and its sequel 28 Weeks Later both feature a rabies-type plague ravaging Great Britain, analogous to I Am Legend. The recasting of zombies and vampires as products of infectious disease or radiation is now commonplace, as seen in the Resident Evil series, the Blade trilogy, the 1984 B movie Night of the Comet, Ultraviolet and The Addiction.
I Am Legend has been adapted to a feature-length film three times. The book has also been adapted into a graphic novel titled Richard Matheson's I Am Legend by Steve Niles and Elman Brown.
The Last Man on Earth (1964 film)
In 1964, Vincent Price starred as Dr. Robert Morgan (rather than "Neville") in The Last Man on Earth (the original title of this Italian production was L'Ultimo Uomo della Terra). Matheson wrote the screenplay for this adaptation, but due to later rewrites he did not wish his name to appear in the credits; as a result, Matheson is credited under the pseudonym "Logan Swanson."
The Omega Man
In 1971, a far different version appeared as The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston (as Robert Neville) and Anthony Zerbe. Matheson had no influence on the screenplay for this film; it deviates from the novel's story in several ways, completely removing the vampirical elements except for sensitivity to light.
I Am Legend (film)
Will Smith stars in the film directed by Francis Lawrence, released on December 14, 2007. This movie also deviates from the original novel. The infection is caused by a virus originally intended to cure cancer. Some vampiric elements are retained, such as sensitivity to UV light and attraction to blood. The film takes place in New York City and in the year 2012 instead of '76-'79, and Neville is given the dog by his daughter as she and the mother were about to escape.
About the Author Richard Matheson
Richard Matheson (born February 20, 1926) is an American author and screenwriter, typically of fantasy, horror, or science fiction.
Born in Allendale, New Jersey to Norwegian immigrant parents, Matheson was raised in Brooklyn and graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1943. He then entered the military and spent World War II as an infantry soldier. In 1949 he earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and moved to California in 1951. He married in 1952 and has four children, three of whom (Chris, Richard Christian, and Ali Matheson) are writers of fiction and screenplays.
His first short story, "Born of Man and Woman," appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1950. The tale of a monstrous child chained in its parents' cellar, it was told in the first person as the creature's diary (in poignantly non-idiomatic English) and immediately made Matheson famous. Between 1950 and 1971, Matheson produced dozens of stories, frequently blending elements of the science fiction, horror and fantasy genres, making important contributions to the further development of modern horror.
Several of his stories, like "Third from the Sun" (1950), "Deadline" (1959) and "Button, Button" (1970) are simple sketches with twist endings; others, like "Trespass" (1953), "Being" (1954) and "Mute" (1962) explore their characters' dilemmas over twenty or thirty pages. Some tales, such as "The Funeral" (1955) and "The Doll that Does Everything" (1954) incorporate zany satirical humour at the expense of genre clichés, and are written in an hysterically overblown prose very different from Matheson's usual pared-down style. Others, like "The Test" (1954) and "Steel" (1956), portray the moral and physical struggles of ordinary people, rather than the then nearly ubiquitous scientists and superheroes, in situations which are at once futuristic and everyday. Still others, such as "Mad House" (1953), "The Curious Child" (1954) and perhaps most famously, "Duel" (1971) are tales of paranoia, in which the everyday environment of the present day becomes inexplicably alien or threatening.
He wrote a number of episodes for the American TV series The Twilight Zone, including "Steel," mentioned above and the famous "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", plus "Little Girl Lost", a story about a young girl tumbling into the fourth dimension; adapted the works of Edgar Allan Poe for Roger Corman and Dennis Wheatley's The Devil Rides Out for Hammer Films; and scripted Steven Spielberg's first feature, the TV movie Duel, from his own short story. He also contributed a number of scripts to the Warner Brothers western series "The Lawman" between 1958 and 1962. He wrote the Star Trek episode The Enemy Within, considered one of the best. In 1973, Matheson earned an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his teleplay for The Night Stalker, one of two TV movies written by Matheson that preceded the series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Matheson also wrote the screenplay for Fanatic (US title: Die! Die! My Darling!) starring Talullah Bankhead and Stefanie Powers.
Novels include The Shrinking Man (filmed as The Incredible Shrinking Man, again from Matheson's own screenplay), and a science fiction vampire novel, I Am Legend, (filmed as The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man and I Am Legend). Other Matheson novels turned into notable films include What Dreams May Come, Stir of Echoes, Bid Time Return (as Somewhere in Time), and Hell House (as The Legend of Hell House) and the aforementioned Duel, the last three adapted and scripted by Matheson himself. Three of his short stories were filmed together as Trilogy of Terror, including "Prey" with its famous Zuni warrior doll.
In 1960, Matheson published The Beardless Warriors, a nonfantastic, autobiographical novel about teenage American soldiers in World War II. It was filmed in 1967 as The Young Warriors though most of Matheson's plot was jettisoned. During the 1950s he published a handful of Western stories (later collected in By the Gun); and during the 1990s he published Western novels such as Journal of the Gun Years, The Gunfight, The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok and Shadow on the Sun. He has also written a blackly comic locked-room mystery novel, Now You See It..., aptly dedicated to Robert Bloch, and the suspense novels 7 Steps to Midnight and Hunted Past Reason.
Matheson cites specific inspirations for many of his works. Duel derived from an incident in which he and a friend, Jerry Sohl, were dangerously tailgated by a large truck on the same day as the Kennedy assassination. A scene from the 1953 movie Let's Do It Again in which Aldo Ray and Ray Milland put on each other's hats, one of which is far too big for the other, sparked the thought "what if someone put on his own hat and that happened," which became The Shrinking Man. Somewhere in Time began when Matheson saw a movie poster featuring a beautiful picture of Maude Adams and wondered what would happen if someone fell in love with such an old picture. In the introduction to Noir: 3 Novels of Suspense (1997), which collects three of his early books, Matheson has said that the first chapter of his suspense novel Someone is Bleeding (1953) describes exactly his meeting with his wife Ruth, and that in the case of What Dreams May Come, "the whole novel is filled with scenes from our past".
According to film critic Roger Ebert, Matheson's scientific approach to the supernatural in I Am Legend and other novels from the 1950s and early 1960s "anticipated pseudorealistic fantasy novels like Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist."
I am Legend - Richard Matheson - New
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