I Am Legend (1954) by Richard Matheson
What do you think of when you hear the word vampire? Your thoughts may quickly spring to the traditional notion of capes, castles, bats, and Transylvanian accents ah-ah, at least that’s before experiencing this twisted take on the supernatural.
Blended as a part science fiction, supernatural horror, and action-thriller novel, Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel essentially reignited the vampire genre and gave it a breath of fresh air, subverting the usual expectation of withered old blood suckers skulking around castles (I believe at the time the most popular vampire media was Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the silent film: Nosferatu) and remote locations by bringing to light a new viewpoint: Humanity is the minority. This flipping of the narrative makes for interesting scenarios not typically found in the vampire/supernatural genre and Matheson masterfully draws in the reader in the opening chapters with a chilling mix of suspense, thrills, and action.
Our protagonist, Robert Neville, is a lone survivor of a mysterious plague that has decimated humanity, turning both the living and dead alike into vampiric monsters with an unquenchable thirst for his blood. By day Robert scavenges for supplies and materials for his survival, by night he barricades himself in his home in hopes of surviving the hordes of blood-sucking darkness that descend upon him. The novel explores Robert’s daily struggle as he tries to find meaning in this new world of horror, weaving through scenes of hopelessness and optimism alike, both saturated with a realized sense of paranoia as he struggles to keep hold of his sanity.
Excellently told (I quite literally couldn’t put the novel down until I got halfway through it) focusing on the struggles of our protagonist rather than immediately dumping exposition on the reader on the ‘what’ and ‘how’. This is revealed in parts as the story progresses through Robert’s flashbacks and essentially the final third or so of the novel is dedicated to trying to explain how the vampiric epidemic took place and spread. This is where the sci-fi aspect of the novel kicks into gear and to its credit it is a plausible, if unlikely, reveal and subsequent explanation.
The sci-fi elements and the novel’s ending are the weakest parts of the story, but they didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment and the novel still remains as one of my favourite spins on the vampire-genre and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of vampires, the supernatural, or classic horror in general.
~ Giuseppe Gillespie October 2021