Monday, June 10, 2013

Things Aren't Always Better With Will Smith

I Am Legend

by Richard Matheson

Published by Orb Books

4 Out of 5 Stars

Two points I want to make: A) the movie was crap, especially when compared to the book, and B) this is so much more than just a vampire novel.

First, the whole movie thing. In both, Robert Neville is the last human on Earth--and that is where all similarities end. If you've seen the movie, it won't ruin the book for you as the two are nothing alike. The setting is different, the protagonist is different (except for a shared name), the creatures are different (vampires in the book and nocturnal zombie-like creatures in the movie), and the plot points--don't even get me started on the plot points. I can understand why diehard fans of the novel were upset by the movie. This is a case of film ruining a superior narrative. Robert Neville's pain, perfectly captured by Matheson, just doesn't translate to the screen.

Second, sure it can be classified as a vampire book, but the vampires are somewhat in the background. What takes center stage in the book is Robert Neville's aching loneliness as he confronts the reality that he is destined to live the rest of his life without the hope of human contact or companionship--what's outside his door at night isn't nearly as terrifying as that prospect. The portrayal of his progression through the stages of acceptance is heartbreaking (the dog chapter was almost more than I could bear). Moral issues abound: what's the point in trying to survive if you know you're the last of your kind? Does it matter if you live to see another day? There are no easy answers, especially as his situation is given complexity by human nature's innate tenacity and stubborness. There's a lot to think about here, which makes it more satisfying than your run of the mill horror novel.

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