Sometimes referred to as the modern world’s first vampire novel, I Am Legend was the original inspiration for the film Night of the Living Dead, which spawned the zombie genre of films and literature. Telling the story of the last surviving man in Manhattan after a deadly pandemic that turned people into blood-sucking zombies, it’s a fascinating introduction to horror, zombie, and vampire genres.
Robert Neville has witnessed the end of the world. The entire population has been obliterated by a vampire virus. Somehow, Neville survived. He must now struggle to make sense of everything that has happened and learn to protect himself against the vampires who hunt him constantly. He must, because perhaps there is nothing else human left.
I Am Legend was a major influence in horror and brought a whole new thematic concept to apocalyptic literature. Several humanistic and emotional themes in this book blend the horror genre with traditional fiction: we see Neville as an emotional person, and observe as he suffers bouts of depression, dips into alcoholism and picks up his strength again to fight the vampiric bacteria that has infected (and killed off) most of humankind. Neville soon meets a woman, Ruth, (after three years alone), who seems to be uninfected and a lone survivor. The two become close and he learns from Ruth that the infected have learned to fight the disease and can spend short amounts of time in the daylight, slowly rebuilding strength and society as it was.
The novel was adapted to film in 1964 as The Last Man on Earth, as Omega Man in 1971 and finally as I am Legend in 2007, starring Will Smith.
Richard Matheson (1926-2013) was a prolific speculative fiction author and screenwriter who wrote novels, short stories, movie screenplays, and scripts for television. He is perhaps best known for I Am Legend, a novel that was translated to the silver screen twice-once starring Charlton Heston, and once starring Will Smith. His screenplay The Incredible Shrinking Man, based on a prior novel, won the Hugo Award in 1958. Several other novels of Matheson's have been adapted to film, including What Dreams May Come, A Stir of Echoes, Duel, and Hell House. The movie version of Duel, based on a Matheson short story of the same name, was directed by Steven Spielberg. He is also known for writing dozens of episodes for The Twilight Zone, including the iconic "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," and several popular Star Trek episodes, including "The Enemy Within."In addition to the Hugo Award, Richard Matheson was the recipient of the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement (1984) and an Edgar Award for a teleplay written for The Night Stalker. He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010.