Eight Books that Inspire Me #6 I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I'm looking at the books and authors that inspire me as both a writer and a reader. I've chosen eight of my favourite novels and they're presented in no particular order.

"All these books, he thought, the residue of a planet’s intellect, the scrapings of futile minds, the leftovers, the potpourri of artefacts that had no power to save men from perishing."

Published in 1954, Richard Matheson's short novel, I Am Legend, pretty much invented a subgenre of science-fiction - that of post-apocalyptic survival. A great pandemic has killed off most of the world's population, and those that have survived the disease have developed vampire-like symptoms. They cannot come out in daylight, have an aversion to garlic, thirst for blood - you know the drill.

The story focuses on Robert Neville, the last man on Earth, who has survived due to his apparent immunity to the disease. Neville spends his days, roaming the streets of Los Angeles, trying to find a cure for the pandemic that claimed the lives of both his wife and child (we learn that Neville had to kill his wife after she transformed). He also likes to go on vampire killing sprees, executing as many as possible while they sleep. But by night, he is forced to barricade himself in his house, as swarms of vampires led by his neighbour, Ben Cortman, try to get inside.

As the novel progresses, it becomes apparent that these 'vampires' are undergoing distinct changes, leading to an unexpected climax, which turns the entire book on its head. I won't reveal what that is here because where's the fun in that?

Author Richard Matheson

Author Richard Matheson

I love I am Legend. I think it's one of the best explorations of loneliness and the human psyche that I've read. Yes there are vampires, but what the book is really about is humanity and survival, and about how much we as a species crave solidarity. The scene in which Neville tries to befriend a dog demonstrates this perfectly (the Will Smith-starring film adaptation took this small scene and created something heart-breaking with it). It's hard to talk about the ending of I Am Legend without going into major spoiler territory. Suffice to say, those last few paragraphs have more to say about humanity than entire literary works.

It's easy to see why Matheson's book has been cited as a seminal work by writers and film-makers alike - including Stephen King and George Romero - it's at once thrilling and suspenseful, poetic and deeply moving.

Have you read I Am Legend? What are your thoughts?