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I Am Legend

A 1954 horror anthology by Richard Matheson.

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So much more then a vampire book

  • Feb 20, 2010
Contrary to common belief, I Am Legend is not a vampire novel. What this book is in reality is a series a short horror stories written by Richard Matheson that range from the 160 page long story I Am Legend from which the book gets its name to a three page story called The Near Departed. Although I must admit that I Am Legend, the first and longest of the stories, is far and away the best, only talking about that one part does a disservice to the other ten incredible stories that are collected here. I will do a short review on each story in this book.

I Am Legend, 5/5, 160 pages. WAY better then the movie.

The new movie I Am Legend, staring Will Smith, takes place in New York City after a "cure" for cancer mutates and turns the worlds population into flesh eating zombie/vampire mutts that can only come out at night. the movie was unimpressive, the book is outstanding.

Everyone knows the basic plot of this story, there is only one man left alive in a world full of vampires, but despite what you might expect from a plot like that this isn't an action novel. In fact there is very little in the way of action or suspense and for the most part in moves a slower pace. What makes this book amazing is the attention to detail that author Richard Matheson put into his post apocalyptic tale. Main character Robert Neville starts out about 3 months after last seeing another human being, held up in his house at night as thousands of undead vampires call for him to come out. every day is a rigid routine, fix the houses defenses, throw the dead corpses he finds on his lawn every morning into a fire, hunt for vampires, make stakes to hunt more vampires, and then back inside before nightfall and drink himself to death. As time goes by he starts to learn how to deal with the vampires, how they live and how they die; what they are and why the act the way they do. He conducts experiments, for instance why do vampires fear crosses? Why does garlic repel them? Why do only stakes kill them? Does said stake need to go though the heart to kill? These are all fascinating questions and we get answers to them all.

But what makes this story a true masterpiece is the ending. I will not spoil it for you who haven't read the book yet (and I encourage you to do so as soon as possible) but lets just say that it is truly amazing. If you've seen the movie, brace yourself for a shock. I am very confused as to why any writer would want to tamper with such an amazing ending, why would anyone touch this gold?

I Am Legend has been made into three motion pictures from the original The Last Man on Earth to The Omega Man to this years blockbuster I Am Legend. Not only that, but horror master George Romero said it was the inspiration for his horror classic Night of the Living Dead. Truly I Am Legend is one of the most influential horror stories in history.

Buried Talents, 4/5, 8 pages. An interesting story.

Right off the bat I expected another short story that takes place in the I Am Legend universe, but the rest of the stories are completely independent and have nothing to do with one another. Do not go into this story expecting to read more about Vampires and garlic.

Buried Talents is a curies piece indeed. At only 8 pages this story brings up a lot of questions but never answers them, allowing the reader to come up with their own conclusions. In this short, a carnival man runs a booth where players try to throw ping pong balls into a fishing bowl to win a prize. No one seems to be able to do it, until a mysterious man walks up and lays down his quarters. He hits every shot, making the balls go into the bowl without so much as bouncing on the bottom, and then makes the two others land right next to them in the same fashion. He keeps this up for the whole story until the very end when the carnival man tells him to leave. Doesn't sound interesting right? Sound stupid? You'd be wrong. Once again, the ending is what makes this story good. Until the very last paragraph this story isn't anything special, but the last two lines make this a story to remember.

The Near Departed, 3 pages, 5/5. Short and to the point.

There really isn't a lot I can say about this gem of a story, not without giving away any spoilers. Think of this story as a joke, a three page joke and nothing more. Once again, the last paragraph of this story is simply amazing.

Prey, 15 pages, 5/5. Chuckey's inspiration?

Its inconceivable that one book, or rather a collection of short stories, could not only be the inspiration for Night of the Living Dead, but also for a little film called Child's Play this that might just be the case. Prey is a nail biting thriller about an African doll called "This is he who hunts" comes to life and starts attacking its owner. Although I don't know for sure whether or not this story inspired Childs Play, it is very safe to bet that the director of that film must have read this book and used it in some way. Although there are parts in this story that just don't make much sense (how can a doll overpower a full grown woman?) it is none the less a very entertaining read. If you liked Childs Play, you'll love this gem.

With War, 7 pages, 3/5. Huh?

Now this is a strange one indeed. Matheson goes for the surreal and the supernatural in this story even more so then previously, but in the end this story is just too off the wall to be taken seriously. set in an alternate world (or possibly WWI, its hard to tell) Witch War starts off with seven cute little girls talking happily with each other about, well, girl stuff. Gossip, cloths, hairstyles, stuff like that. Then a soldier enters the room and informs them of an upcoming attack.
"Oh my, here we go again," one of them says.

Outside in the rain a group of soldiers, supported by trucks and tanks, are attempting to attack the city the girls are supposedly in. Out of nowhere lightning starts to strike, lions and tigers jump out of the rain, the tanks blow up in huge fireballs and the mud starts to consume the troops as they run; you know, friendly stuff like that. Although this is an interesting story, I can hardly say it's up to the high standard set by previous entries.

Dance of the Dead, 19 pages, 3/5. Leaves too many questions unanswered.

I know I know, I said the same thing about Buried Talents and still gave that story a 4, so why not this one? Well, because this story tries to be a little more ambitious. For one thing it's longer and has room to expand and answer some of the questions it raises, and for another it creates a whole different world that is never explained or elaborated on. Set, I guess, some time in the not so distant future, the government is in a weakened state in the aftermath of a devastating war. four teenagers go on a trip to the city to see what they call the "Loopy Dance." a Loopy, apparently, is a dead corpse that reanimates because of some chemical and does a strange kind of dance. Although the dystopian future intrigued me, nothing really happens of interest during this story, and that's the main reason for the lower rating.

Dress of White Silk, 6 pages, 4.5/5. What just happened?

That was my immediate reaction after reading Dress of White Silk. What happened? What did that ending mean? Although I have my guesses, there really is no way to know for sure that I'm right or wrong (don't worry, I won't spoil it for you). Written in the head of a young girl, maybe 7 years old give or take, this story is very simply written to say the least. Here's an example of the kind of writing you can expect.

Pg , 213. "When I pretend I brush my hair long. But I only use my own brush from my room. I didn't never use mommas brush."

Although this kind of writing can be a little hard to get though, it is very appropriate for the kind of story being told. It's told though the mind of a very little girl after all, so this incomplete writing is very nice to see and shows the versatility of Matheson. The ending is what truly got me hooked on this. It seems that almost every ending in this book is brilliant.

Mad house, 72 pages, 5/5. Inspiration for Monster House?

Yes, once again, Matheson delivers another inspiration for another movie, this time the kids film Monster House (Widescreen Edition), although the book itself is anything but kid friendly. Mad House is about struggling writer/professor whose life is leaving him and can't seem to control his anger. The angrier he gets, the more accidents he starts to have around the house. A rug slips out from under his feet, a pencil points break off and sticks into his finger, his chair falls down, ect. His friend warns him that he's afraid that if he doesn't control his anger, his house might actually turn on him, which of course is exactly what happens.

This is one of the longer stories in this book, and also one of the best. The story makes the main character is sole focus, diving into he mind and fleshing out what kind of person he really is. Along with Robert Neville from I Am Legend, the main character from this story (I can't remember his name right now) is probably one of the best characters in this book. The story really is about him, at least up until Matheson gives us yet ANOTHER killer ending. My God, how many can be pull off?

The Funeral, 10 pages, 3/5. My least favorite.

Why is that? Well, because it's a not so funny comedy about vampires and goblins and such. a man tries to run a funeral home when a vampire walks in and say he wants a funeral because the one he had in real life wasn't that great and now he wants to make up for it. What follows is a somewhat humorous tale as all his vampire friends come for the ceremony and try to eat the poor owner. Overall a nice story but nothing great.

From Shadowed Places, 25 pages, 4/5. Warning, graphic content ahead.

This is, far and away, the most graphic of all the stories in this book. Naked people galore, African voodoo, more naked people, lots and lots of sexual content so if that's not your cup of tea stay away. The story itself really isn't half bad. A man is being tortured by some African witch doctor and is slowly dieing a horrible death. When his fiancé calls for help, they get their friend Dr. Howl, a woman who just happens to have been taught all about African voodoo while on a trip to the Dark Continent. But the only way she can get the voodoo out of him is to, uhh, get naked and pretend to be having sex with him, no kidding. Still a very good read.

Person to Person, 23 pages, 5/5. The second best.

After I Am Legend, Person to Person is my favorite story here. When a man starts hearing a phone in his head, he tries to find a way to make it stop, but to no avail. When he gets the bright idea to answer the phone (in his head of course) a mysterious stranger starts talking to him on the other end. Who is this man? A government agent testing a new way of communication? An inventor using him as a guinea pig? His long dead father? His uncounsis mind? Every time he "answers" the phone, he gets a different story. Little does he know that this voice in his mind has sinister plans for him. This story also has one heck of an ending. I'm surprised no one has made this story into a movie or something.


You must read this book, whether or not you are a fan of the movies. This horror classic inspired so many movies and books it's not even funny. It inspired Romero's Night of the Living Dead, which inspired every other zombie movie every made, enough said. No horror fan can afford to be without this classic book. Do yourself a favor and buy it now.

Re-read value; high.
So much more then a vampire book So much more then a vampire book So much more then a vampire book

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February 21, 2010
The original version of I AM LEGEND was published as a novella. I've owned various copies of it over the years which fell apart from being read and re-read. This latest copy seems to be a compilation of some of his short stories along with the novella published to capitalize on the release of the film and to justify charging a higher price for the book. If you liked Matheson's work I'd suggest latching on to a copy of "Hell House" which is a full length novell on which the early 70s film  THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE starring Roddy McDowell and Clive Revell was based. "The Incredible Shrinking Man" is another novella of Matheson's that spawned a great film in the 50s.
More I Am Legend reviews
review by . May 29, 2010
What was your emotional reaction as you read? Why?   I made the classic mistake reading the book after seeing the movie so my imagination was tainted with preformed images and expectations. But it quickly became evident that the book was going to be different. The book is more chilling than the movie and it pulls you into a post  post apocalyptic-like world. The reader is taken on the same emotional roller coaster as the main character.        Who would you …
review by . July 06, 2010
As long as you haven't lived under a rock for the past few years, you have probably heard of I Am Legend. The basic story is that nuclear war created a virus that turned people into vampires. One by one, people were dying, until Robert is one of the only humans left. But, the best thing about I Am Legend is that it is full of horror stories written by Matheson, such as Mad House and Dance of the Dead.      Now if you are saying, "I have already seen the movie so I know …
Quick Tip by . October 12, 2010
a good book and an entertaining movie. I found the book to be a little bit more suspenseful though.
Quick Tip by . July 05, 2010
Matheson's after a LAB ACCIDENT turns everyone ELSE into Zombie like creatures trying to kill him.
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
A really good book. The sci-fi and the end of the world is really interesting.
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
A must-read if you enjoyed the movie, although prepare for an entirely different story. Even better than the movie, in my opinion - a narrative of incredible strength.
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
Set the tempo for modern zombie horror stories.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
great stuff
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
This collection of stories was my introduction to Matheson and I have been a fan ever since. The tales are gripping and well told. The movie is very loosely based on the story the collection is named for.
Quick Tip by . June 14, 2010
Amazing! The original ending is so much better than the movie!
About the reviewer
Jonathan J.D. Lane ()
I am a member of the US Air Force and presently serve overseas at RAF Mildenhall about three hours north of London. I grew up in Pappilion Nebraska and Crestview Florida, but since joining the Air Force … more
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Table Of Contents:

  I Am Legend - The Last Human On Earth
· Buried Talents - An odd man wins a carnival game.
· The Near Departed - Very short story of funeral arrangements
· Prey - A strange little doll comes to life
· Witch War - Seven pretty little girls win a military battle
· Dance Of The Dead - An innocent girl gets corrupted by wild friends who take her to a bar where the "Loopy's" dance
· Dress Of White Silk - Strange but flat tale of a young girl and her dead mother's white silk dress.
· Mad House - An angry man with a volcanic temper passes along his rage into the very fiber of his house
· The Funeral - A Vampire funeral starts a fad
· From Shadowed Places - An ancient African ritual must be performed to save a man's life
· Person To Person - A man receives phone calls inside his head, but who are they coming from?

All Stories written between 1952 and 1987
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ISBN-10: 0765318741
ISBN-13: 9780765318749
Author: Richard Matheson
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor Books, Walker & Company
Date Published: 1954
Format: Paperback
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