Aspects of Matheson’s Monsters: Vampirism and Science Fiction in ‘I Am Legend’
Richard Matheson’s novel, I Am Legend, displays a great deal of horror, presented in a magnificent way. Matheson includes realistic, believable details in plot to give the reader a more realistic feeling towards the vampires. Robert Neville, the antagonist of the story, reveals scientific facts about the vampires that cause the reader to believe that a vampire apocalypse could actually happen. Matheson does not use the stereotypical way of writing about vampires, instead he uses a more science fiction approach. The vampires have more human characteristics, taking away the “monster” attitude towards them and giving the reader something else to fear; themselves.
Matheson provides plenty of horror aspects to the plot, all of which have a logical, clear explanation to them. In the end of the book, Neville realizes that the vampires are not the ones to be feared anymore, because they are the odd ones out; he is. “I Am Legend” gives off such a horrific impression, because Matheson gives the reader a perfect balance of science fiction and realistic horror. The author gives very convincing, scientific details about the vampires in order to provide a realistic explanation for them. On page 75 of I Am Legend, Matheson gives a scientific approach to the vampires. He states “By checking in one of the bacteriology texts, he’d found that the cylindrical bacterium he saw was a bacillus, a tiny rod of protoplasm that moved itself through the blood by means of tiny threads that projected through the cell envelope”. Throughout the story, Robert Neville is desperately searching for an answer as to why the vampires turned into vampires. Knowing that there is a virus that causes this, gives the reader a reason to believe that this could possibly happen in reality. This also makes the vampires seem scarier because they are “infected” or have a disease that there is no known cure for. Page 76 states “the murderer – the germ within the vampire”. Matheson is identifying this germ, the result of his scientific research, as the murderer itself.
Using scientific evidence to prove the level of horror on the vampires is a superb way of writing because the reader feels as though it is actually existent. Matheson assigns very human-like characteristics to the vampires which cancels out multiple stereotypical ideas of vampires. On page 17 of I Am Legend, Neville is reading “Dracula”, a popular fictitious book about vampires. Neville states “the book was a hodgepodge of superstitions and soap-opera clichés” because the vampires are actually more terrifying than Dracula explains. In chapter 12 of “Dracula”, the author states “there was no need to think them dead, for their stertorous breathing and the acrid smell of laudanum in the room left no doubt as to their condition”. The stereotypical trait of vampires is that they are “undead”, like infected carcasses with no human-like thought processes or anything. I Am Legend provides explanation of a pill, that actually prevents the “alive” vampires from fully dying. One of the alive vampires writes a letter to Neville stating that “it was the discovery of this pill that saved us from dying, that is helping to set up a society again slowly” (144). Throughout the entire plot, Neville is struggling for his survival, yet in the end he ends up killing himself; this irony is an extremely horrifying aspect. In one specific scene, the vampires tried to call him out of his house and he thought to himself “Bastards! I’ll kill every mother’s son of you before I give in!” (19). His great refusal to give in to the vampires was completely in vain. This is horrifyingly relatable to the readers because oftentimes what we fear is our hard works being in vain. Neville ends up taking his own life, right before the vampires were just about to do it. The novel states “he turned and leaned against the wall while he swallowed the pills. Full circle. A new terror born in death” (159). It seems as though he did give in to the enemy, by doing their “dirty work” for them. Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of Matheson’s novel is the point in the plot when Neville realizes the vampires are not the ones to fear anymore; he is.
At the beginning of the plague, the humans were terrified of the vampires because they were the abnormal ones, and they had very limited knowledge of them. Neville states “and suddenly he thought, I’m the abnormal one now. Normalcy was a majority concept, the standard of many and not the standard of just one man” (159). Matheson uses the overtaking of the human race to illustrate that the true thing to be afraid of is not what we have a full knowledge of, but what we do not understand. While looking out amongst the crowd of vampires, Neville realized that he was the one to fear now because he was the misunderstood one. The thing that we fear the most, is having a lack of knowledge about what is happening around us. The reader can relate to this aspect the best, because it is in all human nature to fear what we do not understand. This is applicable to not only the “vampire”, or “monster” concept, but to anything that we, as humans, cannot comprehend. Neville goes on to state “abruptly that realization joined with what he saw on their faces – awe, fear, shrinking horror – and he knew that they were afraid of him. To them he was some terrible scourge they had never seen, a scourge even worse than the disease they had come to live with” (159). Matheson does an excellent job of displaying horror by changing what is to be feared in this novel. When Neville becomes the “odd” one, he is suddenly the one to be feared.
Richard Matheson’s novel is truly magnificent, because he provides the reader with so many realistic details and scientific “facts” to prove his horror theories to be true. He assigns man human-like traits to the vampires, to make them relate more to the reader. Matheson not only displays horror, but gives his own definition of horror; one that is extremely relatable to the reader. Neville ends up giving in to the vampires’ true wish; to have him killed. The entire novel was about him fighting to survive and possibly recreate the human race, but all of his efforts were in vain. The author digs into the true fears of humans, which provides the readers with a very realistic aspect of horror.
Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2007. Print. Stoker, Bram, and Tudor Humphries. Dracula. New York: DK Pub., 1997. Print.
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