I Am Legend was a very popular movie, but did you know it started out as a book? It’s a little on the short side for a novella and was written in 1954 by Richard Matheson, one of my favorite authors. In many cases, movies run parallel to the book and take significant liberties either with characters or plot points. In this case, there are limited similarities. There are some spoilers ahead, but few apply to the book . If you have not yet seen the movie and want to, you may want to skip this post.
I mentioned the similarities are limited. Here they are:
In the movie, Robert Neville was an accomplished virologist with the U.S. Army prior to all hell breaking loose. This is extremely convenient considering he is probably the last fully human person on the planet. He has a collection of rats and lab equipment in his basement to help him find a cure. The book Robert Neville worked at a factory and was good with repair projects around the house. He was not a scientist, but he was curious and determined to discover what kind of pathogen caused him to lose so much. He found a microscope and took books from the library.
Both the book and movie spend a lot of time in the character’s head. You are shown the effect of isolation on Neville as he struggles to cope with the loss of everyone he knew. Both Robert Nevilles had a family and lost them, although the method of loss was very different.
I do not care to watch an animal getting hurt, even if it’s clearly fiction. Just ask my husband. I think I ranted about the dog in I Am Legend for two weeks after we left the theater. Now I know to avoid movies with a prominently featured canine. To watch a supposedly cherished family pet and movie Neville's only source of normalcy get infected because its owner was an idiot was tough. The book has a dog, but the poor thing was scraping by in the world on its own before Neville tried to befriend it. Spoiler: Things don’t end well for the book dog, but it isn't a consequence of Neville's neglect.
Photograph byy Pepo13 (Own work)
via Wikimedia Commons
Zombie or Vampire?
The book was explicitly about vampires. In Matheson’s story, the vampires were the result of a pathogen rather than some kind of magical transfer, although they did have an irrational fear of religions symbols. The disease spread like wildfire, the creatures only moved about at night, and there were variations in how the disease manifested. He killed them with stakes and exposure to sunlight. Most were animalistic, but not all. When I watched the movie, the progression of the illness that wiped out the vast majority of the planet was explained as a vaccine gone wrong, mutating into a pathogen. Had I read the book before the movie, I would have wondered if the infected were vampires when it became clear they were sensitive to UV rays. Because a pathogen was in the mix and their intelligence was severely limited, I assumed they were zombies.
I enjoyed the book. The book’s ending was intriguing and completely different than the movie. Despite Will Smith’s impressive acting, I will never watch the movie again. I don’t care to watch what happens to the dog, and Neville’s heroic end in the movie was an illogical waste.
Have you seen the movie and read the book? How did the movie measure up for you? Which version did you prefer?
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.