I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Illustrations by Dave McKean
Published in 1954; 2018 Edition by The Folio Society
Genre: Horror, science fiction
Disclaimer: This review will be different from the norm in that it is split into two parts: a standard, albeit shorter, book review and a specific review of this Folio Society edition. I am endorsing this product through my own volition and belief in its high quality.
Part I: The Story
“On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back.”
I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson, has become one of the most influential horror stories of the 20th century. Concerning the life of the last survivor of a world-wide vampire apocalypse, I Am Legend took the premise of a global, supernatural pandemic and asked the question: when the world is overtaken by vampires, who is their monster? The Folio Society created this new edition with stunning art by Dave McKean, and I was lucky enough to nab a copy.
The story begins in 1976, around five months after Robert Neville became the last living man on earth (that he is aware of). We find him in the daily routine of vampire-proofing his house with cloves of garlic, as well as fixing boards and planks that were loosened or damaged during the previous night’s siege on his house by the undead. He struggles with the futility of it all; being the last man on an entire planet of blood-sucking monsters who only want to drain him, he knows that he cannot hope to survive because of how overwhelmingly outnumbered he is.
Neville has both emotional and logical sides that are at war with one another throughout the book. He is haunted by the memories of losing his wife and daughter, and dives head first into his work trying to understand the vampiric plague rather than dealing with those emotions. He has conversations with himself in which he ponders over the sickness and its sudden spread, while arguing about the morality of going out on sunny days and seeking sleeping vampires to stab with wooden stakes. He experiments with all of the classic superstitions in an attempt to find out which are true, which aren’t, and why. Neville spends his time researching his foe, reading and learning about blood in order to find some way to be productive and address this problem rather than dealing with the emotional pain of his loss.
I Am Legend encompasses three years of Neville’s isolation, and as such shows his movement toward becoming an apathetic creature. He has become clinical in dispatching vampires and it is only when companionship, the very thing he had long hoped for, arrives in the shape of a dog and a woman named Ruth that his few remaining hopes are shattered in disappointment. He has changed from the man he was and has become something to be frightened of in this new world. No longer does the monster stalk the night with bared fangs and a sly slither; he now walks during the day with wooden stake and mallet in hand.
Part II: The Book Itself
Much like Dave McKean’s previous work for The Folio Society, his illustrations for I Am Legend embody the emotional tones; greens and grays mix and muddle together to show the bleakness of Neville’s situation. This does not become monochromatic, however, due to the nuances in each layer; these are accompanied by splashes of vivid red to highlight elements relating Neville’s internal struggles with loneliness and his search for what caused the rapid spread of vampirism. The artwork is placed sparingly throughout the book in order to compliment the story, rather than take attention away from it.
Here are some specifications taken from The Folio Society web page:
- Bound in printed and blocked cloth with a design by the artist.
- Set in Aldus.
- 208 pages.
- Frontispiece and 6 colour illustrations.
- 4 integrated black & white illustrations for the part-titles and illustrated headings throughout.
- Die-cut slipcase
- 10” x 5½”.
I Am Legend is the progenitor of nearly all modern zombie movies. It was one of the first horror stories to concern the transformation of humanity on a global scale, and its premise led to the creation of the now immensely popular sub-genre of horror. I have read I Am Legend three times and each time has been worth the time put into reading the book. Neville’s desperate need to continue living and searching for a cure despite being constantly being reminded of the futility of his situation speaks to the human fear of death, let alone those that are dead coming back to walk among us.
The reversal of who the monster is creates the most compelling argument for this stories continued relevance; what is a monster? Is it created by the majority who are frightened of it, and if so, is all that keeps us as humans from being monstrous the fact that we are currently in the majority in comparison to the denizens of the night? This edition by the Folio Society was a must-have (though I would have liked to have gotten the limited edition, I couldn’t convince myself to spend $395 on a book) especially after seeing Dave McKean’s amazing work with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. This remains one of my favorite stories, horror or otherwise, and I am proud to own a beautiful copy such as this.
Verdict: 4 crushed glasses of whiskey out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of vampire fiction, fans of Dave McKean, those who enjoy zombie movies, George A. Romero, people who want a gorgeous edition of a foundational horror book, and adults.
Not recommended for: Fans of I Am Legend (2007), the easily frightened, vampires, those who dislike their horror with a twist, or children.