Richard Matheson’s 1954 short novel I Am Legend has a well-deserved reputation as a classic. The story went on to inspire George A Romero and forms the backbone of pretty much every zombie apocalypse story ever told. It is credited with inventing a scientific origin for a plague of monsters, inspiring the likes of Stephen King and the creators of video game franchise, Fallout. The novel has also inspired a number of direct motion picture adaptations including The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), and the titular I am Legend (2007).
For those of you have missed the story; it’s the tale of Robert Neville, a chap who believes himself to be the last human being on Earth. A pandemic has caused the human race to become creatures that he describes as vampires. These monsters fear sunlight, die when you stake them through the heart, fear crosses and so on. Robert wages war against the feral creatures, becoming a monster to their kind. The story examines what hope there is for civilisation when humanity is seemingly lost.
Matheson’s original tale is very gently paced, which is part of the point. It’s a tale told about a world worn thin. From a modern perspective, it’s pretty predictable. This is a story that has been imitated many times in many forms of media, though the familiarity does not damage Matheson’s skilled prose in any way.
Much like many a beloved zombie movie, the vampires in I Am Legend are not the focus of the story. The human drama and the collapse of self are the key focuses here, and the work is quite correctly regarded as a literary classic. (So much so that those unskilled in the nuances of genre declare that the story is not a work of horror or science fiction. Of course it is, and is an exceptional example of both categories.)
The Folio Society Edition contains full colour plates by the legendary Dave McKean. Anyone who’s ever seen a cover for The Sandman will be familiar with the artist’s work. McKean produces consistently beautiful art and his work on the Folio edition of I Am Legend is no exception. Moody and atmospheric, the plates are as striking as they are beautiful. The binding, the fonts used and so on are similarly gorgeous and of the standard we expect from the Folio Society.
There is an introduction from Joe Hill, who talks intelligently and in-depth about the story. It’s unlikely that anyone acquiring this volume would be unaware of the book’s influence, but even so, Joe Hill explains exactly how important it is.
It seems unfair to rest of the rating system to rate this book. It’s a classic and the Folio Society version looks amazing, is filled with incredible art and has an introduction from one of the most exciting horror writers of the modern age. We are going to give it top marks anyway, it’s the least it deserves.
I AM LEGEND (THE FOLIO SOCIETY EDITION) / AUTHOR: RICHARD MATHERSON / PUBLISHER: THE FOLIO SOCIETY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Illustration by Dave McKean from The Folio Society edition of I Am Legend ©2018 Dave McKean