I Am Legend
For my online artifact I choose to explore a social networking/blog site about vampirism; in particular Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. The website is called geeks of doom, and, according to the founding members, was constructed to bring geeky entertainment news and features to the masses. After searching through some of the blogs, one of them caught my eye. The author, Movies at Midnight, discusses I Am Legend in an extremely critical and intriguing way. Much of his argument centers around the “darker side of human emotion – loneliness and confusion especially – and the will to survive…” (Movies at Midnight).
“While this is certainly a horror novel by any means, the horror comes not from the external attacks of the vampires, but from the internal tribulations of Neville, and the nightly menaces seem trivial compared to Neville’s mental demons” (Movies at Midnight). The author comments on a central theme of not only I Am Legend, but vampire novels as a whole. Like many other characters, Neville destroys himself because of a lack of knowledge. He is paralyzed by the fact that he cannot understand the disease that has left him lost, alone, and tormented by the vampires. Neville is much like Van Helsing in this way. His central mission is to cure the world of this destructive force known as vampirism.
Movies at Midnight also touches on some of the social connotations that are embedded in I Am Legend and it is truly fascinating. Matheson wrote this novel in 1954. During that time many things were occurring in America and around the world that have influenced our lives today. First, World War II had just ended. Germany was segregated into east and west, setting the stage for the Cold War between America and Russia; a time when nuclear annihilation was a real fear. At home in America, the civil rights movement was gaining steam. The Supreme Court had just ruled on Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, declaring that the practice of spate but equal schools was unconstitutional. One might think, what does a vampire novel have to do with this? I had the same reaction, but Movies at Midnight comments on this very question. “Matheson isn’t just content with his dissection of the vampire mythos, but also dives head first into an exploration of what legends mean and the associated perception of truth, fear, and understanding based on a majority population thinking a certain way” (Movies at Midnight). Neville simply does not declare that vampires must be destroyed, but rather becomes a self-taught scientist in order to strive to understand their nuances. He discovers that they are remarkably human on a scientific level. According to the author, Matheson is commenting on stereotypes and legends as a whole. “Matheson here takes legends and transforms them into a tool to expose the irrational line of thinking of what is not understood and in a minority must be contained and destroyed” (Movies at Midnight). Matheson is commenting on the current social climate of America and the world with his analysis of the legend. Simply containing them or destroying them is not the answer and, in many ways, is insane. Rather, striving to understand them and determine the best course of action, just like Neville, is always preferred. Matheson’s multi-level writing is fascinating in that it can be applied to the social and political contexts of the time.
Authors commenting on the social climate of the times in nothing new though in the science fiction/ horror genre. We see this in Stoker’s Dracula and Le Fanu’s Carmilla. This is something I have also touched on in my blogs. Both novels comment on the socially accepted belief in the Victorian female. They are pure in mind, body and spirit. This is not the case for the vampires in these novels. Carmilla, Dracula, and the Brides of Dracula are sexual deviants who defy death and prey on the Victorian feminine ideal.
Many of the blogs also discuss the novel in comparison to the movie. Unlike the novel, the movie version featuring Will Smith as Neville replaces vampires with a zombie-like creature. Furthermore, Neville is a government funded, professional scientist. I have seen the movie, but some of the blogs mention an alternate ending. Because of this, I watched it on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZTySHgSpBw). This ending to the movie portrays the zombie-like creatures much closer to those in the novel. They are intelligent, human-like creatures who do not simply attack humans for the sport of it. Like their torment of Neville at night, their actions are premeditated and calculated. I thought this was an interesting comparison to the vampires of the novel.
The link to Movies at Midnights blog is as follows: (http://geeksofdoom.com/2007/12/10/book-review-i-am-legend/). I really encourage everyone to read it. His blog sheds new light on a novel that is extremely complex under the horror surface. Like the vampire novels before it, Matheson’s comments on the current social climate as well as terrorizes its readers on a psychological level.