I Am Legend


Richard Matheson

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I Am Legend Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson grew up in Brooklyn, and later attended the University of Missouri, where he majored in journalism. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, he began writing science fiction stories, and succeeded in publishing some in sci-fi magazines. Throughout the 1950s, Matheson remained a prolific author, and many of his stories and novels were adapted into films and TV episodes. Matheson’s 1956 novel The Shrinking Man was adapted into The Incredible Shrinking Man, one of the most iconic sci-fi films of the 1950s. Additionally, Matheson wrote more than a dozen episodes of the classic 1950s TV show The Twilight Zone, including the famous “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (the one where William Shatner sees a monster on the wing of his plane). Matheson remained a prolific, highly-respected sci-fi writer throughout the second half of the 20th century; his short story “Duel” formed the basis for an early Steven Spielberg film of the same name, and his novel I Am Legend (1954) has been made into a film at least five times. Matheson died in Los Angeles in 2013, just days before he was due to receive the Saturn Award, one of the science fiction community’s most prestigious honors.
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Historical Context of I Am Legend

As a science fiction novel, I Am Legend doesn’t reference very many historical events; however, like many of the best SF books, it uses science fiction to allude to some of the social and political events of its era. Matheson’s futuristic portrait of Los Angeles as a dangerous, vampire-ridden wasteland could reflect his impressions of Los Angeles in the 1950s, when there were numerous fires and the city experienced a major increase in violent crime. Furthermore, I Am Legend alludes to the Cold War: the era in the second half of the 20th century when the United States and the Soviet Union fought a series of proxy wars against one another, and when there was a legitimate danger of global nuclear war.

Other Books Related to I Am Legend

As a vampire novel, the touchstone for Am Legend is, without a doubt, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (a novel which Matheson mentions more than once over the course of the book). Stoker’s 1897 Gothic horror novel tells the story of the evil Count Dracula, a vampire who sucks the blood of his victims. The book is credited with sparking a revival of interest in the vampire legend; Matheson’s book then reinterprets vampires in a more futuristic, scientific context. Perhaps the most famous author to credit Matheson himself as an influence is Stephen King, the author of such horror classics as Salem’s Lot, Pet Sematery, Cujo, Carrie, and The Shining. In many of his books, King studies lonely, depressed characters, not unlike Richard Neville; furthermore, King credits Matheson with showing him how to combine science fiction with horror in a convincing way.
Key Facts about I Am Legend
  • Full Title: I Am Legend
  • When Written: 1953
  • Where Written: Los Angeles
  • When Published: Summer 1954
  • Literary Period: Cold War science fiction (sometimes called “Silver Age” sci-fi)
  • Genre: Science fiction / Horror
  • Setting: Los Angeles, 1976-1978
  • Climax: The “new society” breaks into Robert Neville’s house.
  • Antagonist: It’s difficulty to say who the antagonist of the novel is; one of the central themes of the book is that everyone is an antagonist to someone else. The “dead vampires,” the “new society” of living vampires, or even Robert Neville himself could be considered the novel’s antagonist.
  • Point of View: Third person limited (following Robert Neville’s point of view).

Extra Credit for I Am Legend

The most famous writer you’ve never heard of. Even if you’ve never heard of Richard Matheson, you’re probably familiar with his work. He penned episodes of The Twilight Zone and wrote the stories on which the films The Incredible Shrinking Man, Real Steel, Duel, Jaws 3-D, and What Dreams May Come were based. I Am Legend alone was adapted for the cinema five times: in 1964, 1967, 1971, and twice in 2007. Matheson kept busy with TV and film writing—just three years before his death, he helped write a hilarious episode of the TV show Family Guy.

Famous fans. On the week Richard Matheson died, there was a massive outpouring of grief throughout the science-fiction/horror community. Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, Roger Corman, Richard Kelly (the director of the cult classic Donnie Darko), George Romero (the director of Night of the Living Dead), and Edgar Wright (the director of Shaun of the Dead) were among the industry figures to express their sympathies for Matheson. Clearly, the guy had a lot of fans.