Review of “I Am Legend” (the novel, not the movie)

Ever since I reviewed the movie I Am Legend last year, I’ve been meaning to read the book. After finishing Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, I wanted something a little lighter (figuratively and literally), so I decided it was finally time to give I Am Legend a read. Not only is the book far more interesting than the movie, but it’s also far more meaningful.

I Am Legend goes much deeper than just fantasy and horror. It’s a very well written novel which explores the psychological challenges of solitude, and concepts of human (and inhuman) perspective and compassion. I’m not surprised that I Am Legend refuses to translate into a movie (it was first adapted in 1964 as The Last Man on Earth, then in 1971 as The Omega Man, and in 2007 as I Am Legend). Since the most recent attempt replaces pages and pages of Robert Neville’s ruminations and discoveries with special effects, suspense, and heroism, a great deal of the interest of the novel is lost.

Without giving too much away, there are three important differences between the novel and its most recent adaptation:

  1. In the book, Neville isn’t a scientist. He’s a blue-collar worker at some sort of plant (the book never discloses what kind), and he is forced to become an amateur scientist in order to understand what’s happening around him. Neville is often frustrated by his inability to understand what he reads and to operate the equipment he finds until he eventually overcomes his own self-doubt.
  2. The creatures in the book are vampires rather than zombie-like. This may seem like a minor distinction, but in fact, it changes the story significantly. Initially, the vampires in the novel seem like run-of-the-mill, blood-sucking clichés, but in fact, Neville is able to scientifically explain their behavior which has been misinterpreted and canonized into legend over the years. It turns out that there’s nothing mythical or fantastic about vampires when examined under the scrutiny of objective, modern science.
  3. The title of the work actually makes sense in the book whereas I don’t think it ever comes through in the movie. The alternate ending of the movie does a credible job of at least acknowledging the theme of the story, but it can’t possibly capture the gravity of the final three words of the novel: "I am legend."

I don’t want to sound overly critical of the movie, especially after giving it a good review last year. They are both, in fact, good stories, and both very much worth your time. Just don’t think that just because you’ve seen the movie, you know the story. The book will still surprise you both in terms of plot and depth.

6 thoughts on “Review of “I Am Legend” (the novel, not the movie)

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. I read the book first and was pretty disgusted with the movie. Along with your second point, the creatures also interact in much more interesting ways with Neville. Consider what he does each and every night because of the creatures outside and how they act (being vague so as to not spoil). The descriptions of his nights were the most intense parts of the book for me.


  2. Very cool, I’ll have to give this book read. I like watching movies that came from books. Jurassic Park was a real page turner for me. I recently finished reading No Country For Old Men and it’s was like 25% boring old man talk. The movie was done better. Same goes for Children of Men


  3. I read the book a few years before the movie came out, and so did my wife. While we enjoyed the movie, we both felt it left too much of the book out in order to go along with what would make a good film.
    The movie wis good. The book, however, is excellent.


  4. Generally I loathe movie adaptations of books, but in this case I found the film a much more absorbing and touching story. Throughout the book I was never truly engrossed, and felt no attachment to Robert Neville as a character, whereas Will Smith’s emotional performance reduced me to tears during 3 separate scenes.
    I would definitely recommend the film rather than the book.


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