The weekend brought sad news of the passing of Richard Matheson, a beloved and inspirational writer in the science fiction and horror genres. It has been announced by The Writers Guild of America and the Academy of Science Fiction that the sci-fi veteran passed away on Sunday in Los Angeles.
Matheson is perhaps most well-known for his 1954 novel ‘I Am Legend’ which has been adapted for the big screen at least three times in the last fifty years. It was first adapted as The Last Man on Earth in 1964, followed by the Omega Man in 1971 and more recently recreated with it’s original title in 2007, starring Will Smith. Other notable works include The Shrinking Man, along with penning episodes of Star Trek and The Twilight Zone.
Richard Matheson’s ‘I Am Legend’ is definitely up there in my favourite novels, particularly in the sci-fi and horror genre. Considering it was written in the early 50’s, the novel was extremely ahead of it’s time and paved the way for the future of the science fiction genre, becoming a very influential piece of writing. I remember being rather shocked at how long it had been written when I was reading it, as everything about the genre seemed so familiar.
Whilst the creatures in the novel are vampiric rather than zomtastic, it provided much inspiration for zombie fiction and films that followed. Matheson has been credited for inspiration by Stephen King, Anne Rice and George A. Romero, particularly in his film Night of the Living Dead. In fact, in the most recent adaptation starring Will Smith as Robert Neville, the creatures are presented with more zombie like traits, besides their inability to be exposed to sunlight.
Matheson’s blood-sucker apocalypse breathed new life into the vampire genre. The vampire ‘disease’ in the novel was considered to have been brought about war and created quite a different effect on people that the one portrayed in the 2007 film. These creatures could walk and talk and we learn that they even look human. They can be staked, killed by sunlight and have an aversion to garlic. Rather different from the mutants offered in the recent adaption, with their constant roaring and likeness to zombies.
However, it wasn’t all stakes and gore. Matheson offered us a very interesting character with his Robert Neville, and the idea of an emerging vampire society was something done in ‘I Am Legend’ years before anyone else had attempted to do anything similar. A thought provoking novel with an amazingly written ending, I urge you to give it a read. It’s very different from any of the film adaptations and it’s well worth your time. I warn you though, there’s a dog in this one too, and it’s even more heart wrenching.
Richard Matheson’s death is a great loss to the genre and his work inspired a whole new generation of science fiction and horror writing. Next time you think about going to see one of these high-budget post-apocalyptic action flicks or latest vampire horror at the cinema, stay home and give ‘I Am Legend’ a read. Because no matter how good it is, Richard Matheson did it first – and he did it better.