First let me state that I think Mr. Matheson is a very great writer. I read several of his short stories and they are quite scary and creepy. I can see how he inspired Stephen King with these works. Matheson wrote several episodes for The Twilight Zone, which include one of my favorites, "Nightmare at 20,000 feet".
Yes, a young William Shatner
Several of his books have been adapted to film. One that completely shocked me, considering he is a horror/sci fi author is his adapted film "Somewhere in Time". I couldn't believe it when I read it. I love that film and think it is one of the most beautiful love films. That's a book and film review for a different day.
Second, I was disappointed with this novel. Not that he didn't tell a good story, and yes, I am probably too attached to the film, but I didn't find it scary in the least. There were some great ideas, but I couldn't emotionally attach myself to the character or story. The dog scenes and Ruth scenes were the best parts, but too short and depressing. There were many differences between the book and the last adapted film by the same title starring Will Smith. There were two other films as well: "The Last Man on Earth" with Vincent Price and "The Omega Man". I have those on my queue to watch so I can't compare those yet.
In the story those infected with the bacteria become vampires. They can be killed by stakes or thrown in to the fire pit. In the film they are more feral creatures with limited intelligence but supernatural strength. They are infected by a virus that was originally used to cure cancer. They seem to change body structure whereas in the book they still look human and the women try to lure Neville out by showing him their naked bodies.
I think seeing Neville struggle alone for years visually had more of an impression on me than reading about it. I think Smith did a fantastic job showing how he had tried to make a life for himself, coping and dealing. When things get too close and the creatures/vampires know that he exists and actively start hunting him down. when they move the mannequins to the library (or whatever building it was), you seem him start to unravel. I think Smith portrayed the emotions of Robert Neville story wise extremely well. That scene in the film scared me to death and was very well done cinematically. What a turning point!
I realize that Neville was ahead of his time in writing this book (1954) so I do commend him for writing such a great story. It's just not a favorite of mine. Honestly I think I just need to reread it and not watch the Smith version until I have done so.
I will say the one thing that I did appreciate in Matheson's story was how he incorporated the title. In the end, a new society of vampires who can live in the day light have taken over and capture Neville. He realizes that he is now what they were too him: scary, foreign and terrifying. Vampires once legend are now the norm and the last man of the human race is now legend. His last line is simply that, "I am legend."
I guess I have never thought about being a lone survivor of the human race being hunted down by monsters. That would be horrible and depressing and any sign of life would be welcome. I will save more for the discussion.
Just to give you an idea of the time and setting, it takes place in South Los Angeles near Compton and Inglewood between 1975 and 1979. Of course Matheson had no idea what LA would look like at the time since he wrote this in the 50s, so here is a glimpse back in time. Either way, I can hardly imagine my city being completely desolate with tumbleweeds occasionally blowing down the former busy streets, not a soul to be seen but knowing they are there waiting for nightfall to come out. That would be equal parts terrifying and lonely.