2. I Am Legend
What’s really interesting about Richard Matheson’s post-apocalyptic undead masterpiece is that it isn’t that influential in the vampire genre. But what it did do is inspire the zombie genre as we know it today. George R. Romero has outright stated that this was the book that gave him the concept that became Night of the Living Dead, which has since fueled and inspired….pretty much the entire current zombie-based pop culture overdose.
Another interesting aspect of I Am Legend is the way it incorporates science into the narrative, exploring why it is vampires are how they are while discarding impractical superstition along the way. In this version, vampirism is a disease that the protagonist intends to cure and his observations and studies include everything from whether a vampire can cross running water to the significance of the cross in warding them off. It’s still refreshing today and must have been earth-shattering back then.
If there’s one thing Matheson does consistently better than anybody else, it’s irony. His trademark is devastatingly dark and cynical endings where the protagonists reap what they’ve (often unexpectedly) sewn over the course of the story, or otherwise end up totally screwed by some unforeseen horrible twist of fate. The ending/title line of I Am Legend is the best example of that, not only among Matheson’s work, but arguably in all of fiction. Accept no imitations.
Obviously, this is the big one. A novel so ubiquitous that it appears nobody has even bothered attempting to count the number of copies sold. But rest assured it’s a lot. It’s been adapted over and over and over again in film, television, comics, and onstage and the character himself has invaded every single aspect of our popular culture beyond almost any other fictional concoction. No matter where you go or what you do, there is no getting away from Dracula.
The resurgence of vampire chic over the past couple of decades has led to a lot of semi-literate criticisms of this Victorian relic. Check the many one star reviews on Amazon for details and to experience brilliant critically analytical opinions like “OMG I cant believe i actually finished this book. It is a miracle that this book ever started the vampire crazzzzzzze…”
What makes Dracula such an amazing example of horror is its sheer originality. Yeah, I know I said Le Fanu did some of it before Stoker, but this particular story works on so many levels it almost has no top or bottom. From the xenophobic underpinnings of a foreign immigrant seducing the proper ladies and spreading their “disease” to political analogies about the monarchy preying on the people or the spread of corruption to the veiled sexuality and commentaries on love and faith there is an almost unlimited amount of material for philosophical discussion. It kind of puts modern popular literature to shame.
And then there is the actual format. Anyone can write a book from the characters’ point of view or the third person. But to concoct such an amazing story out of journal entries, personal letters, newspaper reports, and the like? Dracula was the literary equivalent of a found footage film in the 1800’s and I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything like it.
And even if you take all of that away from it, it’s still beautifully written and coined tons of quotable lines that permeate horror fiction to this day. Yeah, this book is better than almost all other books, vampires or no vampires. And there’s no possible argument that it isn’t better than what we’re being fed in popular culture today.
And with this I conclude my Vampire Appreciation Month festivities. Now all that’s left is for all of you fine readers to go out and get that candy. Have a safe and cosplayful Halloween and happy haunting, everyone.