Farewell to Richard Matheson

I was a late-comer to Richard Matheson’s work. Sadly, I am one of ‘those’ people who chooses a book by its cover. And “I Am Legend” didn’t have a cover that moved me. It wasn’t until years later when they were making (another) movie about his book, that I decided to pick it up. I am so glad I did. You see, I’ve been a fan of the undead from way back. I was loving on the vampires and zombies well before it was the cool or trendy thing to do. Decades before they were relegated to teen romance.

So, there I was, in a time period when zombies and vampires and werewolves were already ‘a thing’, and I’m reading what could be considered one of the first shots in the “Undead Revolution”. It was like looking back in time to see the birth of a galaxy billions of years after the fact. It was raw, new and rough around the edges. It wasn’t slick and sexy; the writing was stilted in places. But the story never veered away from the fact that this story is about the last man on Earth, clinging to the hope that he’s not the last man on Earth.

Did he write the first book about the undead? Not even close. Bram Stoker brought vampires out of the collective mists of our minds and launched them into the forefront of things we should be terrified of. Matheson ripped them from Victorian times, made them less mythical and way more real. While Vlad Dracula was scary, he was ethereal. He was scary from a distance. Sure, there was a possibility he might form into mist and sneak into your bedroom at night. But in Matheson’s world…these were people you once knew. These dudes were guaranteed to attack your house each and every night with a single-minded obsession. Oh, and one of them was going to call you out, by name.

“Come out, Neville.”
Richard Matheson, I am Legend and Other Stories

Of course, the book ruined the movie for me. It set the bar too high. Hollywood would never have the balls to do what Metheson did 53 years before. He wrote an allegory about the “Boogie Man” that stands the test of time. What if, the “Boogie Man” woke up one day and realized that he wasn’t a good guy. What if a monster-slayer discovered that HE was the real monster? I was mad at myself for not having read it sooner. And I was more mad at Hollywood for not being true to his story.

Long story short, Richard Matheson changed the literary landscape with one book. Today, in the age of Z-Poc, Dystopian, and Horror, a world where a dude launches a one-man war against the undead isn’t a stretch. It is a pretty flyable premise…because of Mr. Matheson. He paved that road. He was so far ahead of his time, “I Am Legend” was billed as a Sci-Fi book. Today, it would be buried in the mass of Dystopian Horror Apocalypse Fiction. When he dropped it, they said, “Well, it takes place in the future. So, it must be Science Fiction!”

Farewell to a trailblazer. As new stars are being charted in the literary skies all the time, you really notice when one of the bright ones blinks out. We’re a little darker with your leaving.