Firstly, I didn’t think the movie as was quite as bad as everyone made it out to be, but I can see where they’re coming from if they had read the book first. While it feels similar in atmosphere, it does differ in ways that reek somewhat of Hollywood tampering, and it ends up completely disregarding a fairly key point to the story.
Robert Neville is a lone and immune survivor of a disease that turns people to vampires. His life is a tedious cycle of keeping the vampires at bay during the night and hunting them during the day. At first he knows very little of what’s going on and relies on his knowledge of vampire folklore to stay alive. As he tries to find a cure for the disease, he gradually separates fact from legend.
While this keeps up my running theme of novels featuring the desperately lonely, it’s also another book that likely inspired 28 Days Later, as the vampires aren’t supernatural but victims of a disease. It’s a horror book that turns science fiction, as Neville gradually finds explanations for all of the vampire qualities we know and love. For example, the so-called vampires in the book still recoil when faced with a cross, but only those who were Christians in life. Atheists and those of other beliefs weren’t bothered by the crosses. This is because the crosses themselves are not physically damaging to them; it’s a psychological response to leftover religious superstition.
I wanted to discuss the ending, so the following is spoilerific. It’s a very short novel, so you should probably just go and read it.
As the novel progresses, we discover that there exists both live and undead vampires. The live vampires are infected but cognitive, while the undead vampires are merely kept alive by the disease and survive solely to feed.
In the movie, one percent of people in the world are immune from the disease, but in the book it’s only Robert Neville, as far as we’re told. At one point he meets a girl wandering a field who he believes to be another survivor, but she turns out to be one of the live vampires. She was sent to spy on Neville in order to understand him and eventually kill him.
The live vampires have learned to cope with the disease and are trying to rebuild a society, but they’re absolutely terrified of Neville. He stalks them during the day, killing their families, not knowing that the live vampires are humane and not just bloodthirsty monsters. They come out of their comas in the evening not knowing who will be dead among them. He’s the last of the old human race, and now that society has changed, he’s become the monster. That’s why he has become legend, which is something that failed to make sense with the changes in the film.
Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.