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Depiction Of The Entirely Different Vampire In I Am Legend By Richard Matheson

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In the early 15th century, Vlad Tepes was born. Later on his his life, he became one of the most moleventant and cruel conquerors the world has ever seen. Bram Stoker, an Irish author, was able to take this man and turn him into what is possibly the most well known vampire in history, Dracula. With Dracula, the classic or stereotypical vampire was born. From that moment on, people have adapted their own vampires into books and film. Most authors and directors will try and mirror their vampire with Dracula as much as they can. However, some creative minds were able to create something that strayed off the path of the classic vampire. People such as Richard Matheson and his novel, “I Am Legend”, showed us a vampire different than Dracula and the vampire stereotype that followed Dracula’s creation. Matheson did stay true to the classic vampire in some regards, but mostly, Matheson gave us a vampire entirely different than anything we have seen before in the sci fi and horror genre. 

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The weaknesses of a vampire are well known by many. Throughout history, the methods of dealing with them has remained constant and few try and change them. Matheson is no different. He followed the vampire stereotype when creating weaknesses for the vampires in his novel, but he did add things that were unique to his vampire alone. Robert Nevel, the last man not affected by the vampire germ, sais, “He had learned over a year before that garlic was an allergen to any system infected with the vampiris bacillus. When the system was exposed to garlic, the stimulated tissues sensitized the cells, causing an abnormal reaction to any further contact with garlic”. Garlic is an effective way to deal with vampires in many stories throughout history. Matheson, however, gives a reason for why this is the case. People just accepted this vampire kryptonite as fact, but no one has ever asked why. Why does garlic work against this blood sucking creature? Matheson explained their weakness using science, saying that garlic is an allergen to vampires. He states that the vampire germ causes the system to react in a way different than that of a human. People aren’t left with questions when it comes to Mathesons vampire. He tells us with impressive detail on how it works. With Garlic sensitizing the cells of the vampire and causing them to have a negative allergic reaction is the most specific and least vague way anyone has ever written about the weaknesses of a vampire. But Garlic is not the only way to kill a vampire. If you ask somebody, how do you kill a vampire, most will respond with, “a stake to the heart will get the job done”. Matheson took this idea and expanded upon it. As Robert was telling Ruth about his research, he sais, “At first I thought the stake had to hit their hearts,” he said. “I believed the legend. I found out that wasn’t so. I put stakes in all parts of their bodies and they died”. Matheson changed the idea of, a stake to the heart will kill a vampire, to, any wound done to a vampire will put them to rest. He explained this clear difference between his vampires and others with science. Robert states, “the bacillus is a facultative saprophyte. It lives with or without oxygen; but with a difference. Inside the system, it is anaerobic and sets up a symbiosis with the system. The vampire feeds it fresh blood, the bacteria provides the energy so the vampire can get more fresh blood. The germ also causes, I might add, the growth of the canine teeth. . . When air enters,” he said, “the situation changes instantaneously. The germ becomes aerobic and, instead of being symbiotic, it becomes virulently parasitic.” He paused. “It eats the host”. Matheson gives good reasons to why a vampire will die from not just a stake to the heart, but any strike that causes an open wound. He states that the germ links itself to the vampire. Matheson even explains why vampires have teeth. The germ makes the host grow them in order to harvest blood from other living creatures. Blood is something almost all vampires need and crave but even this classic stereotype is explained. The germ needs blood for energy. It uses this energy to stay alive and any energy it has left over is given to the host in order for him or her to obtain more blood. But this relationship is only present when the bacteria is anaerobic, or without oxygen . The germ will become a leach if it is exposed to oxygen, thus killing the vampire. An open wound will cause the germ to literally, suck the life out of its host. Sunlight is another well known weakness to the classic vampire. Matheson once again takes this idea and explains it using science. Robert states, “Strong sunlight kills many germs rapidly”. The fact that Mathesons vampire is caused by a germ and not a result of magic, allows sunlight to make sense when it comes to things that can kill a vampire. In other pieces of literature, sunlight killing vampires is never truly explained. When Matheson made his vampire a result of a germ/bacteria, he knew that this classic vampire repellent would have a spot in his story. Matheson would never have a way to deal with vampires in his novel that is not explained. A method that works for no reason would never find it’s way on the page. The fact that sunlight kills germs and bacteria means this classic vampire stereotype is finally given a reason on why it is effective. This is something no other author was able to do because their vampires are not the result of bacteria. But if you can’t get them with a stake, the sun, or garlic, the classic cross should do the trick, right? The vampire is a symbol of evil throughout almost all pieces of literature. Evil that can only be combated by holy symbols. The horror movies of today show evil spirits possessing humans. Only an exorcism, a holy ritual can free the host from the spirits bonds. Crosses and holy water are holy symbols that are effective against vampires. When It comes to the classic vampire, this weakness ends here. But Matheson expands upon this weakness, and gives it some backbone. Robert tells Ruth, ““Why should a Jew fear the cross?” he said. “Why should a vampire who had been a Jew fear it? Most people were afraid of becoming vampires. Most of them suffer from hysterical blindness before mirrors. But as far as the cross goes — well, neither a Jew nor a Hindu nor a Mohammedan nor an atheist, for that matter, would fear the cross”. Matheson believes that not all vampires should be affected by the holy symbols of Christianity. If you think about it logically, a cross, a symbol that represents Jesus dying and forgiving the sins of humanity, would and should have no affect on someone who does not believe in or worship Jesus. At that point, it is a piece of metal or wood. A holy symbol will only work on a vampire if he or she followed that faith in life. Seeing these symbols puts a great amount of shame on the host. It reminds them they they betrayed their faith and everything they ever believed in. The mirror is the same way. When these vampires see what they have become, they are disgusted. It’s all in the brain. These are not physical weaknesses, but rather, phycological. A fragment of the person they used to be is still present, and when they see themselves as a monstrosity, it puts a tremendous strain on their mind. Once again we see Matheson take a typical vampire stereotype, and turn it into something that makes sense, and is backed by science and logic alike. A mirror not working on a vampire cannot be backed by anything but magic. Magic, a term used for something that cannot be explained by science. Matheson was able to turn everything that hurt a vampire and give each one support. The character of Robert is always asking, why? Why do these things work when it comes to slaying vampires? Robert is able to figure out why each and every one of these methods is effective. No other piece of fiction is able to do so. 

Matheson took ideas from the classic vampire and chose traits that could be explained through science and logic. If one of these classic stereotypes could not be explained, then they were not present in his version of the vampire. Robert states, “According to legend, they were invisible in mirrors, but he knew that was untrue. As untrue as the belief that they transformed themselves into bats. That was a superstition that logic, plus observation had easily disposed of. It was equally foolish to believe that they could transform themselves into wolves. Without a doubt there were vampire dogs; he had seen and heard them outside his house at night. But they were only dogs”. The powers of invisibility and shapeshifting are considered magic. No science experiment or law could ever explain why these creatures are able to do such incredible tricks. Matheson wanted to take the classic vampire, and give reason to all of the stereotypes that went with them. Sadly, he was unable to give a logical reason to why a vampire would ever gain such impressive powers. Because of this, these powers were absent when Matheson created the final version of this famous monster. Another trait that Matheson removed from his vampire that is present in most others is their intelligents. In most depictions of the vampire, they are dapper, polite, and highly intelligent. But Matheson knew that could not be the case. His vampires were infected with a bacteria that is controlling their brain. Ruth tells Robert, “Their brains are impaired, they exist for only one purpose”. Since Matheson made his vampire a result of a bacteria, he knew he could not have them be highly intelligent. With the Bacteria affecting their minds, Matheson knew the classic vampire would be impossible. 

The vampire was created hundreds of years ago. They have changed from what they once were, but some traits remain. There is a reason the vampire is so popular and to change it would be insane. Don’t fix something that is not broken. But people put their own spin on the vampire and each adaptation is different than the last. Matheson is no different. Matheson made his vampire a feral beast, rather than an eloquent man, Something that has never been done before. Besides this fact, Matheson did not add anything to the vampire genre. He did however, strip his vampire of all magic qualities and replace them with scientific ones. Today, vampires are once again mythical creatures. It seems as if people ignored Matheson’s adaptation of the vampire and converted back to what people loved. The classic vampire is alive in modern movies like Twilight and many others. While Mathesons work on the vampire genre may not be present in modern film, it is still amazing what he did. He was able to take a mythical creature and almost turn it into reality. Matheson’s vampire will forever be remembered as the most realistic vampire ever depicted in fiction. A vampire with weaknesses and physical traits that are backed by science and logic, something that no one else was able to do. While he did not add much to the modern vampire genre, he was able to mark his spot in history as the only man to answer the question of why, when it comes to what made a vampire, a vampire.

10 Jun 2021

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