Finished reading I Am Legend in a blur of pages. Such a short book, and so condensed; it really is like a Raymond Carver story in so many ways. It has the lonely man drinking his whiskey and flinging glass tumblers at the walls. Short descriptive unemotional sentences saying so much more than they appear to. The only real difference is that Carver’s characters are brooding alcoholics trapped in manual labour jobs and loveless relationships, and I Am Legend’s character Robert Neville is a brooding alcoholic numbed by loneliness and besieged by vampires.
The blurb and the reputation of the book had me expecting a science-fiction story about vampires, but it really isn’t either of those things. It is Minimalist fiction of extreme power hung loosely over the frame of genre fiction. Completely not what I expected; a million times better. The revelatory ending - “Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.” – suddenly transports the story from a captivating fictional setting into our world, our history. It opens up terrible possibilities about supernatural forces behind past plagues, mass extinctions and evolutionary leaps...
And then you close the book, reflect for a moment, and gradually remember it’s just a story, and we are not the evolved descendents of infected mediaeval vampires. But then you begin to think about how every European alive today is evolved from Dark Age ancestors who had a natural immunity to symptoms of plague, and perhaps the future will be populated by descendants of those with a natural immunity to AIDS... or vampirism. And you think about the legends we all know, some we hear as children and forget about and others we encounter on a daily basis, and you wonder how they came about originally.
Take for example the myth of Jesus Christ. “It’s clear to any thinking man that Jesus didn’t exist,” I just said arrogantly, but accurately. But people like to say idiotic things like, “I believe there was a man called Jesus,” or “Jesus was a revolutionary and a great moral teacher, but I don’t believe he was the son of god.” Firstly saying there was a man called Jesus means nothing. I believe that in 17th century London there was a man called Samuel, but what of it? Nothing – it’s a non-point, an empty vacuous statement.
But what about the second made-up quote – the one about Jesus being a revolutionary and a great moral leader, but not the son of god? The one I just wrote. Yes that one.
Well, where do you get that from? The bible of course. The only source of information we have about this arrogant little squit and his crappy little magic tricks. Well the bible says he was the son of god, so if you believe any of the stuff in the bible about Jesus, why not this bit as well? That’s because it’s not a history book, it’s a confused muddle of fictions written after the fact, contradicting one another, and gradually forming a mythos. Plus there is the glaring fact that if he had said any of the things attributed to him he... well, I’m blabbering so I’ll turn you over to Christian apologist C.S. Lewis who said it better than I ever could (even though he was making the opposite point):
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Anyway my point is... well actually I have completely forgotten what point I was trying to make. Something about wondering how myths get started. Someone sees a tall man and all of a sudden giants exist. Someone doesn’t understand anything about anything and all of a sudden the moon landings were faked. Someone copies an old made up story about an imaginary supernatural being and all of a sudden the old stories were obviously made up, but this new variation, this one is true.
In case you are wondering I don’t have a structure to this; I’m not working full circle to bring all the points together into a thrilling conclusion. I have no ending planned out. So... erm.... read I Am Legend, it’s really great. And erm... tomorrow I have a go at a 7th century Arabian warlord and quote from Ibn Warraq’s Why I Am Not A Muslim... wish me luck. J