Why zombies?

Zombies have the reputation of the epitome of baseness, the lowest common denominator in gore entertainment. This seems particularly true for movies: my interest in zombie literature (now, doesn’t that make you snort out loud!) grew out of a tolerance of and eventual affection for the Resident Evil films staring Milla Jovovich, themselves somewhat a spoof on the genre. What I appreciate most about them is the convergence with the apocalypse novel, no doubt itself outgrown from an obsession with endangered species. As a generally serious, introspective and intelligent person who tends to shun all things faddish, my friends are surprised by my interest in zombies, assuming the field too silly for the serious or literary reader. But I beg to differ; if the novel is well done, zombie stores confront some of the eternal questions of humanism: what does it mean to be human? To survive? To be civilized? To be alive?

Some zombie books address the larger themes (The Walking Dead, The Reapers are the Angels) in context of survival of the few. The zombie threat forces together a small group of unlikely allies who usually learn humanity’s largest threat is each other. Some deal with the same themes, only with the survival of whole populations (The First Days), looking farther down the line at development and building a new society from ground up with people who already have ideas about what society means. Some authors use it as a backdrop for themes of individual identity and freedom (Rot and Ruin), some use zombies to enable questions of the individual’s life meaning (This is Not a Test). I haven’t yet read books that dealt seriously with the issue of zombies as people, although Rot & Ruin struggles with it. It is an area I remain uncomfortable with in reading; I prefer my zombies as antagonists, whether active or passive, galvanizing the main characters towards crisis points.

Why zombies? Because it’s a completely fictional way to deal with some of our most essential, human questions.

8 Responses to Why zombies?

  1. Great short essay! When my blog muscles are back in action, we are definitely going to collaborate on a zombie extravaganza of some sort.

    And this: “I prefer my zombies as antagonists, whether active or passive, galvanizing the main characters towards crisis points.” Agreed! I have little to no interest in the humanization of zombies, except maybe in the comedic sense. I haven’t seen Warm Bodies yet, but really enjoyed the Canadian flick Fido starring Billy Connolly.

    And if you haven’t — you MUST READ the short story “What Maisie Knew” by David Liss. Creeped and disturbed me in the best possible way. It’s on Kindle Carol – you know you wanna 😉
    http://www.amazon.com/What-Maisie-Knew-Novella-ebook/dp/B005FWORQQ

    It also appears in The New Dead zombie anthology (that I just GR recommended to you).

  2. Pingback: Rise Again: A Zombie Thriller by Ben Tripp | book reviews forevermore

  3. bookmole says:

    Have you tried After the Cure, and The Cured, by Deirdre Gould? They’re zombie fiction, sorta – the infected become mad and cannibalistic, without the dying bit. Both stories focus on what it is like, after you’ve been cured. I just picked up both on Amazon UK for £1.79 (one was free) and kept myself up till 2am this morning finishing The Cured.

    • thebookgator says:

      Hm, sounds interesting. I hadn’t heard of the series. I picked up an anthology that I think you might have mentioned–The Living Dead–but am stalling out. I think I might have to wait for the return of The Walking Dead to get my fix, focusing on the non-zombie until then.

      • bookmole says:

        When/if you read them, make sure to read After the Cure first. I didn’t, and I should have – there is knowledge in The Cured which spoils the enjoyment of the ending of After the Cure.

  4. thebookgator says:

    Good to know–thanks.

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