Zombies in Print
Zombies in Print
- Sarah Juliet LauroSarah Juliet LauroEnglish & Writing, The University of Tampa
- and Christina ConnorChristina ConnorEnglish, Hillsborough Community College
A general discussion of literary living dead might begin with the Epic of Gilgamesh, European Gothic tales, some of Edgar Allan Poe’s perturbations, or any number of well-known walking corpses from classic literature. However, zombies are one particular kind of living-dead creature among many others, separate from the fleshy embodied ghosts of diverse cultures, including the Jewish golems, European revenants, and Chinese jiangshi. The zombie is distinct because of its origins in the folkloric myth of the corpse raised by a bokor (a witch doctor, for lack of a better term), a Caribbean belief that has roots in African soul-capture mythologies and that was a direct reflection of the transatlantic slave trade. This folkloric figure migrated into U.S. popular culture via anthropological narratives and thereafter was repurposed in cinema.
Any discussion of the zombie in literature is inseparable from its cinematic sibling, but for the creature that developed out of Caribbean mythologies, folklore is its ultimate ur-text.
Zombies were first registered in a few scattered colonial accounts documenting the beliefs of the enslaved population of Caribbean isles. These accounts were penned by authors who denigrated the foolishness of the enslaved people’s belief in reanimated corpses (17th–19th century). The first zombie stories to be popularly consumed came out of nonfictional pseudo-anthropological texts reporting on the culture of Haiti during the U.S. occupation (1915–1934), but the zombie quickly moved into the horror genre. Its marketability was recognizable after the 1932 film White Zombie (dir. Victor Halperin) depicted the threat that the Vaudou zombie could pose for white protagonists. The zombie’s migration into U.S. fiction occurred first in the pulps of the early 20th century. This would continue throughout the 1950s, as many zombie-like living dead dripped and oozed across the pages of EC horror comics. The Vaudou zombie, a folkloric living dead that was deeply shaped by the Haitian people’s history of slavery and colonialism, remained visible in Caribbean literature but this iteration very rarely cropped up in U.S. fiction after the cinematic transformation of the zombie into a flesh-hungry viral undead. Primarily, the zombie is considered a cinematic monster because it underwent its major transformation on screen with George Romero’s ghouls rising from the dead to devour their victims in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead.
The zombie’s evolution from a mindless Vaudou slave to a cannibalistic, contagious reanimate can be traced throughout the middle decades of 20th-century horror films and this same transformation occurred in horror literature. During these middle decades, many crossover monsters in science fiction tales incarnated the fears of the period—particularly fears of technological capability and Cold War tensions. Various characters in these works had traits that have come to be associated with zombies, such as mindlessness and cannibalism. One might point to a kind of lull in zombie fiction (both on-screen and in literature) in the 1980s and 1990s, but the zombie experienced a resurgence in the new millennium and a return to prominence in both cinematic and textual narratives.
In the era of the new millennial zombie, the living dead could be found everywhere, spawning beyond even the boundaries of genre fiction. The cinematic zombie’s newfound speed (associated with Danny Boyle’s 2002 film 28 Days Later) mirrored the rapidity of the zombie’s production and proliferation: no longer consigned to the pages of horror paperbacks or science fiction dystopias, zombies appear in comedy, romance, historical fiction, literary mash-ups, parodic how-to guides, and even children’s books. In addition, zombie-themed video games and merchandise flooded the market, and one could find a plethora of zombie cultural events, including college courses, art exhibits, and costumed foot races during this zombie renaissance. In a few short centuries, the zombie evolved from a folkloric figure associated with Vaudou cosmology and its reflection of slavery, to a horror and science fiction bogeyman representing a range of social ills, to a perplexing liminal figure that cannot be contained in one genre or medium. But no matter how much the zombie changes—perhaps because of its ancestral origins in the slave trade—zombie narratives continue to have resonance with colonialism, critiquing capitalism’s abuses of humans by their fellows.
- Enlightenment and Early Modern (1600-1800)
- 19th Century (1800-1900)
- 20th and 21st Century (1900-present)
The Zombie in Colonial Documents and Nonfiction
The first time that the word “zombie” appears in print and the first time that it comes to signify a soulless reanimated corpse are two very different stories. Although the zombie was originally a folkloric figure and may have had a long life in oral cultures for centuries before it was captured on the page, only through written records can its history be traced. These records are indelibly connected to the history of the transatlantic slave trade and colonial empire: early appearances of the word “zombie” are visible in Moreau de St. Méry’s 1797 Description topographique, physique, civile, politique et histoire de la partie française de l’Isle de Saint Domingue and Père Labat’s 1724 Nouveau Voyage aux Isles de l’Amerique, and other 18th-century print references to “Zombi” may acknowledge an African deity.1 Bryan Edwards’s 1793 Civil and Commercial History of the British West Indies describes the type of sorcery that would come to be associated with the Caribbean zombie, although the z-word is not used. Scholars like Hans-W. Ackermann and Jeanine Gauthier trace the etymology of the word “zombie” and hazard that the concept evolved out of soul-capture mythologies.2 Others have noted the similarity between the zombie figure and earlier African soul-capture myths.3 Furthermore, in early texts, the word “zombie” (or its variants) may connote disembodied specters and other types of haunting spirits.4 In short, the colonial archive registers flickers of these histories, telling two different stories about the evolution of the word “zombie” (variously nzambi, zambys, and zombi) and the concept of the living dead that is identified at the contact zone: a reanimated corpse forced to labor for a witch doctor who collects the profits of his victim.
If the first generation of zombies is found in the colonial archive, the second is likewise to be found in nonfictional texts: memoirs, travelogues, and anthropological studies of Haiti, which enjoyed popularity because of the U.S. occupation of Haiti (1915–1934) and which, like the colonial documents, betray the problematic authorship of the outsider, exoticizing the local culture. There is one other appearance of the zombie in print, although it doesn’t use the word and comes from neither a fictional nor nonfictional narrative but rather is to be found in a legal document. Article 249 of the 1835 Haitian Penal Code famously forbids people from administering substances that give the appearance of death. This is often read as proof that, by this point, the type of zombie-making that was associated with the early period had become such a ubiquitous practice in Haiti that a law was put on the books proclaiming it illegal. This embodiment of the myth, concretized by the early 20th century and recorded for posterity in W.B. Seabrook’s 1929 account of his travels to Haiti, The Magic Island, could be considered “patient zero,” for thereafter the mythology migrates into broader popular culture. This patient zero wasn’t afflicted with a virus; he was neither contagious nor a cannibal. Rather, he was the victim of a witch doctor making a business of reanimating corpses (or, more likely, giving a person a paralytic poison that approximated death so closely that they were buried) whereafter the malefactor would unearth his victim and keep him as a kind of living-dead slave.
Seabrook’s The Magic Island (1929) contains only one section that directly pertains to zombies, “Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields,” yet its importance as a turning point in the mythology—specifically, the point of transmission between Haiti and a wider popular audience—is so well established that the book was republished in 2016 in a new edition with a preface authored by George Romero, the famed director of Night of the Living Dead and other films that transformed the figure of the zombie in cinema.5 In The Magic Island, Seabrook relates a folktale about a man named Ti-Joseph who keeps a gaggle of zombies whom he sets to work in the cane fields, reaping the profits of their labors. One day, his wife takes pity upon the zombies and gives them some candy that contains salt, which releases them from their curse of interminable labor, and they go off to seek their graves. Seabrook also describes being taken to see zombies, which he describes as “plodding, like brutes, like automatons,”6 and he wagers that this is not some spiritual device at work but rather must have a scientific explanation akin to “suspended animation.”7 This idea is echoed by Zora Neale Hurston’s Tell My Horse (1938), in which she describes a supposed zombie, Felicia Felix-Mentor. Hurston writes that it was most likely “not a case of awakening the dead, but a matter of the semblance of death induced by some drug known to a few. Some secret probably brought from Africa and handed down from generation to generation.”8
Around the same time, a rash of marine autobiographies that drew more attention to Haiti were published, capitalizing on the sensationalism of Vaudou. This literary tradition that demonized the people of a nation founded by former slaves began with the colonial texts and continued afterward.9 Many early-20th-century memoirs—including John Huston Craige’s Black Baghdad (1933) and Cannibal Cousins (1934); Faustin E. Wirkus’s The White King of La Gonave (1931), and William J. Stamper’s Beyond the Seas (1935)—mention Vaudou and sorcery if not zombies directly. These should be put alongside the travelogues Voodoo Fire in Haiti (1932, trans. 1935) by German artist Richard A. Loederer and A Puritan in Voodoo Land (1938) by Edna Taft.10 If the texts of this period weren’t always careful in their depiction of the local culture, their ideas were nonetheless communicable and had far-flung effects that would lead to the zombie’s reshaping in cinema. In his afterword to the 2016 edition of Seabrook’s The Magic Island, Harvard scientist Wade Davis draws a direct line between such texts and some of the RKO films of the 1940s.11 Because the zombie is a creature hailing from folklore, it wasn’t owned by any author or estate, unlike either Dracula or Frankenstein, and therefore could be taken up as a movie monster without copyright.12 Seabrook’s recounting of the zombie folktale would directly inspire pulp author G.W. Hutter’s “Salt is Not for Slaves” and his screenplay for White Zombie. Hurston’s account of going to see a live zombie in an asylum is mentioned by Davis as one on a list of other texts (ethnographic and anthropological) that seriously posed the possibility that zombies were a real phenomenon, created by poisons, which he would take up as a matter of study in the 1980s.13 Davis’s memoir of his travels in Haiti doing this research—The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist’s Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombies and Magic (1985)—is suggested reading for any zombie enthusiast.14
Early Caribbean Fiction
The oldest appearance of the “zombi” in literature in any form is in a novel composed in both verse and prose, Le Zombi du Gran Perou by Pierre-Corneille de Blessebois (1646–1700). The text is a roman à clef lampooning colonial authorities in Guadeloupe and concerns a jilted Creole countess who seeks the help of the narrator, a charlatan sorcerer. The “zombis” appear (or, rather, don’t appear) in the form of invisible spirits believed to be capable of biting and pulling the hair of their victims, who must keep their eyes shut or else the spirits can have the power to do more damage. This work is important for two reasons: it is the first example in which zombies are mentioned in written fiction in any language. Blessebois’s zombi is also representative of the other, less-often-invoked aspect of the zombie: the disembodied zombi astral. This concept has been overlooked in U.S. popular culture but is nonetheless an important element of the Caribbean mythology from which the Haitian walking dead comes.15 This early work is also important as a thematic consideration of the way that the zombie inculcates tensions regarding slavery and colonialism—the text “corroborates the close association between indentured servitude and witchcraft”; the theft, in essence, of one’s labor is transformed into the fantastical narrative of the theft of one’s life force.16
Another early example is Ignace Nau’s “Isalina, ou une scène créole” (1836), which is the first in a long tradition of female love-interest zombies in Haitian literature. It is unclear whether the woman is a zombie in the 21st-century understanding of the word, raised from the dead, or merely placed under an enchantment of some sort by her would-be suitor. Regardless, the tale’s setting near a sugarcane factory signals that it represents an important turning point in the mythology, from representing slavery to representing the neocolonial capitalist control of the people, at the nexus of the historical forces that bring the zombie to a wider audience during the U.S. occupation of Haiti.17 This is the first step in the zombie’s crucial transformation. Here, the zombie takes on resonances beyond its first-generation significance. In Haitian literature, the zombie myth becomes a means of discussing the dictatorship of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, moving beyond the myth’s incarnation of slavery and colonialism to political oppression more broadly.
Twentieth-Century Caribbean Fiction
One of the most well-known anglophone Caribbean works to feature zombies is Creole author Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), which imagines a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, giving readers the backstory of the “madwoman in the attic,” Bertha Mason, whom Rochester keeps hidden from Jane in Brontë’s novel. Some scholars have interpreted Rhys’s Antoinette (Bertha) as a zombie either literally or figuratively, and references to zombies are peppered throughout the book.18 Importantly, in Marina Warner’s Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds, she states that zombification is reclaimed as a source of occult power rather than servitude, and Lauro’s The Transatlantic Zombie specifically calls the book a work of literary zombification for the way that it repurposes Brontë’s tale.19
Many of the works of Martinican author Patrick Chamoiseau, including Chronique des Sept Misères (1987), Texaco (1998), School Days (1997) and Slave Old Man (2018), also feature entities called “zombies” (or some variation of this spelling). Various other Caribbean texts, like those by Guadeloupian writer Simone Schwartz-Bart or Haitian novelist Gary Victor, describe either literal zombies or psychic ruptures that seem inflected with the imagery of zombification and enchantment. Raphaël Lucas’s essay on the “aesthetics of degradation” in Haitian literature discusses Lyonel Trouillot’s 2000 novel Thérèse en mille morceaux along these lines and the broader “aesthetics of decay” that use zombification for political commentary.20
Haitian Literature and the Political Zombie
Much of the rich archive of Caribbean literature that features zombies has not yet been translated or has only sporadically been translated into English. Two of the most crucial texts are Jacques-Stephen Alexis’s “Chronique d’un faux amour” from Romancero aux Etoiles (1960) and René Depestre’s Hadriana dans tous mes rêves (1988), both of which are retellings of a classic folktale in which a woman is zombified on her wedding day.21 It is difficult to divorce these retellings from the authors’ political goals: both were dissidents under Papa and Baby Doc; Alexis was assassinated in 1961 and Depestre was living in exile. As such, the zombification metaphor in each seems to reflect Papa Doc Duvalier’s regime and a reclamation of the people’s power, respectively.22 The tradition of using the zombie as a means of discussing the people’s disempowerment is continued in Dany Laferrière’s Pays Sans Chapeaux (the title itself refers to the land of the dead via the colloquialism “the country where one doesn’t need a hat”), an “auto-fictional” tale in which the author returns to Haiti.23 The novel includes various references to zombies and zombie stories woven into the author’s account of his homecoming. But, as Lucy Swanson rightly suggests, the novel also depicts national pride in the zombie’s power.24
The high-water mark for zombification as an anti-Duvalier metaphor is clearly Frankétienne’s 1975 Dézafi (later published in French as Les Affres d’un Défi). This tale is explicitly about a zombie master and his charges and is understood to be an allegory about Duvalier’s reign. In a rare (and hopeful) exception, these zombies regain agency, banding together to overthrow their master. Although the possibility of the zombie’s liberation is inherently part of the original folklore (as is visible in Seabrook’s tale of the zombies given salt), here it is taken a step further, and the zombies given salt in Frankétienne’s novel regain lucidity as opposed to merely seeking their graves.25
Diasporic Caribbean Writers
Some diasporic Caribbean writers also feature the folkloric zombie in their works. Haitian–American writer Edwidge Danticat recounts the tales she heard in her youth in After the Dance (2015), including a memory of a news report of zombies, and zombies crop up in passing references in her other works, especially in The Dew Breaker (2005), which draws connections between zombification and the Duvalier dictatorship.26 This is also a central theme in British author Graham Greene’s 1966 novel The Comedians (authored in Haiti at the Hotel Oloffson), in which he portrays Duvalier’s weaponization of the people’s fears of zombification to keep them in line, achieved by promoting rumors that the “President for Life” had an army of zombies in his control. A similar connection between zombification and dictatorship is made obliquely in Puerto Rican–Cuban author Mayra Montero’s In the Palm of Darkness (1995), about a herpetologist who travels to Haiti in the aftermath of the 1991 coup that ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The novel intersperses memories of the Tonton Macoute’s reign of terror with stories of “bloodthirsty” zombies.27
The Caribbean–Canadian author Nalo Hopkinson’s speculative fiction novel Brown Girl in the Ring (1998) deserves special mention as well. The story is set in a dystopic Toronto that is essentially overrun by gangsters after a time called “The Riots.” Packs of nomadic children roam the streets, and even though there is some kind of (very corrupt) government official who is awaiting an ill-gotten human heart transplant, it is a lawless space, where a street drug called “buff” is a major trade. The central characters are Ti-Jeanne and her grandmother Mami (Gros-Jeanne), a root worker, seer, and Obeah woman who is trying to pass her craft and gifts on to her granddaughter. The plot itself is a complicated family drama: The women must band together and use their talents to invoke the spirits in order to defeat the big gangster, Rudy, who it turns out is actually the patriarch of the family and a “shadow catcher” who derives his power from “duppy work,” specifically the captured spirit of his own daughter, Mi-Jeanne. Although the word “zombie” doesn’t appear until page 211, those knowledgeable about Caribbean zombies will recognize one at the very beginning of the book: the disempowered “slave” woman, Melba, whom Rudy keeps in his office.28 There is also direct discussion of the Haitian zombie poison, and a reference to the venomous bufo toad, in Rudy’s late explanation of how he makes someone a zombie—which occurs as he is monologuing over his soon-to-be-zombified, duppified granddaughter. Luckily, she has honed her connection to the spirit world and is able to call her eshu, Legbara, and the whole gang—Osain, Shango, Emanjah, Oshun, Shakpana, Oya, and Ogun—turns up to save the day in what is literally a deus ex machina.29 This is must-reading for anyone interested in Caribbean Diasporic literature or creolization: the language is interspersed with patois, children’s rhymes, folk sayings, and epigraphs from Derek Walcott’s play “Ti-Jean and his Brothers.”
Dominican–U.S. author Junot Diaz provides a very different example of a zombie narrative in his short story “Monstro,” published in The New Yorker in 2012. This zombie tale effects a cross-pollination of the various strands of the myth, transferring elements of the cinematic contagious zombie narrative back into the zombie’s original birthplace, the island that was once the Spanish–French colony of Santo Domingo and Saint Domingue, now the Dominican Republic and Haiti. In this outbreak narrative, there is an epidemic of a strange disease spreading among the Haitian population of the Dominican Republic. They call the disease “the darkness” and it seems to involve a dark mold that grows on people’s skin.30 The victims have zombie-like qualities, evoking the swarms of zombie cinema, but they also experience compulsions to join together and they make strange shrieking sounds in unison. Diaz puts his own spin on this new zombie evolution: sometimes the bodies of the victims grow together, and one might trace the references in the story to various cinematic ancestors, not merely to Romero’s oeuvre but to John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). At first, the victims of the disease appear non-threatening, merely depersonalized, but eventually they turn violent:
People who had never lifted a finger in anger their whole lives—children, viejos, aid workers, mothers of nine—grabbed knives, machetes, sticks, pots, pans, pipes, hammers and started attacking their neighbors, their friends, their pastors, their children, their husbands, their infirm relatives, complete strangers. Berserk murderous blood rage.31
Characteristic of Diaz’s work, the narrator is a shallow misogynist who spends most of his time trying to get laid. There are some interesting hints that global warming might be involved in the epidemic but this is left oblique. Nonetheless, this short story is worth mentioning for its cross-pollination across media and culture and for its winking re-appropriation of the cinematic appropriation of the Haitian zombie by a Caribbean diasporic writer.
The Pulps and EC Comics
The zombie narrative began resonating with U.S. audiences during the Great Depression. This has been noted by film scholars but it is equally true of this wave of pulp fiction: the Haitian zombie becomes a kind of murky mirror for the oppressed worker.32 Zombie fever was evident in short fiction and serial articles of the period, like Inez Wallace’s “I Walked with a Zombie” (upon which Val Lewton’s 1943 film was partly based), stories like G.W. Hutter’s “Salt is Not for Slaves” (published in Ghost Stories magazine in 1931), Thorp McClusky’s 1939 story “While Zombies Walked” (of Weird Tales magazine), August Derleth’s “The House in the Magnolias” (of Strange Tales, 1932), Vivien Meik’s “White Zombie,” first published in 1933, and Dr. Gordon Bromley’s supposed nonfictional piece, “American Zombie” (c. 1936), all of which are helpfully reprinted in Peter Haining’s 1985 anthology.33 Zombie narratives were also popular in radio dramas in the 1930s and 1940s, such as when The Shadow tangled with the Vaudou zombie.34
The zombie of this era steps directly out of Haitian folklore. The focus is on black magic “voodoo,” evil witch doctors, and pitiable zombies, although quite often the empathy is redirected from black bodies and shifted to white protagonists in danger. Whether or not contemporary readers were attending to these stories critically and with an eye upon history, these living dead obviously are connected to the Haitian people’s history of enslavement and slave rebellion—the recurring trope of the zombie’s curse and its potential release from that curse (most often through tasting salt) appears frequently. There is ambivalence in the zombie’s portrayal in the literature of this period: its vacant, powerless state (under the control of the witch doctor or merely stuck in a liminal space by means of the spell) is clearly the thing to be feared. The zombie is to be pitied, and the (presumably) white male reader is encouraged to root for the zombies’ salvation, perhaps in parallel to the reader’s own disempowerment under capitalism. Yet there is often a whiff of racism about these characterizations of the horde. This is evident, for example, with Hutter’s rebellious slaves who stupefy themselves with the master’s rum and then eat salt, leading them to melt into their graves, the lesson being that it is better to obey the master and remain a zombie slave.35 Racism is even more apparent in the trope of white women zombified, an obvious allegory for miscegenation in their depiction of the threat to white women’s purity posed by black magic. This is on display in Vivien Meik’s “White Zombie,” Gordon Bromley’s “American Zombie,” and Inez Wallace’s “I Walked with a Zombie.” But some of these early stories do manage to feel subversive, even in the early 21st century. This is the case with Manly Wade Wellman’s 1940 “Song of the Slaves” (from Weird Tales), which may evoke the zombie only abstractly: its figures are more like revenants, drowned slaves who return from the dead to take their revenge upon the master.36 Both August Derleth’s “House in the Magnolias” and Thorp McClusky’s “While Zombies Walked” end with a comeuppance for the zombie masters, but the dominance of white characters tamps down the subversive potential of these narratives that depict a reversal of power.37
At the same time, zombies began to appear in illustrated narratives and in comics. But as Chera Kee writes of the Pre-Code period of comics (from the late 1930s until 1954, the year the Comics Code Authority implemented rules concerning content): “zombies were, at once, both clearly zombies but also not-quite.”38 They might have been rotting shambling corpses, for instance, but they still spoke and were capable of reason or they were bodies returned from the dead to seek revenge.
Many of the zombies from the early period actually seem to be closer to revenants, figures that return from the dead to right a wrong, but as Kee notes of these “revenge from the grave stories,” some of them did make explicit reference to the zombie’s folkloric origins: see, for example, EC’s first horror story, “Zombie Terror,” in Moon Girl #5 (1948), which references the West Indies.39 The comics were feeling the effects of the zombie in the pulps: Kee identifies two early comics that resonate with themes of slavery and rebellion: Jackpot Comics #1 (September 1941) and Marvel Mystery Comics #28 (February 1942).40 Solomon Grundy (who first appears in All-American Comics, no. 61, 1944, and later becomes a DC villain or anti-hero) is indecipherable as either a revenant or a zombie. There are dozens of origin stories for him.
Even in the middle period for the zombies in comics, in which, as Kee shows, zombies were renamed “Zuvembies,” there are references to the zombie’s origins, as in Brother Voodoo in Strange Tales (#169–173) (1973–1974). On the one hand, it’s nice to find references to zombies that harken back to the original Haitian mythology, but on the other, these invocations of Vaudou smack of troubling appropriation. Simon Garth, The Zombie, first created by Stan Lee for Atlas Comics’ Menace #5 July 1953 Tales of the Zombie (1973–1975), was reanimated by means of Vaudou and controlled with the Amulet of Damballah. Stan Lee’s 1953 Simon Garth cries that “for the first time in history a zombie has slain his master!” Troublingly, this zombie is white.
Kee identifies three main zombie periods in comics: the Pre-Code era, the “resurrection” of zombies in comics in the 1970s, and the resurgence of zombie comics in the new millennium.41 Zombies returned to superhero comics at the turn of the century (Marvel Zombies, 2005–2006) and could be seen in various indie ventures and in anthology series like Boom Studio’s Zombie Tales (2005–2009).
As the folkloric figure first associated with Vaudou and slavery was made to take on the concerns of the mostly white U.S. moviegoer population—abuses of the worker under capitalism and fears of racial miscegenation—the mythology became cross-contaminated with other monstrous figures and figurations.42 This bleeds in the literature of the mid-20th century in several zombie-like figures that are not explicitly zombies or even corpses raised from the dead. But these cross-pollinations are central to the myth’s evolution because they change the definition of the zombie. Most notably, Richard Matheson’s viral vampires in his novella I Am Legend (1954) were a direct influence on filmmaker George Romero and therefore a line can be drawn to explicitly connect the dots, illustrating how the zombie became a contagious cannibal.43 After an epidemic has laid waste to human civilization, lone survivor Robert Neville is a scientist seeking a cure for the virus, defending his home against nocturnal swarms of “vampires,” which are really more akin to 21st-century zombies. Neville’s travails within an apocalyptic landscape wherein he appears to be the “Last Man on Earth” (as the 1964 cinematic adaptation was titled) represent a turning point in the mythology: in this narrative, several aspects are associated with the zombie genre: contagion, global pandemic, the swarm-being of the menace, and the survivor’s defense of the homestead.
These traits become visibly augured to the zombie narrative as it evolves in literature and film, especially in the mid-century, whereafter the mythology moves away from its associations with Vaudou, and the witch doctor is replaced as zombie-maker. Instead, the zombie epidemic is largely the result of human misdeeds, particularly resulting from a scientific experiment or technological overreach and, as such, begins to reflect Cold War panic and anxieties surrounding the space race.
The essence of the zombie archetype is about humans who are no longer the person they once were. They may be transformed by means of reanimation as corpses or by virtue of a disease that makes them a vacant host or they may have otherwise become “depersonalized,” in Peter Dendle’s term.44 Those texts in which the body is not the same vessel but is actually replaced by an imitation provide a test case for the limits of what constitutes a “zombie.” Narratives such as Jack Finney’s 1955 novel The Body Snatchers (and its cinematic adaptations under the title Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956 and 1978 or The Invasion in 2007) and Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives (1972) are prime examples of this. In the former, alien pods create replicants of the humans in a small California town but this narrative is worthy of study for the way it advanced the zombie genre, especially for its depiction of contagion.45 The latter might be slotted into the category of “technological zombies” that Kevin Boon elucidates among the nine types,46 but the women of Stepford are not merely transformed via technology; they are wholly replaced by it. The Stepford wives are animatronic replicants of their former selves, built upon Walt Disney’s robotic models. Nonetheless, both of these novels and their film adaptations cause shivers along the same nerves that the zombie provokes, especially in the trope—encountered over and over—wherein the human protagonist slowly discovers that he or she is alone and vastly outnumbered: the only true human among the changed. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is partly about fears of communism and the resultant Red Scare but also about fears of Fascism in the Postwar era. The Stepford Wives includes not only a feminist critique but also a warning about the Disneyfication of the world. As the zombie evolved in the mid-century, it took on various concerns with technology and thereby the Haitian witch doctor was replaced as zombie-maker by a vague but nonetheless threatening set of capitalist abuses.
For example, the tech zombies of Stephen King’s Cell (2006) are infected by a signal transmitted through their cell phones. Survivors must avoid their phones as well as the telepathic hive-minded zombies who lose their ability to speak and become wildly violent before settling into bird-like behavior called “flocking.” King’s novel never fully explains the source of the transmission, instead focusing its energy on the threat of technology for humanity, or what Peter Dendle describes as a paradox: “a highly stimulated, technologically saturated, and fast-paced generation [fixating] on a monster known especially for its slowness, its unidimensionality of thought and action, its simplicity of character, and its inability to use even the least technologically sophisticated of tools.”47
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) is an example of a book that has no zombies in it but that might prove useful for a wider study of zombies. McCarthy’s novel is evocative of the zombie genre; one of the dangers that the characters must navigate is the threat of roving bands of cannibals, so the fear of being consumed, central to zombie stories, is part of this bleak novel. Furthermore, it contains the kind of apocalyptic dread that is associated with zombie fiction: set in a world that has been decimated by an undetermined catastrophe, it follows a father and son’s journey across the desolate hellscape that the world has become. In this, it is like many zombie novels, which often involve a group of survivors on a quest to find safe harbor (Brian Keene’s 2003 The Rising, R.A. Recht’s 2009 Plague of the Dead, and Peter Stenson’s 2013 Fiend), although others follow the bunker mentality perhaps established by Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (in a farmhouse), Dawn of the Dead (in a shopping mall), and Day of the Dead (in a military facility). Examples are Bob Fingerman’s 2009 Pariah, in which the survivors are a group of neighbors cloistered in their New York City apartment building; Carrie Ryan’s 2009 The Forest of Hands and Teeth (a fenced-in community in the woods); and Courtney Summers’s 2012 This is Not a Test (a high school).
Similar to McCarthy’s The Road, Tender is the Flesh (2020) by Argentinian writer Agustina Bazterrica is zombie-adjacent. There are no living dead in it, but it is set in an alternate reality in which a virus purportedly has contaminated all animals—the protagonist seems to doubt the government’s claims—and humans have begun raising other humans for food. The main character is Marcos, who works for one of the largest producers of “special meat,”48 and the book is a grisly and horrifying account of his life in the system. He is estranged from his wife and works in a system he reviles because he needs to support his ailing father in a care home. There are long and brutal accounts of the slaughtering, raising, breeding, and butchering of human meat—people raised in cages who have had their vocal cords removed. It is a harrowing read and an obvious commentary on the cruelties of meat production and consumption, but it might be considered in this category for the way that it weaves together fears of virus and cannibalism and inculcates a critique of capitalism (specifically of the food industry), which after Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead has become a mainstay of the genre.
Zombies often are associated with genre fiction, pulp fiction, and science fiction, but there are a few examples of high-literary zombies. Canadian writer Tony Burgess published Pontypool Changes Everything in 1998. This novel is the middle component of a trilogy, but it is in this book that a zombie-like creature is depicted. Although it is truly an aberration from the mythology, it is one that will intrigue anyone interested in communication. The viral phenomenon here is a kind of aphasia that passes through language, as certain words become contaminated for the victim, driving them mad and ultimately into a cannibalistic rage. The novel becomes increasingly absurdist, but the key concept—of a plague transmitted through language—makes it worthy of study, especially in a world increasingly contaminated by hate speech and accusations of fake news. The screenplay for a loose film adaptation (Pontypool, dir. Bruce McDonald, 2008), set entirely in a radio station, was authored by Burgess himself. In places, the novel sounds like this: “The mad patterns and buzzing geometry sneaking over him are protective prisms of light, deflecting poisons, redirecting unexplained intrusions. The zombies, on the other hand, are as immediate as hornets.” At others, it veers between Gertrude Stein’s linguistic experimentation and Rousselian surrealism:
A tomato was told to keep all of the events of her life before the stroke beneath the sheen of its skin. It was obedient. In her tomato, in one of its tiny translucent seeds, Ellen has every plot of land she ever sold. Stored there are her various machines for telling the future.49
Christopher Golden’s anthology The New Dead includes Aimee Bender (whose list of publishers includes Granta and The Paris Review) in this volume. Her piece is part poem, part philosophical treatise on the zombie. “Among Us” consists of seven movements of prose that are put in a metonymic relationship to each other, variously describing zombies, a salmon farm struggling under recession, a couple discussing where to go to dinner, a description of the film Being John Malkovich (dir. Spike Jonze, 1999), a definition of “usury,” and an intimate moment at a wake. What distinguishes this piece from other zombie offerings is that it depicts a zombie who begins to prey upon other zombies and ends by eating himself.50 He dies again, reanimates again, a zombie of a zombie now, and proceeds to eat himself:
He was too hungry to look for another zombie, so this time he ate his own arm. His own leg. His own head, all eating, until he started to digest himself, until all that was left was a mouth and a GI tract. A mouth, an esophagus, a stomach, intestines.51
The threads woven together regarding abuses of the food industry and the financial system make clear the parallel: the greed that is encouraged by a profit-driven economy such as neoliberal capitalism will only grow larger and larger. Even a parasite is not so myopic; it knows it has to keep the host relatively healthy in order to sustain itself.
Set in the aftermath of the worst of a zombie epidemic, Colson Whitehead’s Zone One (2011) was compared by critics to an intellectual having an affair with a porn star for the way that it dabbles in genre fiction but was penned in a highly literary style.52 The novel follows protagonist Mark Spitz, one of a crew of “sweepers” who are working their way through downtown high-rises in New York, dispatching the odd “skels” and “stragglers” as they come upon them in the buildings. With its setting in New York City, it is obviously evocative of the aftermath of 9/11, and the novel may seem to be pointing to the endless wars in Afghanistan, as with the discussion of post-apocalyptic stress disorder (PASD).53 Beyond the zombies, Whitehead’s novel depicts modern man and his numbness and provides interesting commentary that challenges racial stereotypes and the assumptions of the reader. The novel is also interesting for its structure, which is split between the characters’ present day and analeptic moments providing backstory. But the zombies, too, advance the mythology. The bifurcation of the zombie types into the mostly pitiful “stragglers” and the vicious “skels” might be a gesture toward the zombie’s origins and the evolution of the myth. Critics were somewhat divided on the novel (as compared with the overwhelming success of Whitehead’s 2016 Underground Railroad), but several important scholarly pieces have addressed the novel not only for its take on postapocalyptic narrative but also for its address of race.54
Ling Ma’s Severance (2018) also deserves mention in this category. The “zombies” of the book are called “the fevered.” Although the fevered aren’t contagious themselves, there is an implication that the state is passed on by reliving memories or by an experience of nostalgia. Although the fevered do not bite people, the characters self-consciously have a discussion about the difference between zombies and vampires as their world is falling apart.55 These zombie-like creatures become evacuated of all consciousness and just repeat rote behaviors from their life—like machines on a loop.56 They are reminiscent of the living-dead displays in Raymond Roussel’s 1914 novel Locus Solus, in which corpses are reanimated by means of a compound called Resurrectine and made to serve in animated tableaux vivants composed by an inventor.57 The protagonist of Severance is Candace Chen, a woman in her twenties working a dead-end job in New York City when Shen Fever hits. It is an epidemic passed on by fungal spores, and the book describes a swift transition to N-95 masks (208) and working remotely (216) while different news outlets debate the severity (215) and China is placed at the top of the travel ban list (210). The protagonist stays in New York as most people die of the fever. Candace is an orphan and the narrative is split between her present-day survival with the group, her memories of working in New York City amid the outbreak, and an account of her childhood and immigrant parents.58 As with Whitehead’s Zone One, the city of New York is such a dominant presence in the book that it seems to take on the status of a character.
A final note for zombie researchers: neither Joyce Carol Oates’s 1995 novel Zombie nor Robert Heinlein’s 1958 short story “‘—All You Zombies—’” features the living dead. Their titles are misleading. Oates’s novel is about a psychopathic serial killer; Heinlein’s story is about time travel.
Popular zombie fiction takes all shapes and sizes: short fiction, novels, graphic novels, and other books that defy easy characterization. Despite the ever-expanding list of zombie romances, comedies, and other genres, the majority of narratives recount how ordinary people deal with the trauma of a global meltdown in the guise of a zombie epidemic, the ensuing collapse of civilization, and the erasure of one’s own sense of humanity in a lawless world.59 Zombies have even chewed their way out of the adult realm and into YA and children’s literature: Darren Shan’s Zom-B (2012), Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin (2011), and Paul Tobin’s Plants versus Zombies (2013). There are also outlier texts that, somewhat perplexingly, are shelved in the humor section of one’s local bookstore and pass themselves off as instruction manuals (Max Brooks’s The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, 2003 and Lauren Wilson and Kristian Bauthus’s The Art of Eating through the Zombie Apocalypse: A Cookbook and Culinary Survival Guide, 2014), self-help books (Scott Kenemore’s The Zen of Zombie: Better Living Through the Undead, 2007), zombie poetry collections (Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry For Your…Brains, 2008 and Aim For the Head: An Anthology of Zombie Poetry, 2011), and many more, limited only by author creativity. The towering example of turn-of-the-20th-century zombie narrative is Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead (2003–2019), which has inspired four television series to date. The idea behind Kirkman’s project was a never-ending serial narrative, which like the zombie, would continue to lumber on.60 Although Kirkman’s text was hugely popular, he finally stopped putting out new issues in 2019, but the torch will be passed to other zombies in graphic novels. See, for example, AWA Studio’s Year Zero (2020).
The millennial boom in zombie fiction and film led to a rabid debate among fans: should zombies be fast or was it a defining trait that they be slow? Many had noticed the trend in zombie cinema toward the embrace of the swift, feral zombie as opposed to the slow, rigor mortis–suffering zombie – the powerful over the feeble, easily punctured zombie – and this led some to ask whether these so-called zombies were even really the reanimated dead. The issue exhibits the old cliché that things change, even in the world of the undead. Yet these new zombies merely extended the borders of what constituted its category; one could still find plenty of slow, weak, living dead in cinema. Similarly, there is no set narrative structure for a zombie story in popular literature. Zombies no longer have to be slow, unthinking, unspeaking, unlovable eaters of flesh; in fact, they no longer even need to be dead. At the turn of the millennium, a new vein of zombie fiction developed in which the infected not only are fast but become zombies before they die. Their loss of identity and mental faculties (and increased violence) precedes their one and only physiological death. The film 28 Days Later (2002) is often given credit for this new species of zombie, which—like so much of this monster’s metamorphosis—began in film and has infected the literature of the living dead ever since.61
By far, the most common genre of zombie fiction is apocalyptic—or at least potentially apocalyptic. These stories generally start with the premise of a biological infection—magic, aliens, or other supernatural forces are no longer needed—and quickly shift focus from patient zero to the police or military response to the outbreak as heroes fight and die to save their loved ones and humankind. Twenty-first-century zombies tend to be created by natural or man-made variants of known diseases like rabies in Paul Trembley’s Survivor Song (2020), a fungus in David Koepp’s Cold Storage (2019), or parasites (mixed with some classic zombie tetrodotoxin) in Jonathan Maberry’s Dead of Night (2011). These sources provide narrative arcs for warriors and scientists alike, often weaving a medical procedural into the gory slaughterfest. And there is almost always a failed government response that pits Big Brother against the boots on the ground, the former being responsible for as much death as the zombie plague if not more.
One of the most well-received zombie novels in the early 21st century, Max Brooks’s World War Z (2007), uses roving narration to recount, in short vignettes, the global zombie outbreak in the form of diverse perspectives. Zombie stories often rely on the present tense to narrate actions told as if they are being experienced by the protagonist; they may begin in medias res and employ analepsis to recount the background of the characters and relate how they came to find themselves in the immediate situation. A similar strategy is evident in Recht’s Plague of the Dead (2006), which follows various clusters of survivors. Mira Grant’s Feed (2010) weaves first-person narrative with excerpts from the characters’ blog posts and fiction, delivering contrasting views of the zombie-infested world—before, during, and after the original narrator is infected. Justina Ireland’s sequel to Dread Nation (2018), Deathless Divide (2020), deviates from the original text to split its narrative focus between two characters, relying on first-person present point of view to keep the reader in suspense over the fate of the infected narrator.62
The zombie narrative itself strikes all manner of rhetorical poses: there are epistolary forms (such as Rob Fox’s “The Letter” in Rebecca May, editor, Zombology, 2009, Library of the Living Dead Press), the style of which is an unsubtle allusion to Frankenstein as the predecessor text for this story about a man attempting to defy death but with gruesome results. There are perspectives in first, second, and third person. There are even stories that relate the zombie’s point of view. For example, the protagonist in Mike Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts (2014), Daryl Gregory’s Raising Stony Mayhall (2011), the later books of Kim Paffenroth’s Dying to Live trilogy (2007), and the antagonists of Jonathan Maberry’s Patient Zero (2009) and Dead of Night all employ a third-person limited narrator who relates the zombie’s thoughts and feelings. There are other stories that, rather counterintuitively for a creature supposed to have no inner life, offer the zombie’s first-person perspective to comedic effect, such as Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies (2011), S.G. Browne’s Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament (2009), Dave Zeltserman’s Husk: A Contemporary Horror Novel (2020), and Shan’s Zom-B.
Frequently, though not exclusively, zombie point-of-view stories include various types of undead creatures, each with different abilities and traits.63 In these texts, one type of zombie can usually think, plan, communicate, and feel emotions (often stunted or exaggerated): this type tends to be fresher and physically stronger. The other type resembles a traditional decaying cannibal, driven by instinct and without interiority. The former zombie variation appears more living than dead and is often rewarded in the zombie hierarchy of the text with more human experiences: family, friendship, and sometimes even romance.
Zombies who speak are zombies who think. The most elegant of the zombies who speak are Melanie from The Girl with All the Gifts and Stony from Raising Stony Mayhall. These texts challenge the very definition of “zombie” because their protagonists do not experience a loss of identity in their undead state or the ability to articulate their thoughts.64 Melanie, a zombie child prisoner in a government education center, is imbued with agency from the opening lines of the novel when she tells herself that her name doesn’t suit her and prefers the name Pandora. Over the course of the novel, Melanie gains freedom physically and mentally, philosophizing to the degree that one without lived experiences can. For example, “Melanie finds this interesting in spite of herself — that you can use words to hide things, or not to touch them, or to pretend that they're something different than they are” and “Melanie thinks: when your dreams come true, your true has moved.”65
Like Melanie, Stony of Raising Stony Mayhall is raised in a cloistered environment but grows (in all aspects of the word) through education and experience until he becomes the unwitting messiah for a new zombie world order—an outcome similar to Melanie’s. The zombies of Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament retain their ability to think and speak, attending Undead Anonymous meetings and eventually lobbying for undead rights, led by the zombie-activist protagonist.66 Patient Zero features a variety of zombies, but only the living antagonist—who becomes a zombified bioweapon during the climax—maintains his identity and the ability to speak. The antagonist in Dead of Night regains his identity and volition after infection, but his progeny are fully aware passengers in their mute, animalistic bodies. In Alden Bell’s The Reapers Are the Angels, a family of humans inject themselves with zombie brain fluids, turning themselves into decaying mutants who retain their ability to think, speak, fight, and hunt.67 Their humanity—such as it is—stays intact, although they are wholly distinct from the traditional zombie “slugs” that populate the story world.
Though not universal, zombies who speak have the tendency to love family, friends, and partners. The capacity to think and speak is generally associated with the ability to feel interpersonal connections with humans or with other zombies. Melanie loves her teacher, Miss Justineau, and feels empathy for the other sentient zombie children. Likewise, Stony adores his family and feels a strong sense of responsibility for the other zombies, even loving some. Romantic zombies exist in neither case, though.68 Melanie is a child; Stony has no sexual responses. Similarly, Gary in Husk: A Contemporary Horror Novel feels no sexual urges for his would-be boyfriend but relishes the (hu)man’s companionship, constantly fighting the urge to eat him.
For a romantic zombie novel, one needs to look to Warm Bodies, a stereotypical YA love story, doing for zombies what Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (2005) did for vampires (much to the ire of many monster-purist writers and scholars).69 Warm Bodies delivers a first-person narrative in which “R,” the minimally decayed, attractive zombie protagonist, wakes from his living-dead stupor as he falls in love with the living girlfriend of a man he consumed. (The zombie lore in this novel involves memories of victims transferred to the zombie consumers.) R has basic thoughts, speech, and (living) agency at the start of the novel but these abilities strengthen as his affection for Julie solidifies, culminating in a first kiss that cures him. Romance in the zombie apocalypse, though, is largely human-to-human, and survivors bond over shared grief and nostalgia of a world lost to suffering and death. On a darker note, all too often in zombie literature the lawlessness of the apocalypse is fertile breeding ground for sexual violence—against living and dead bodies—and although both zombie pornography and zombie erotica exist, issues of agency and general disgust prevent them from reaching the same level of popularity in adult content as other monsters.70
Other Zombie Genres
Although there are a few zombie comedy novels, such as Breathers and Husk, the majority of zombie comedy is parody. Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) merges short zombie sequences with the original Jane Austen text, notably employing the author’s formal strategy in the novel: his revision is not titled Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies. The word “Zombies” is tacked on here polysyndentonically; his contributions to the text are largely in the form of insertions of passages. The comedy of this approach comes from the unexpected twist on Austen’s prim novel of manners; Grahame-Smith’s book is sometimes titled as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance—Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem. It led to a flurry of other parodies and imitations in which contemporary authors update classic texts and share authorial credit, such as A Zombie Christmas Carol by Michael G. Thomas and Charles Dickens and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim by Mark Twain and W. Bill Czolgosz. In another Huck Finn parody, the N-word is replaced entirely by the word “zombie.”71 Zombies infiltrate and replace the text in a variety of parodies, including Michael Teitelbaum’s The Very Hungry Zombie: A Parody (2012), Gena Showalter’s Alice in Zombieland (2012), and Michael Spradlin’s Every Zombie Eats Somebody Sometime: A Book of Zombie Love Songs (2010) and It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies (2009).
Though not comedic in nature, another 21st-century evolution of the zombie novel is historical revision, stories in which zombies are incorporated into historical fiction. These novels frequently are grounded in historical events with high body counts, such as the Battle of Gettysburg in Dread Nation and the Donner party caravan in Alma Katsu’s The Hunger: A Novel (2018), inserting zombies into fiction not wholly unlike parodies: zombies squeeze in and around the recorded history to intensify the conflict and alter the historical perspective. The effect of zombies in historical revisions seems less about applying a new lens through which to view the monster but rather—like all historical fiction—critiquing the world as it was and is, particularly regarding race relations.72
YA and children’s literature has been plagued with zombies since the turn of the 21st century. These works run the typical range of genres for young readers as they do for adults, and the most popular become bestsellers by transcending strictly YA readership. Both Warm Bodies and Dread Nation are technically YA but garner readers outside of the genre. Apocalyptic novels lead the (undead) pack, many with romantic subplots: Zomb-B and Charlie Higson’s The Enemy (2010) imagine an overrun Britain, The Forest of Hands and Teeth (2009) centers on a breached rural safe-zone, Rot & Ruin takes place in a settlement camp, This Is Not a Test (2012) is set in a high school, and Amanda Hocking’s Hollowland (2012) starts in a high school and goes on the road. Like most YA books, these novels integrate two different character schemas: the rebellious adolescent and the maturing adolescent.73 In zombie fiction, the rebellious (and thus resourceful) adolescent is often rewarded with life, but getting to that point involves loss and grief, leading to the inevitable maturation. Children’s fiction takes a softer approach than YA, valorizing the agency of its protagonist with a plot that “involve[s] some kind of redemption, reconciliation, hope, or sense of homecoming.”74 Building on that premise are zombie-themed series like The Last Kids on Earth (2015) by Max Brallier and The Zombie Chasers by John Kloepfer (2011) as well as series adapted from other media, like the video game–based Diary of a Minecraft Zombie (2015) by Zack Zombie and Plants vs. Zombies. Zombies for this age group are also interjected into existing series for a single episode, such as The Boxcar Children: The Zombie Project (2011) by Gertrude Chandler Warner and Stink and the Midnight Zombie Walk (2013) by Megan McDonald. Zombie-themed children’s picture books for even younger readers balance the typical life-lessons of this genre with a dose of family-friendly horror, including Zombelina (2013) by Kristyn Crow, Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies (2019) by Jorge Lacera, and Moldilocks and the Three Scares: A Zombie Tale (2019) by Lynne Marie.
Discussion of the Literature
Since the zombie comes out of a predominantly oral culture and thus may evade the written record, folklore is the primary literary ur-text. The Vaudou cosmology out of which the folkloric zombie comes is addressed by Mimi Sheller, Alfred Métraux, Joan “Colin” Dayan, and others.75 Those interested in the zombie in Caribbean literature should look at the scholarship of Kaiama Glover, Lucy Swanson, and Gudrun Rath for more of a guide than has been provided here.76 The spiritual potential of the zombie (or its lack of potential as a metaphor), whether that means analysis from the vantage point of theology, philosophy, or psychology, is worthy of study. Anyone interested in zombie consciousness should review the concept of the philosophical zombie as articulated by Robert Kirk, David Chalmers, Daniel Dennett, and others.77 This is a thought-experiment by which neurophilosophers debate the nature of consciousness, specifically by questioning whether a human without qualia could exist; the philosophical zombie or p-zombie is a person without interiority. Those interested in the zombie from a spiritual perspective might look at the collections of Kim Paffenroth and John Morehead, although much of the work on horror and theology often deals with film rather than literature exclusively.78 For scholarship on Haitian literature, one should look to Kaiama Glover’s discussion of the literary movement called “Spiralisme” in Haiti Unbound and her other criticism. Following Glover’s writings, the reader may discover other zombies in the pages of Jean-Claude Fignolé’s novels (Les Possedées de la pleine lune, 1987; Aube tranquille, 1990) or in her 2014 translation of Frankétienne’s 1968 novel Ready to Burst. Following Swanson’s book-length study of Caribbean texts, Zombie Islands: Reviving the Living Dead in Contemporary French Caribbean Fiction, the reader may choose to look at Gérard Etienne’s Le Nègre Crucifié, which offers an important counterpoint to precedent scholarship on the zombie as an anti-Duvalierist symbol, or in more detail at the novels of Haitian writer Gary Victor, or at the collaboratively written text by André and Simone Schwarz-Bart, La Mulâtresse Solitude (1972), for a twist on the mythology in their creation of the “zombicornes” zombie variant.
Various camps of study are visible within the wider field that is sometimes (half-jokingly) referred to as “zombie studies,” including virology and contagion studies, theology and psychology, anthropology and even, increasingly, ecology. The collection The Year’s Work at the Zombie Research Center, for example, plays upon many of these categories and more, including chapters devoted to “Zombie Health Care,” “Zombie Politics,” and “Zombie Postfeminism.”79 However, most engagement with zombie narratives seems to be grounded within Critical Race Theory and Historical Materialism, especially relating the myth to its origins in the transatlantic slave trade and Marxist theory more broadly.80 The most prominent thread in scholarship on the zombie as cultural artefact (as in the cinematic and horror literature monster) regards the living dead’s ability to stand in for the oppression of other humans. Scholars have looked at zombie narratives for the ways they denigrate people, metaphorizing the othering of bodies, including women (Grant; Ruthven), the aged (Switaj; Canavan), the mentally infirm (Behuniak), sexual minorities (McGlotten; Grizzel), the disabled (Duane; Chen), displaced persons (Stratton; Mouflard), and, of course, people of color (Mercer; Comentale).81 A 2021 collection, Embodying Contagion, includes an essay on the iconography of the zombie and drug addiction, also a visible theme in literature, as in Fiend and The Reapers are the Angels.82 Certainly, attention to the viral aspect of the zombie will only increase in the aftermath of Covid-19, building upon work by Priscilla Wald in her landmark 2007 book Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative and various scholars working on the zombie plague theme.83
As noted, a central concept in the myth’s earliest iteration is in its parable of the slave trade: the zombie is a metaphorization of human life which is deemed unworthy by others. Caribbean anti-colonial folktales and the myth’s transformation reflect capitalist abuses of the worker and the brain-dead consumerism of the public.84 In short, the original myth from which the literary zombie comes involves a metaphor in which some humans decide that others are less worthy of life and fair game to be used as an instrument to bring them profits. The myth’s origins in the transatlantic slave trade extend outward, and the figure has relevance for racial injustice more broadly; Christopher M. Moreman and Cory James Rushton’s edited collection on Race, Oppression, and the Zombie is a helpful starting point.
The zombie will doubtless continue to hold resonance in human culture as a signifier of discomfort with capitalism, of the monsters it makes of us all, and, building upon the legacy of its origins in the slave trade, of the lives that are devalued in society. But what will be the next direction in zombie narratives? In an increasingly digitized and automated world, there is likely to be more emphasis on media, and because humankind is living through the slow-motion apocalypse that is climate change, there may well be more attention to the planet’s living deadness. For theories on new directions in the zombie, see discussions of zombie media by Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka and by Mark Deuze, and for discussion of ecology and the zombie’s potential to integrate environmental critique, see Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Greg Pollock and Lauro’s essay on “the Eco-Zombie,” which touches upon Joe McKinney’s 2006 novel Dead City.85
- Abbott, Stacey. Undead Apocalypse: Vampires and Zombies in the Twenty-First Century. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016.
- Bishop, Kyle William. American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010.
- Bishop, Kyle William, and Angela Tenga, eds. The Written Dead: Essays on the Literary Dead. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2017.
- Boluk, Stephanie, and Wylie Lenz. Generation Zombie: Essays on the Living Dead in Modern Culture. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011.
- Christie, Deborah, and Sarah Juliet Lauro. Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human. New York: Fordham University Press, 2011.
- Comentale, Edward, and Aaron Jaffe, eds. The Year’s Work at the Zombie Research Center. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.
- Davis, Wade. The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist’s Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombies and Magic. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985.
- de Bruin-Molé, Megen. “Killable Hordes, Chronic Others and ‘Mindful’ Consumers: Rehabilitating the Zombie in Twenty-First-Century Popular Culture.” In Embodying Contagion, Edited by Megen de Bruin-Molé, Sandra Becker, and Sara Polak, 159–178. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2021.
- Glover, Kaiama. “Exploiting the Undead: The Usefulness of the Zombie in Haitian Literature.” Journal of Haitian Studies 11, no. 2 (Fall 2005): 105–121.
- Kee, Chera. Not Your Average Zombie: Rehumanizing the Undead from Voodoo to Zombie Walks. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.
- Landszendörfer, Tim. Books of the Dead: Reading the Zombie in Contemporary Literature. Oxford: University of Mississippi Press, 2018.
- Lauro, Sarah Juliet. The Transatlantic Zombie: Slavery, Rebellion, and Living Death. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015.
- Lauro, Sarah Juliet, ed. Zombie Theory: A Reader. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.
- McGlotten, Shaka, and Steve Jones. Zombies and Sexuality: Essays on Desire and the Living Dead. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014.
- McIntosh, Shawn, and Marc Leverette. Zombie Culture: Autopsies of the Living Dead. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008.
- Métraux, Alfred. Voodoo in Haiti. Trans. Hugo Charteris. New York: Oxford University Press, 1959.
- Moreman, Christopher, and Cory Rushton, eds. Race, Oppression and the Zombie: Essays on Cross-Cultural Appropriations of the Caribbean Tradition. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011.
- Pulliam, June, and Anthony Fonseca, eds. Encyclopedia of the Zombie: The Walking Dead in Popular Culture and Myth. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2014.
- Rutherford, Jennifer. Zombies. New York: Routledge, 2013.
- Swanson, Lucy. Zombie Islands: Reviving the Living Dead in Contemporary French Caribbean Fiction. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2022.
- Waller, Gregory A. The Living and the Undead: From Stoker’s Dracula to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.
1. See the discussion of Robert Southey and Sebastião de Rocha Pita’s works on Brazil in Sarah Juliet Lauro, The Transatlantic Zombie: Slavery, Rebellion, and Living Death (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015), 37.
2. Hans-W. Ackermann and Jeanine Gauthier, “The Ways and Nature of the Zombi,” Journal of American Folklore 104, no. 414 (Autumn 1991): 466–494.
3. Melville J. Herskovitz, ed., Dahomey: An Ancient West African Kingdom. vol. 2 (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1967), 243–244. See also Herskovitz’s 1937 Life in a Haitian Valley.
4. Those interested in following the breadcrumb trail of the zombie’s few scant appearances in the colonial record back in time and space can look to Lauro’s The Transatlantic Zombie, where this history is traced out in more detail. Lauro, The Transatlantic Zombie.
5. The monsters in Night of the Living Dead were originally designated as ghouls but called zombies by the audience. Subsequent films in the series referred to the monsters as zombies.
6. W. B. Seabrook, The Magic Island (1929) (New York: Dover, 2016), 101.
7. Seabrook, The Magic Island, 103.
8. Zora Neale Hurston, Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (New York: Harper Perennial, 1990), 196.
9. C.f. Spencer St. John, Hayti: or, The Black Republic (London: Smith, Elder & Co, 1884) and Hesketh Prichard, Where Black Rules White: A Journey Across and About Hayti (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1910).
10. Peter Haining, “Introduction,” in Zombie: Stories of the Walking Dead, ed. Peter Haining (London: W. H. Allen, 1985), 14.
11. Wade Davis, “Afterword,” in Seabrook, The Magic Island, 340.
12. Jaime Russell, Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema (updated and fully revised) (London: Titan Books, 2014), 18.
13. Davis, “Afterword,” 338.
14. For more scholarly presentation of his findings, see Wade Davis, “The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie,” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 9 (1983): 85–104 and Passage of Darkness: Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1989). For a different take on anthropological study and its translation into the arts, see Katherine Dunham’s 1969 discussion of her time in Haiti in Island Possessed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994) and her uptake of zombie stories into dance performance in Vévé A. Clark and Sarah Johnson, eds., Kaiso! Writings by and about Katherine Dunham (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005).
15. For discussion of the zombie’s duality and the zombi astral or “zonbi astral,” see Elizabeth McAlister “Sorcerer’s Bottle: The Art of Magic in Haiti,” in Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou, ed. Donald Consentino (Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1995) and “Slaves, Cannibals, and Infected Hyper-Whites: The Race and Religion of Zombies,” in Zombie Theory: A Reader, ed. Sarah Juliet Lauro (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), 63–84. Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring (New York: Warner Books, 1998) could be said to acknowledge the astral zombie as well as the more commonly known bodily zombie in its syncretic fusion of folklore from various Caribbean islands. Amy Plum’s 2011 novel Die for Me includes “revenants” who have the ability to perform astral projection during their dormant state, in a kind of merging of both types of zombies, embodied and disembodied.
16. Doris Garraway, The Libertine Colony: Creolization in the Early French Caribbean (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005), 182.
17. Lauro, The Transatlantic Zombie, 127.
18. Mary Lou Emery, Jean Rhys at “World’s End”: Novels of Colonial and Sexual Exile (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990), 44.
19. Marina Warner, Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 159; and Lauro, The Transatlantic Zombie, 146.
20. Raphaël Lucas, “The Aesthetics of Degradation in Haitian Literature,” Research in African Literatures 35, no. 2 (2004): 54–74.
21. See Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert’s “Women Possessed: Eroticism and Exoticism in the Representation of Woman as Zombie,” in Sacred Possessions: Vodou, Santeria, Obeah and the Caribbean, ed. Olmos and Paravisini-Gebert (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000); and Joan Dayan, “France Reads Haiti: René Depestre’s Hadriana dans tous mes rêves,” Special issue, Post/Colonial Conditions: Exiles, Migrations, and Nomadisms 2, Yale French Studies 83 (1993): 154–175.
23. Lucy Swanson, “Zombie Nation? The Horde, Social Uprisings, and National Narratives,” Cincinnati Romance Review 34 (Fall 2012): 13–33, 25.
24. Swanson, “Zombie Nation?,” 28.
25. Frankétienne, Dézafi (1975); ou Les Affres d’un défi (1979) (Paris: JM Place, 2000), 230. See also Carroll F. Coates, “A Note on Frankétienne’s Les Affres D’un Défi,” Callaloo 19, no. 3 (Summer 1996): 756–761 and Rachel Douglas, Frankétienne and Rewriting: A Work in Progress (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, Rowman & Littlefield, 2009).
26. On this novel, see the article by Izabella Penier, “The Black Atlantic Zombie: National Schisms and Utopian Diasporas in Edwidge Danticat’s The Dew Breaker,” in Fearful Symmetries: Representations of Anxiety in Cultural, Literary and Political Discourses, ed. Lesczek Drong and Jacek Mydla (Katowice: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Śląskiego, 2013), 233–348.
27. Mayra Montero, In the Palm of Darkness, trans. Edith Grossman (New York: Harper Perennial, 1998), 55.
28. Hopkinson’s, Brown Girl in the Ring.
29. These are the spellings used by Hopkinson.
31. Diaz, “Monstro.”
32. On this history of early zombie cinema, see Peter Dendle’s, Zombie Movie Encyclopedia (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001) and Russell, Book of the Dead.
33. All of these are helpfully reprinted in Haining’s anthology Zombie; Vivian Meik, “White Zombie” (Devil’s Drums, 1933) in Haining, Zombie, 83–94; Inez Wallace, “I Walked with a Zombie,” in Haining, Zombie, 95–102; and Gordon Leigh Bromley, “American Zombie,” (c. 1936), in Haining, Zombie, 103–108.
34. See Richard Hand’s scholarship wherein there is a similar pattern, a warp and weft of the zombie, between Vaudou slave and something like a revenant: Richard Hand, “Undead Radio: Zombies and the Living Dead on 1930s and 1940s Radio Drama,” in Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Posthuman, ed. Deborah Christie and Sarah Juliet Lauro (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011), 39–49 and Richard Hand, Terror on the Air: Horror Radio in America, 1931–1952 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012).
35. G. W. Hutter, “Salt is Not for Slaves” (Ghost Stories, August 1931) reprinted in Haining, Zombie, 39–53.
36. Manly Wade Wellman, “Song of the Slaves” (Weird Tales, March 1940) reprinted in Stephen Jones, ed., The Mammoth Book of Zombies (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1993), 45–56.
37. Thorp McClusky, “While Zombies Walked” (Weird Tales, September 1939) reprinted in Peter Haining, Zombie, 109–140 and August Derleth, “The House in the Magnolias” (Strange Tales, June 1932) reprinted in Peter Haining, Zombie, 141–161.
38. Chera Kee, “Beware the Zuvembies: Comics, Censorship, and the Ubiquity of Not-Quite Zombies,” in Theorising the Contemporary Zombie: Contextual Pasts, Presents, and Futures, ed. Scott Hamilton and Conor Heffernan (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2022), 1 of unpublished manuscript.
39. Kee, “Beware the Zuvembies,” 37. Anyone looking for a history of zombies in comics would do well to consult Kee on this matter. See also Chera Kee, “Night of the Living Dead and the Rise and Rebirth of Zombies in Comics,” in Beyond the Living Dead: Essays on the Romero Legacy, ed. Bruce Peabody and Gloria Pastorino, Contributions to Zombie Studies series (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2021).
40. Kee, “Beware the Zuvembies,”
41. Kee, “Beware the Zuvembies,”
42. On fears of miscegenation, see Ann Kordas, “New South, New Immigrants, New Women, New Zombies: The Historical Development of the Zombie in American Popular Culture,” in Race, Oppression and the Zombie: Essays on Cross-Cultural Appropriations of the Caribbean Tradition, ed. Cory Rushton and Christopher Moreman (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), 15–30, 19.
43. See Deborah Christie, “A Dead New World: Richard Matheson and the Modern Zombie,” in Christie and Lauro, Better Off Dead.
44. On the zombie’s “depersonalization,” see Dendle, Zombie Movie, 4.
45. See Priscilla Wald’s important discussion of Invasion of the Body Snatchers in Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008).
46. Kevin Boon, “The Zombie as Other: Mortality and the Monstrous in the Post-Nuclear Age,” in Christie and Lauro, Better Off Dead, 50–60.
47. Peter Dendle, “Zombie Movies and the ‘Millennial Generation’,” in Christie and Lauro, Better Off Dead, 175–186. See also Dawn Keetley, “Zombie Evolution: Stephen King’s Cell, George Romero’s Diary of the Dead, and the Future of the Human,” Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present 11, no. 2 (2012), Online.
48. Agustina Bazterrica, Tender is the Flesh, trans. Sarah Moses (New York: Scribner, 2020).
49. Tony Burgess, Pontypool Changes Everything (Toronto: ECW Press, 2009), 61 and 45.
50. Aimee Bender, “Among Us,” in The New Dead, ed. Christopher Golden (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010).
51. Bender, “Among Us,” 260.
53. The same might be said of Bob Fingerman’s 2009 Pariah (New York: Tor), which is also set in New York and features a psychotic character who tortures zombies in a reference to Abu-Ghraib, but it’s far less important as a novel except for the intervention that it imagines a “Pariah” who is shunned by the zombies and therefore can save the stranded survivors.
54. Leif Sorenon, “Against the Post-Apocalyptic: Narrative Closure in Colson Whitehead’s Zone One,” Contemporary Literature 55, no. 3 (Fall 2014): 559–592 and Jessica Hurley, “History is What Bites: Zombies, Race, and the Limits of Biopower in Colson Whitehead’s Zone One,” Extrapolation 56, no. 3 (2015): 311–333.
55. Ling Ma, Severance (New York: Picador, 2018), 29.
56. Ma, Severance, 160.
57. The zombies in and of themselves are worthy of study, their rote gestures a commentary upon capitalist automation or the workings of memory, a theme explored elsewhere in Warm Bodies, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Handling the Undead (2009), The Girl with All the Gifts, and Dead of Night.
58. For discussion of this aspect of the novel, see Aanchal Saraf, “Global Racial Capitalism and the Asian American Zombie in Ling Ma’s Severance,” Studies in the Fantastic 7 (2019): 12–23. Severance enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity because of how prescient it seems in light of the 2020 Covid pandemic. On this point, see Jane Hu, “Severance is the novel of the Coronavirus Era, but not for the reasons you think,” The Ringer.com, March 18, 2020.
59. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even created a “zombie preparedness” page on their website in 2011 to promote hazard preparedness in the real world.
60. See Dawn Keetley, ed., “We’re All Infected:” Essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014) and Elizabeth Erwin and Dawn Keetley, eds., The Politics of Race, Gender and Sexuality in The Walking Dead: Essays on the Television Series and Comics (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018).
61. Kyle Bishop claims that the film 28 Days Later ushered in a “zombie renaissance” that “introduced faster, more feral zombie creatures, and he kept the monsters alive rather than dead.” Kyle William Bishop, American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010), 16.
62. Justina Ireland in discussion with the author, April 21, 2021.
63. This feature is particularly common in zombie point of view (POV) stories, but other texts have different types of undead but do not include a zombie POV, such as Colson Whitehead’s “skels” and “stragglers” in Zone One (2011) and Recht’s Plague of the Dead (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006) with its “sprinters” and “shamblers.”
64. The zombies in The Girl with All the Gifts are called “hungries.” The adult zombies are mindless, infected cannibals, but the children can think, communicate, and control their desire for flesh. In Raising Stony Mayhall, the LDs (living dead) are violent for the first two days after infection but regain some, if not all, of their mental faculties in their otherwise dead bodies.
65. M. R. Carey, The Girl with All the Gifts (New York: Orbit, 2014), 1, 205, 259.
66. Scott G. Browne, Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament (New York: Broadway Books, 2009).
67. Much like the meth addicts in Peter Stenson’s Fiend (2013) who discover that the drug prevents their annihilation as living death, the mutants in The Reapers Are the Angels avoid being lost to zombification through “medicinal” intervention.
68. Though not romantic, the adult zombies in The Girl with All the Gifts and The Boy on the Bridge are suspected by scientists of occasionally breeding during their undead state out of rote experience from buried memories.
69. Amanda Firestone asserts that some traditional vampire writers and scholars were resistant to Stephanie Meyer’s interpretation of vampires in the Twilight novels because her vampires were sparkling, “vegetarian,” and “co-opted” by teenage girls (Amanda Firestone in discussion with the author, July 23, 2021). Kobi Kabalek explains the issues of making zombies sexy: “Zombies are filthy rotting corpses that have come back to life in some way and wander aimlessly around looking for human flesh. This fact seems to make them into unappealing figures, and indeed, their decaying corporality and implied strong stench would deter anyone from conceiving them as desirable. But the repulsion toward zombies goes beyond that. Most classic productions of the genre stress the absolute otherness of the zombies and their non-humanity.” Kobi Kabalek, “Sexy Zombies? On the Improbable Possibility of Loving the Undead,” in Sexualität und Widerstand: Internationale Filmkulturen und Literaturen, ed. Aylin Basaran et al. (Vienna: Mandelbaum Verlag, 2018), 322–333.
70. For scholarship on zombie romance and sexuality, see Shaka McGlotten and Steve Jones, Zombies and Sexuality: Essays on Desire and the Living Dead (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014) and Ashley Szanter and Jessica R. Richards, Romancing the Zombie: Essays on the Undead as Significant “Other” (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2017).
⤴Steve Jones, “Porn of the Dead: Necrophilia, Feminism and Gendering the Undead,” in Zombies Are Us: Essays on the Humanity of the Walking Dead, ed. Cory James Rushton and Christopher Moreman (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), 40–60. Unfortunately, rape is a fairly prominent theme in popular zombie fiction, largely uncritically, it would seem, as in Brian Keene’s The Rising, Fingerman’s, Pariah, and many others.
71. Mark Twain, Huck Finn and the Zombie Jim: The Classic Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with “the N Word” Replaced by the Word Zombie (self-pub., CreateSpace, 2014).
72. Issues of racial conflict are common in zombie historical revision: African-Americans, Native Americans, and whites in Dread Nation; the same plus Chinese Americans in Deathless Divide; Native Americans and whites in The Hunger: A Novel; and Chinese Americans and whites in Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker (2009).
73. Robyn McCallum explains: “In literature for adolescents, and in popular culture generally, there seem to be two dominant schemata for adolescence. The first conceives of adolescence as a time for rebelling against and rejecting the adult world, being nonconformist, gaining freedom and experimenting with self-images, lifestyles, and behaviors. The second sees adolescence as a time for maturing, learning, and growth, becoming an adult, accepting adult responsibility and exploring the adult world. Each schema conceives of adolescence differently in relation to adulthood, and each reflects specific ideologies of adolescence. While the adolescent teenage rebel is a dominant and heavily mythologized image in our culture, it is usually maturational schemas that are valorized in the literature for young people. Rebelliousness is most often conceived of as a stage in an adolescent’s development leading to maturation. Furthermore, ideologies of adolescence are heavily gendered, with rebellious schemas usually gendered male and maturational schemas usually gendered female.” Robyn McCallum, “Young Adult Literature,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature, ed. Jack Zipes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
75. Maya Deren, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, 1953 (New Paltz, NY: McPherson, 1983); Mimi Sheller, Consuming the Caribbean: From Arawaks to Zombies (London: Routledge, 2003); Alfred Métraux, Voodoo in Haiti, trans. Hugo Charteris (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959); Claudine Michel and Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, eds., Invisible Powers: Vodou in Haitian Life and Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006); and Joan “Colin” Dayan’s important work Haiti, History, and the Gods (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). On the zombie specifically, see Franck Degoul, “We are the Mirror of Your Fears: Haitian Identity and Zombification,” in Christie and Lauro, Better Off Dead, 24–38. For those in need of a quick gloss, see Kyle Bishop’s essay “The Sub-Subaltern Monster,” Journal of American Culture 31, no. 2 (2008): 141–152.
76. On this point, see Glover, “Exploiting the Undead,” 105–121 and “New Narratives of Haiti: or, How to Empathize with a Zombie,” Small Axe 16, no. 3 39 (2012): 199–207; Swanson, “Zombie Nation?,” 13–33, 25. Lucy Swanson, “Blankness, alienation, and the zombie in recent Francophone fiction,” International Journal of Francophone Studies 17, no. 2 (1 June 2014): 177–197, and Lucy Swanson, Zombie Islands: Reviving the Living Dead in Contemporary French Caribbean Fiction (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2022). Those adept in German may also look at the writings of Gudrun Rath, and some of her essays are published in English.
77. Robert Kirk, Zombies and Consciousness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Robert Kirk, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Zombies ; and Daniel Dennett, “The Unimagined Preposterousness of Zombies,” Journal of Consciousness Studies 2 (1995): 322–326.
78. See Kim Paffenroth and John W. Morehead, The Undead and Theology for the essays in part two, “Zombies” and Brandon Graffius and Morehead’s collection Theology and Horror (Lanham, MD: Fortress Academic, 2021). More work on this area has been done on film; see Kim Paffenroth, Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero’s Visions of Hell on Earth (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2006) and Daniel Sacco’s article, “Living Hell: Fulci’s Eternal City,” Studies in the Fantastic 7 (2019), 76–88. See also the collection by Richard Greene and K. Silem Mohammad, The Undead and Philosophy, Chicken Soup for the Soulless (Chicago: Open Court Publication, 2006).
80. See Kinitra Brooks, “The Importance of Neglected Intersections: Race and Gender in Contemporary Zombie Texts and Theories,” African American Review 47, no. 4 (Winter 2014): 461–475; Annalee Newitz, Pretend We’re Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006); and Camilla Fojas, Zombies, Migrants and Queers: Race and Crisis Capitalism in Pop Culture (University of Illinois Press, 2017), and the section devoted to “Capitalist Monsters,” in Lauro, Zombie Theory.
81. Here are a couple of examples of each. See Barry Keith Grant, “Taking Back the Night: George Romero, Feminism, and the Horror Film,” in Lauro, Zombie Theory, 212–222; Andrea Ruthven, “Zombie Postfeminism,” in Comentale and Jaffe, The Year’s Work at the Zombie Research Center, 341–360; Elizabeth Switaj, “Ageing, Disability, and Zombies: The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home,” Femspec 14, no. 2 (2014): 34–58; Gerry Canavan, “Don’t Point that Gun at My Mum: Geriatric Zombies,” in The Walking Med: Zombies and the Medical Image, ed. Lorenzo Servitje and Sherryl Vint (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2016), 17–38; Susan Behuniak, “The Living Dead? The Construction of People with Alzheimer’s Disease as Zombies,” Aging and Society 31, no. 1 (2011): 70–92; Trevor Grizzel, “Re-Animating the Social Order: Zombies and Queer Failure,” in McGlotten and Jones, Zombies and Sexuality, 123–139; Mel Chen, “Lurching for the Cure? On Zombies and the Reproduction of Disability,” GLQ, A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 21, no. 1 (2015): 24–31; Claire Mouflard, “Zombies and Refugees: Variations on the ‘Post-human’ and the ‘Non-human’ in Robin Campillo’s Les Revenants (2004) and Fabrice Gobert’s Les Revenants (2012–2015),” Humanities 5, no. 3 (2016): 48; Kobena Mercer, “Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson’s Thriller,” in Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies (New York: Routledge, 2013); Edward Comentale, “Zombie Race,” in Comentale and Jaffe, The Year’s Work at the Zombie Research Center, 189–211; Shaka McGlotten, “Dead and Live Life: Zombies, Queers, and Online Sociality,” in Lauro, Zombie Theory, 223–236; Anna Mae Duane, “Dead and Disabled: The Crawling Monsters of the Living Dead,” in Lauro, Zombie Theory, 237–245; and Jon Stratton, “Trouble with Zombies: Muselmanner, Bare Life, and Displaced People,” in Lauro, Zombie Theory, 246–269. Further to this, Linnemann, Wall, and Green look at the police violence and life that is deemed expendable in their essay Travis Linnemann, Tyler Wall, and Edward Green, “The Walking Dead and Killing State: Zombification and the Normalization of Police Violence,” in Lauro, Zombie Theory, 332–351.
82. Peter Burger, “The Krokodil Drug Menace, Cross-Genre Body Horror and the Zombie Apocalypse,” in Embodying Contagion: The Viropolitics of Horror and Desire in Contemporary Discourse, ed. Sandra Becker, Megen de Bruin-Molé, and Sara Polak (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2021).
83. See Wald, Contagious and Becker, Bruin-Molé, and Polak, eds., Embodying Contagion.
84. Because this entry is specifically attending to Zombies in Print, it does not address many fine works that specifically deal with the zombie’s affect in horror cinema or videogames. Those interested in more on that should begin with the Oxford Bibliographies entry on zombies in film and media, Sarah Juliet Lauro, “Zombies in Cinema and Media,” in Oxford Bibliographies in Cinema and Media Studies, ed. Krin Gabbard (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017); Russell’s, Book of the Dead; and Peter Dendle’s two volumes of The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001 and 2010).
85. Mark Deuze, “Living as a Zombie in Media is the Only way to Survive,” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 25, no. 2–3 (2015): 307–323; Garnet Hertz and Jussi Parikka. “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Ecology into an Art Method,” Leonardo 45, no. 5 (2012): 424–430; Greg Pollock, “Undead is the New Green: Zombies and Political Ecology,” in Moreman and Rushton, Zombies are Us, ; Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “Grey: A Zombie Ecology,” in Lauro, Zombie Theory, 381–394; and Sarah Juliet Lauro, “The Eco-Zombie: Environmental Critique in Zombie Films,” in Generation Z: Essays on the Living Dead in American Culture, ed. Stephanie Boluk and Wylie Lenz (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011).
- The Contemporary Gothic
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- Apocalyptic Fiction, 1950-2015
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- Defining and Exploring Asian American Speculative Fiction