By, Chad Helder
The evolution of any iconic monster from the horror genre usually goes something like this: shadowy origins deeply-rooted in European folklore, a lot of literary appearances over the past few centuries (with a minimum of a few Victorian novels), followed by numerous film appearances dating from the 1930’s onward, which then ultimately results in a pop-culture explosion including everything from games to breakfast cereals. However, the zombie genre breaks this typical pattern.
The modern horror genre finds roots in plenty of folktale traditions. For example, the vampire and the werewolf both began in folklore, or even the proverbial “slasher” resembles the stories present in late 20 th century urban legends. Unlike the ever-ubiquitous vampire, which sprouted from folklore traditions and mutated into numerous literary and filmic incarnations, the trendy zombie genre finds its true origin in one film, The Night of the Living Dead . From there, the zombie infested modern cinema with unlimited variations. But now something fascinating has happened: collectively that the zombie pop-culture explosion encompasses comic books, video games, and big-budget movies, zombies now have crossed the boundary from film into literature and created a brand-new zombie literary genre (pioneered by writers like Brian Keene, Max Brooks, and David Wellington), which adds as much as an entire aberration from the traditional pattern – that is exciting stuff. While zombie books proliferate within the publishing houses, new and innovative types of zombie-lore are emerging through internet-based publishing like blogs, PODs, and online web-serials, well outside the mainstream world of publishing. More or less fitting, considering the way it all began with a low budget zombie flick well outside the mainstream world of filmmaking. In a way, it’s just like zombies are making their way backwards right into a roughly digital folktale. After all, what’s self-publishing but a king of storytelling from the people, outside the industry mainstream.
Kyle Bishop, in his essay entitled “Raising the Dead: Unearthing the Nonliterary Origins of Zombie Cinema,” makes a robust case for the birth of the zombie genre, not in folklore just like the werewolf and the vampire, but in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead . Of course, there’s the zombie folklore from voodoo culture (Bishop also provides ample background in this subject), in addition to numerous “zombie” films from the 1930’s like White Zombie , but Night of the Living Dead truly gave birth to something original, something that numerous writers are actually looking to duplicate in print (and follow in new directions). We’re talking in regards to the overwhelming zombie horde that multiplies exponentially and spells the tip of civilization, whether or not they can run or not. Kyle Bishop argues: “Most classic monsters – from ghosts to vampires to werewolves – have their origins in folklore, and the zombie isn’t any exception. However, whereas those other creatures have cross-cultural mythologies, the zombie remains a purely American monster…In addition, creatures reminiscent of Dracula gone through a literary tradition on their approach to the silver screen, however the zombie did not.” With this in mind, it’s fascinating to peer this new uprising of zombie literature appear in line with the cult following of zombie cinema.
While there’s no question in regards to the hunger of mainstream audiences for a wide variety of zombie media, the question of why such a lot of writers feel compelled to provide their very own literary rendering of this cinematic phenomenon remains. Why on this new century has the zombie become so prominent? What does the zombie mean anyway? From my view, zombies represent a number of societal anxieties that appear to have taken a foothold within the new century, and there’s something in regards to the relentless zombie horde that captures the imagination of writers up to the eagerness of audiences.
To start to answer the question of what the zombie horde means, I NEED to show to a brand new literary voice with two zombie masterpieces to his credit, Max Brooks, author of The Zombie Survival Guide , which would in the beginning seem to be simply a postmodern parody, and World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War . In his brilliant World War Z , Brooks offers a world manifestation of apocalyptic anxiety. Whether you view this as symbolically representative of impending environmental catastrophe, the potential of nuclear devastation, or a pandemic run amok, that is terrifying stuff. These two works handle zombie anxiety on a neighborhood and a world scale.
Zombie anxiety itself has many levels. Having your personal body bitten, eaten, and brought over, in addition to losing your personal individual identity is scary enough, but that is compounded by seeing your family t…