A Brief History of the Modern Zombie, or Why I Hate Zombie Lit


by Willa A. Cmiel

For as much as we like to talk about and link to zombies here at Vol. 1, I really think the trend is, to put it nicely, pretty silly. To be truly frank, I actually find it immensely, offensively, near-tragically awful. (It’s true that I’ve written about this before.)

Historically, zombie mythology originated in West Indian Voodoo lore, and was taken and misinterpreted by Western society (Night of the Living Dead). And then we took it a step farther (Shaun of the Dead). I’m not really a zombie expert, but to me that’s all well and good. We took an eerie myth and turned it into a joke of blockbuster-sized proportions (although at this point these “blockbusters” too often flop). But some of them are good! We’ve bastardized the zombie myth, so what? This isn’t such a horrible thing, since that’s what the West does with most of its Eastern fascinations. After all, the East by contrast often takes our cultural intricacies to extremes in their own ways. In any case, that’s a separate topic of discussion. It’s sad, though, that we’ve begun to further muddle our own bastardization with even more crap (Hancock).

So, must we go even further and bastardize Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, and Abraham Lincoln? (Wow, who’s the odd one out?) We’re bastardizing our literature with the bastardizations of our bastardizations. My head is spinning.  It’s true that they aren’t all by way of zombies–we’ve now added sea monsters and werewolves–but zombies started the trend so it’s zombies I’m blaming. It’s like we’re gutting out our art and heroes! In the way that strips personality and sucks away souls, we’re zombifying, literally, some our own Great Achievements. A zombie, a sea monster, a werewolf (what have you) can kill Will Smith in Hancock, that’s one thing (except I don’t think he even dies in that movie), but Lizzie Bennett? Jo March? Surely there must be a line.

If nothing else, could we please zombify a “man book”? Honest Abe doesn’t count. I’m sorry to wave the feminism flag perhaps yet again, but this is getting pressing. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and now Little Women? It’s like this trend of literature is wagging its finger at the women who find solace in such narratives.  I must argue that modern film history tells us leave it to Nora Ephron to reasonably depict the literary differences between men and women.

Can I cry rape? No?

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  1. I don’t believe that zombie lit soils the Austens and Alcotts of literature so much as spoofs it in a popular mode that has more to do with the tastes of female readers than male publishers and marketers. While zombie stories lack the romantic edge of vampire stories, the female characters usually fare better and aren’t degraded the way they are in slashers or serial-killer oriented procedurals. I see it as two things that many women I know happen to enjoy, combined in a way that is actually pretty funny. If a manly book must be zombified, ‘Moby Dick’ seems like the most obvious candidate. A clever author could somehow connect the threads between Queequeg’s voodooesque spirituality and the great, white, undead whale.

  2. For what it’s worth, every guy I know (myself included) who read Pride and Prejudice loved it to pieces.