Lure of the Dead

Posted: January 14, 2016 in horror, Published fiction
Tags: ,

One-way-to-get-through-th-009

Zombies are so hot right now! They’re everywhere in films, on TV and in literature. Abaddon Books even have a specific imprint just for the walking dead. It’s called Tomes of the Dead and recently I was honoured to have my novella, The Lazarus Conundrum, published under this imprint.

But what is it about the living dead that’s so fascinating? What is it about zombies that has elevated them above so many other monsters in recent years? I’m not sure I can give a definitive answer to that, so my thoughts here are simply that, my thoughts.

I suppose in a way they enable us to confront our own mortality in a way that other undead creatures do not. Death is a universal constant, but it’s something that most of us shy away from thinking about. Even when loved ones die we rarely confront the icky nature of death and decomposition. If we see a loved one before their burial then that encounter will usually be stage managed, they will have been dressed and arranged to give the illusion of life, and thankfully most of us will never see an actual dead body out in the wild, as it were, unless we are very unfortunate.

People have differing views about why people like horror. I’ve always been of the opinion that horror, good horror done well, is about catharsis, it’s about facing our fears in a safe environment, and it’s about watching characters overcome terrifying obstacles, which gives us hope. If Rick Grimes can survive the zombie apocalypse then our dead end jobs or annoying families spats or ever spiralling credit card bills don’t seem quite so bad.

And there’s definitely something cathartic about being able to stare death in the face, especially if the monsters are secure behind the screen of a cinema or a TV, or safely locked away within the pages of a book.

You could make the argument that other monsters can fulfil the same purpose, but I’m not sure that’s true. Aside from the fact that they walk (and bite!) Zombies are us, or at least the meat portion of us, although whatever made us human is long gone. They’re not vampires, imitations of living people with human memories and with eternal youth, perfect death, and they’re not werewolves, there’s no animalistic metamorphosis going on here, only slow decomposition.

And the death we’re staring at when we look at zombies isn’t inert, death might be waiting for us further (hopefully a lot further!) down the line, but this isn’t a prelude of what’s to come; oh no, zombies are death not just staring us in the face but rushing (or lumbering) right at us, death hurrying to meet us.

And of course there’s a more visceral thrill to be enjoyed with zombies. Most often encountered in large groups they’re a natural disaster rather than an intelligent enemy, a tsunami of dead flesh, the unstoppable force against us, the living, who are far from being an immovable object. Even at their slowest there’s something relentless about the walking dead, like a glacier slowly encroaching. You can’t scare them off by waving a crucifix at them, and they’ll come for you whether its day or night. The only way to stop them is to destroy their brain (usually, there are exceptions) but when there are so many of them ammunition will only last so long. After this you need to get inventive, and this is where zombie fiction can actually be all kinds of gruesome fun: knives, clubs, swords, lawn mowers, garden gnomes…

Sometimes though all you can do is run, and isn’t that what most of us spend our lives doing? Trying to stay out of death’s reach for as long as we can?

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Comments
  1. I do actually have nightmares about zombies. I think the other great thing about zombies is it’s hard to sentimentalise them. No misunderstood romantic zombie heroes!

    • starkers70 says:

      You’ve never seen Warm Bodies then? 🙂 You are right on the whole of course, although I guess Budd in Day of the Dead might count, it is at least possible to empathise with him.

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