The Literature of Zombies

I have two more zombie books to read--one of which I'll report on shortly, and one that should follow quickly behind after I get an SF I've been dying to read out of the way.  But this is a way station report.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the literature of zombies (as opposed to the vast majority of mash-ups and gore-fests that celebrate the Zombie as an object of terror) is primarily a literature of anger.  Or so it seems on brief exposure.  In each of the two novels (admittedly a very small sample, but what I'm generating right now is a working hypothesis) that take the subject as more that a gore-fest, the primary message has been that zombies act according to nature.  Nature red in tooth and claw, but nature none-the-less.  In each case as well, the acts perpetrated by those who can choose to go against nature are by far and away worse than those that come from beings acting as beings.

What do we infer or read from this?  One can approach with one of two hypotheses--either the nihilistic--humanity ain't no good no way and should we washed from the face of the Earth (not my experience) or humanity can get up to some dire evil, foulness that transcends the foulest things that nature can throw at humanity.  Equally, humanity can find the grace to conduct itself in a way that rises above this foulness and above nature.  In other words, there is nature and there is grace.

It is a valid to ask whether or not the authors of the stories intend for the zombie story to say anything at all about grace.  One needs to look at the individual story to see where the author is leading.

Now back to the primary hypothesis zombies as a literature of anger.  What I sense in most writers is an outrage at the evil we are willing to commit and put up with.  Sometimes that evil is the formation of zombies themselves.  More often it is that in a world that is designed to destroy humanity, there is a sizable fraction of the human population that is willing to assist in the destruction.  Not only to assist, but to attempt to profit and entertain themselves.

The Christian read of this is that humanity is fallen--they will indulge in the worst possible sports and horrors--or some will.  But some, aided by grace rise above the fallen nature.  This is not their own work, and it is a mysterious work--deeply mysterious.  How does one rise and another fall?  Why are some acting in accordance with a nature below nature and others in accordance with a grace that will demand self-sacrifice?  I don't expect these questions to be answered with the book, because many probably intend no such message at all.  It is incidental, it is part of the deep story of literature that crops up again and again.  I would venture to guess that it is merely thematically convenient to the story of depravity.  Because even in the righteous anger that lashes out at humanity's inhumanity, there is a sense that some will not contribute.  Some will rise above the fray.  Does this require grace and a Christian context?  Some would argue that it does not.  Myself, you know which side of that line I'm on.

In a sense good zombie fiction is a long and perhaps ignorant (not in the pejorative sense) extension of the work of Flannery O'Connor, who did not need zombies to make exactly the same points.  (Although, I must acquiesce, that she did need Satan in at least one magnificent novel.)

Perhaps more later when I've finished the most recent books and I am not quite so ignorant of the framework and the tropes of the genre as I am presently.


  1. Steven, I don't know enough about zombies to add anything intelligent here; just wanted to pop in and say I'm enjoying your take on these books.

  2. Dear Jeff,

    Thank you for the encouragement. I'm a novice in this world of things. But I'd like to be able to say something worthwhile about it.




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