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What is the POINT of zombie novels, exactly?

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Showing 1-25 of 137 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 3 May 2013 20:26:14 BDT
Maybe it's me, but I just don't get it. Because there are simply no such things, mainly. Ghost stories I can understand because whether or not you believe in them, lots of people have talked about seeing them. They're even in the Bible. But zombies? The living dead? Nobody. Ever. And don't get all Haitian voodoo on me, please, that is NOT what zombie stories are about. So tell me what it's about.

Convince me it's not the most plastic, derivative, utterly pointless made-up fashion-conscious useless waste of electronic ink. Anyone.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2013 20:27:27 BDT
gille liath says:
Um, I don't get it. You don't like there being novels about things that don't really exist?

Posted on 3 May 2013 20:37:53 BDT
Gille's right, you could extend the things that don't exist list quite a way: vampires, werewolves, wizards, father christmas, the liberal party, democracy...

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2013 20:40:04 BDT
I was asking what the point of them is. Whether I like them or not is neither here nor there.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2013 20:41:51 BDT
Very true, yes you could. But that wasn't really what I asked, which was what the point of zombie novels is, which both of you totally avoid answering. I mean, obviously you don't have to. We could have a whole discussion about what I like if that's what you want, but that wasn't the topic I was interested in discussing.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2013 20:49:00 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 May 2013 20:50:20 BDT
gille liath says:
Well, if you liked them I don't suppose you'd be asking what the point is.

I've never read a zombie novel but I think the point of zombie films, anyway, isn't the zombies but the situation. Unlike other monsters, they're all-encompassing. It's just about the bleakest, most horrible situation imaginable, consistent with the possibility of story development and maybe a happy ending (zombie stories rarely end happily, but I guess you have to hold out the hope that they might). There's something compelling about it.

Maybe it's also partly the cannibalism thing, a real atavistic horror about that.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2013 20:52:29 BDT
TomC says:
I think it's something to do with taking you into an alternative world with different rules, different characters, different goals. You know - escapism. Escapism doesn't have to be pleasant, people want to be scared, too.

I suspect it appeals particularly to survivalists, people who like to see a scenario developed in which civilisation is breaking down and people are forced to become self-reliant or band together in small communities. It probably plays off many people's feelings of isolation in large post-industrial societies, and offers a model of how those old communitarian virtues can be rediscovered.

In the old days it was nuclear war that provided the fear; later it was germ warfare or accidental release of biological agents (the event that provided the start of King's "The Stand"). Now we have zombies.

Just a few ideas. Can't say I'm keen on karate zombies though, and I never liked fung-fu vampires either. I'm a bit old-school when it comes to that.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2013 20:56:36 BDT
Last edited by the author on 5 May 2013 08:29:46 BDT
TomC says:
"Maybe it's also partly the cannibalism thing, a real atavistic horror about that. "

Yes, and also the fact that your friend may become the thing that eats you if you aren't careful; there's usually a point in zombie movies where someone has to administer a killing blow or shot to his or her friend.

The gore factor is a lot higher than most, too. And they hunt in packs.

Posted on 3 May 2013 21:01:50 BDT
Frank Mundo says:
Hamlet said, "...For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure." Now, I've only read one zombie novel and that was Frankenstein, but it did something similar to what Hamlet said. It held a mirror up at the nature of man by offering up this example of a zombie. So, if you're looking for a point, other than entertainment, there's a valid one. Zombies, and their stories, can be used as mirrors to compare with us, our values, our beliefs, politics, etc.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2013 21:04:10 BDT
gille liath says:
Yeah, although vampires also have that aspect.

At the risk of going psychobabble, I guess all good monsters are tapping into subconscious fears, whether you see that as purely personal or some kind of race / species memory. Primeval echoes of dark nights with sabre-tooth tigers prowling round outside the cave.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2013 21:41:00 BDT
Well you did say that the reason you had an issue with them was because zombies don't really exist. To answer your quesdtion, I think zombie stories are a popular form of horror because people find graveyards scary. Zombies are a really blunt way of bringing us face to face with our deepest fear.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2013 22:17:14 BDT
One of the most interesting things I ever read about anything (which explains a lot) was by Bruce Chatwin, who was citing archeological evidence about caves in Africa where for at least 30,000 years man had lived at the front of the caves, up to a hundred yards in or so. Much further back for the same period lived lions. Every single night the lions went out to eat and just like anyone else, sometimes they obviously thought they'd just get something at home. That, Chatwin thought, was the start of the fear of the dark - lions have pretty poor night vision. They hunt by bumping into things in the dark. And they weren't prowling outside the cave, but for 30,000 years, inside it. I can't think of anything more terrifying, or a deeper, more terminal, real, long-standing fear. That alone is why I don't understand BS zombie made-up stuff.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2013 22:44:54 BDT
gille liath says:
Funny, that's exactly what I was thinking of (I don't think it was actually lions or sabre tooth tigers, it was some other extinct big cat).

But I don't see any contradiction in the actuality of that, and other horrors and fears of humanity's prehistory, being represented and in some sense remembered in the form of zombies and other fictional monsters (I suppose The Descent, if you've seen that, comes somewhere near representing what the cave business might have been like). I don't see why it's more BS than most things in most films, to be honest. It's all make-believe, more or less, and so are most books.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2013 23:01:36 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 May 2013 23:06:07 BDT
monica says:
I'm not getting at you even though this is the second post of yours I've just replied to--

Going back to your OP, some of the fiction I like best is about things people have never talked about because no one before the writer has it seems to have thought of them. (And if the Bible really does come into it, Lazarus was raised from the dead . . . )

Chatwin is to put it very, no, over-politely not considered a reliable narrator. In any case, his area of expertise was certainly not palaeontology. And what you say that he says about lions and fear of darkness is the sort of thing that's so rubbish that it's funny.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2013 23:11:48 BDT
gille liath says:
Don't quite see that.

Anyway, what Lone Ranger is talking about is itself basically an imaginative entering into what it was like for early hominids: creatures with a developing consciousness but nowhere near the control over their environment that even the most technically undeveloped modern humans have. A terrifying combination, and I don't think it matters whether the details of Chatwin's scenario are accurate.

Posted on 3 May 2013 23:16:20 BDT
Let's settle for some kind of big cat lived at the back of the cave and went outside for a snack every night. Chatwin wasn't a paleo , er pale, um, something to do with bones but his point was as Gille says, about the basis of fear of things that go bump in the night. Why is that rubbish, in any way? And how more so than non-existent zombies? (And Gille, I don't think it was lions or sabre-toothed things either but I can't remember what they were!). And Chatwin was a reliably entertaining narrator, at least.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2013 23:56:15 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 May 2013 00:20:13 BDT
gille liath says:
Dinofelis - I think that was it.

"Dinofelis fossils and bones have been found in South Africa along with those of the baboons that it possibly killed. Bones from several specimens of Dinofelis and baboons were found in a natural trap. Dinofelis may have entered the place to feed on trapped animals or may have simply wandered into a location and was not able to escape again. Several fossils sites from South Africa seem to show that Dinofelis may have hunted and killed Australopithecus africanus since they harbored fossilized remains of Dinofelis, hominids, and other large contemporary animals of the period. Also, since Dinofelis remains have been found near Paranthropus fossil skulls in South Africa, a few of which have peculiar twin holes in their crania matching the Dinofelis upper canines's spacing almost exactly, it is possible that Dinofelis was preying on robust hominids as well." (Wikipedia)

In reply to an earlier post on 4 May 2013 06:59:18 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 May 2013 07:01:53 BDT
My theory is evolving then, zombies as the ultimate Ayn Rand poster children. Hmm..... you're superior to the unthinking herd! Trust no-one! Everyone's trying to get you! Get them first!!! Now THAT might explain the emergence of this genre. I think what I'm trying to understand is this: however non-existent, or culture-specific non-sensical, vampires, headless horsemen, ghosts, yetis, UFOs, aliens, spirit riders, Bigfoot all have their basis in folklore, word-of-mouth and some kind of historical tradition. But not zombies. Lazarus did not wander around biting people and turning them into facsimiles of himself, at least not in the King James Bible. So far as I know there are no, none, zero mentions of zombies anywhere at all until comparatively recently, post-WWII in US films. What I'm trying to understand is why it was necessary to invent another kind of scary monster when there wasn't exactly a shortage of them in human and non-human form given the recent past, and why the genre grew so explosively when it had absolutely no folklore foundation. It wasn't as if anyone could ever say "wow, that was scary, my grand-dad said something like that happened to him!"

Posted on 4 May 2013 08:18:50 BDT
Obelix says:
Same as sci-fi and James Bond: escapism, and what-if scenarios.

Objecting to made up things appearing in a work of fiction is a bit...odd.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 May 2013 10:36:35 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 May 2013 16:32:35 BDT
gille liath says:
You have a point there, in fact a couple. Neither Frankenstein nor Lazarus are zombies, for my money - in fact, Lazarus is clearly not - and the whole point of zombies is there have to be (as the kid says in 28 Weeks Later) 'loads'.

So maybe there is a social subtext. But why particularly this, why particularly
now? Perhaps it's our subconscious anxiety about the end of the world - something past eras didn't really have to worry about (not since the Middle ages anyway), but which every generation since the war has.

Having said that, monsters are not about recreating someone's real-life experience, and nor is folklore. Those who think dragons are just amplified crocodiles, or something, in my opinion just lack imagination. Like I said, the whole point of a good monster is that it seems to cut deeper than the conscious mind. That's why they're more frightening, or at least more resonant - more cathartic - than the real-life horrors committed by people.

Posted on 4 May 2013 15:29:53 BDT
paulfmuldoon says:
"What is the point of them"

How about "some people like them"? I am not a fan of a lot of types of literature but I would never question their point. Live and let live.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 May 2013 21:05:00 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 May 2013 21:21:59 BDT
M. Jolliff says:
The thing about scary stuff is exposure leads to familiarity leads to boredom. Lazy (less skilful) authors and film makers have to up the ante to achieve the same result, more and more gore (look at the slasher film cycle) and so we get to civilization disintegrating because almost everyone has become a flesh eating zombie. No-one ever seems to question the logistics of this process.
Once Romero created his twist on the West African Vodoun folklore bogeyman and made Night of the Living Dead because reanimated dead weren't scary or brutal enough the Zombie Apocalypse became inevitable. And with the seemingly unanswerable problems facing modern society social, economic, environmental so we have this plethora of 'we're all doomed and will die screaming in agony having faced pointless morally repugnant choices proving that we never should have been here in the first place' multi media distraction whose popularity merely goes to show that the sentiment is probably correct.

I will knock down the Gates of the Netherworld,
I will smash the door posts, and leave the doors flat down,
and will let the dead go up to eat the living!
And the dead will outnumber the living!

from the epic of Gilgamesh which just goes to show that there is nothing new under the sun.

Posted on 4 May 2013 21:20:33 BDT
Dan Gllebitz says:

Posted on 4 May 2013 22:31:47 BDT
Marion Stein says:
I'm not a fan of zombie novels, and my understanding is most follow a rigid formula. However, for years as a child I was terrified of dead people coming to eat my brains. Not sure if this came naturally, or if I caught a moment of Night of the Living Dead or something like it on television. As an adult I'll admit to an episode in my twenties when I had to sleep with the light on for weeks after reading some IB Singer stories because he sometimes has dead people walking around (although they aren't technically zombies and don't eat brains). We're all terrified of death. We all try to do right by our dead, but don't necessarily feel we succeeded. There's guilt involved. We the living go on. They don't get to. I think there is a natural fear we have of death and by extension the dead. Zombie novels play into all of this.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 May 2013 22:36:03 BDT
What on earth can possibly be wrong with questioning things? And apart from which, I thought the whole point of zombies was they aren't living.....
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Discussion in:  fiction discussion forum
Participants:  30
Total posts:  137
Initial post:  3 May 2013
Latest post:  20 Jun 2013

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