Several months ago, one of our excellent crew of bloggers posed this vital question â€“ Why are zombies so popular these days? If you’ve been watching TV or surfing the Internet to an appreciable degree in the past few years, you may have noticed this trend yourself: zombie-themed books, movies, graphic novels, games and even zombie conventions are emerging like the unhallowed dead from their shallow graves. In fact if you’re reading this, you’ve probably participated in a hypothetical â€œhow I would survive a zombie apocalypseâ€ conversation at some point in your life. So what’s behind the amazing popularity of zombies? The Hub has put the finest minds of our generation to work answering this question, and the results are:
The Four Pillars of Zombie Popularity
1. A Convenient Apocalypse â€“ As we have previously discussed, post apocalyptic books are becoming very popular, especially for teens. Post apocalyptic plots contain excellent opportunities for excitement and drama as the main characters are pitted against a hostile world, using only their ingenuity and grit to survive. Readers struggling to carve out a place in the world for themselves can simultaneously envy the excitement of the characters’ lives, and be relieved that they don’t have to battle motorcycle-riding bandits on the way to school. Of course, the main issue when creating post apocalyptic books is coming up with a plausible disaster scenario severe enough to cause the collapse of society as we know it. The Zombie Apocalypse is ready and waiting to provide the catalyst, with the benefit of being science-free and requiring 90% less research!
Zombie Books: If you are a fan of zombie apocalypse scenarios you probably love to speculate on your own survival. Try out The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks (PPYA 2011), or, for those who prefer to read on screens, the Zombie Survival and Defense Wiki.
Non-Zombie Books: If you are a lover of the apocalyptic in general, try The Big Empty by J. B. Stephens (Quick Picks 2005), in which half of the world’s population is killed by a mysterious illness, and seven teens come together to try to escape the dictatorship the U. S. has become.
2. Braaaaiins With Brains â€“ Zombie novels and movies are often unabashed gorefests. In addition to the whole â€œmonsters roam the earth eating peopleâ€ element of zombie fiction, the books’ heroes can be total murder machines and get away with it because their opponents are not really alive. Zombie books reach new heights when they use these genre conventions to explore what constant exposure to violence, bloodshed and stomach-churning terror can do to ordinary people. Often, the humans in the story can end up being as dangerous as the zombies â€“ or more so.
Zombie Books: In the zombie genre, gore is the rule and not the exception. Many books featured on this very blog are great examples â€“ the Rot and Ruin series and The Reapers Are the Angels, for instance. I would also recommend Soulless by Christopher Golden, in which a botched seance causes the dead to rise from their graves and hunt those they were close to in life. Good times!
Non-Zombie Books: For more books that explore the effects of violence â€“ through showing the reader a lot of violence â€“ check out the Chaos Walking series, which I really cannot praise enough. Another great book that is less gore-besplattered but does a great job of conveying that â€œOMG I’m trapped with crazy people!â€ atmosphere is The Compound by S. A. Bodeen. Eli has spent six teen years underground in a bomb shelter his father constructed to protect them from the cataclysm that rendered the outside world uninhabitable. He and his sisters are accustomed to their life underground, but when supplies start to run low, Eli’s father reveals just how far he is willing to go in the name of survival. A creepy and suspenseful book!
3. Romance Repellent (Mostly) â€“ It was a sad day for fans of horror when vampires and werewolves became objects of romance rather than fear. Blame whoever you like â€“ Stephanie Meyer, Anne Rice, even Bram Stoker â€“ but entire species of monster have been tainted for the classic horror reader due to their association with lovestruck fans. Zombies are a little closer to vampires’ original mythological roots, in that they are nothing more than animated corpses given an unholy semblance of life in order to feed on the living. This â€“ plus the tendency for zombies to slowly decay over time in a disgusting fashion â€“ makes them less than compelling romantic leads. Be warned, however, YA authors are working diligently to create zombie romance. Will it be the Next Big Thing?
Zombie Books: If you actually want to see how a zombie could be made into a romantic lead, try I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It (PPYA 2011), then write to tell me how it is, because frankly, I’m a little afraid to.
Non-Zombie Books: If the idea of a vampire-free undead romance really intrigues you, try The Ghost and the Goth (BFYA Nominee 2011) by Stacey Kade. The ghost of a cheerleader and a living goth boy who is an unwilling spirit medium form a strange friendship that develops into something more. Light, fluffy and enjoyable.
4. The Zombie in the Mirror â€“ Fundamentally, what is the root of our fear of zombies? Nothing less than fear of the human condition itself. First of all, zombies encapsulate the fear of inescapable mortality â€“ in this case, mortality that will literally devour you. Zombies also evoke the phenomenon of mob mentality, and the idea that ordinary people can become mindless maniacs in the right circumstances. This phenomenon has been brought back to the limelight by the recent London riots. A more banal element of Zombiephobia is the fear of losing one’s individuality and becoming a cog in the machine of society â€“ a living-dead husk of oneself performing mindless tasks only to survive. Essentially, the zombie genre makes us ask what it really means to be human. Does the veneer of civilization only mask the irrational beast within? Do we live just to consume and propagate ourselves, waiting for our inevitable deaths?
Zombie Books: The Generation Dead series by Daniel Waters (PPYA 2011, warning â€“ includes zombie romance!) contains a great deal of zombie-themed speculation on serious issues. In this series recently deceased teens begin to return to a form of life â€“ while they don’t breathe, eat or have heartbeats they can still talk and retain their personalities and memories. These teens want to go back to normalcy â€“ attending school, playing football, etc. â€“ but their living classmates are understandably perturbed. This series gets into the nature of prejudice, using as an example a group that most readers would instinctively fear, hate and attempt to exterminate.
Non-Zombie Books: The Monstrumologist (Printz 2010) and sequel The Curse of the Wendigo (BFYA 2011) offer excellent combos of horrifying monsters and introspection on the human condition. In Curse of the Wendigo, monster-hunter Dr. Warthrop saves his best frenemy Chanler from the Canadian wilderness only to find out that the man he rescued is no longer the Chanler he knew. Is Chanler a victim of the cannibalistic, shapeshifting monster of Native American myth, the wendigo? Or has evil been inside him all along?
If you are a zombie fan who wants more than the books, movies and games can provide, you can always participate in a local Zombie Walk — lots of activity coming up for World Zombie Day on October 8! Of course if you don’t have a Zombie Walk, maybe it’s time to start your own. I’m sure your teen librarian would love to help with that.
Fans of zombie culture, feel free to chime in! What are your favorite zombie books? Should there be a fifth pillar of zombie popularity? Should â€œzombie romanceâ€ be allowed to exist?
— Maria Kramer is reading Aria by Kozue Amano, which is as far from zombie horror as you can get.