So I’ve written before about the vampire literary canon, which granted has a bit more solid of a literary tradition. But with the rising popularity of zombies in TV shows like The Walking Dead and iZombie, as well as in the mildly uncomfortable new zombie subgenre of paranormal romance books, I figured that an examination of the literary history of these brain-eating undead was in order. While more popular with visual media like movies, video games and TV, zombies still have a strong literary presence, especially in recent decades. Below are some works that I consider to be part of the zombie literary canon.
A short horror story written by one of America’s most iconic writers of gothic fiction, “Herbert West—Reanimator” is considered to be one of the first true zombie stories. The tale involves two doctors who are obsessed with resurrecting the dead, Victor Frankenstein-style. Their experiments ultimately result in violent, animalistic reanimated corpses with a taste for human flesh. And as with many Lovecraft stories, it has a deeply unsettling ending.
Published three years before his epic zombie masterpiece (see number 3), The Zombie Survival Guide was Max Brooks’ first book. Written like a serious survival manual, the fully illustrated guide provides detailed discussions of proper weaponry and strategies needed for surviving a zombie outbreak. It also delves into a “scientific” explanation of the zombie virus and outlines a record of zombie attacks throughout history.
3) World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks (2006)
If you read no other zombie books, read this one. And especially consider checking out the audiobook. You can read more about my feelings on this book in my gushing review, but suffice it to say that World War Z is an all-encompassing zombie epic. Brooks covers everything from an epidemiological analysis of the outbreak of the disease to its effects on international relations, warfare, and the environment.
That’s right. Before The Walking Dead became the popular TV show that you all know and love, it was a comic series. First issued in 2003, the comic is still ongoing. It follows the story of Sheriff Rick Grimes and others as they fight to survive the zombie apocalypse. The comics have inspired several Walking Dead video games, novelizations, and of course the TV show on AMC.
What better way to sneak into the zombie literary canon than by taking a book that’s already part of the general literary canon and sticking zombies in it? This book is a brilliant parody that contains passages word-for-word from the original Jane Austen novel interlaced with scenes of badass Regency women ninja-fighting zombies. Zombies are such a modern phenomenon by literary standards, that it is fun to see them put back into older settings. And it’s also just fun to see Lizzie Bennet with a katana.
Which of these have you read? What have I left out? The zombie genre is not my forte, so please share your thoughts in the comments!