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MIND MELD: Zombies, and Why We Love Them

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

We asked this week’s panelists…

Q: In the spirit of the breathless wait for The Walking Dead to return in February, let’s talk zombies! Why do you think they’ve captured the rotten little hearts and minds of the non- shambling public? If you write about zombies, is it just for pure fun, or are they a metaphor for something deeper and even more diabolical??

Here’s what they said…

Jonathan Maberry
Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner, and freelancer for Marvel Comics. His works include ROT & RUIN (now in development for film), PATIENT ZERO, ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead; DUST & DECAY, MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN and others. He was a featured expert on The History Channel special ZOMBIES: A LIVING HISTORY.

Zombies are a useful monster. In creative terms, they serve a few different purposes. First, they are the well-known metaphor generator that allows every writer to explore a different moral, social, societal, philosophical or psychological issue via an entertaining vehicle. This has a long, long tradition in storytelling. Ask Homer. Ask Aesop.

Second, zombies represent a single, massive, shared threat that impacts the lives of every single character in the story. Their impact is so overwhelming that each character’s life is shaken up, which means that the affected elements of their personalities fall away to reveal a truer inner self. In times of great crisis we see personality qualities emerge (or disintegrate) in fascinating and revelatory ways. A corporate CEO who is used to being a lion in the boardroom may be a useless coward when it comes to surviving a crisis; while a kid working a minimum-wage dead-end job at a convenience store might discover qualities of heroism that might otherwise never have emerged. Don’t forget, all real drama is about ordinary people in some kind of crisis. We don’t tell stories about a bunch of nice people having a pleasant day –there’s no drama (and therefore no insight) in that.

And also, the general public has, of late, had their perceptions of what ‘zombie stories’ are. For decades the perceptual standard has been that zombie stories are about death, dying, and visceral slaughter; that these stories were self-indulgent gorefests with nothing redeeming about them. But now that there are so many zombie stories out there, and in so many formats: novels, TV, comics, movies, short stories, video games, toys and more, it’s forced Joe Public to take a closer look. What they’re finding is that the zombie genre has drawn some of today’s top storytellers –writers who understand that the best zombie stories aren’t actually about the zombies. The best zombie stories are about the people. Real people. After all, the title of ‘The Walking Dead’ does not refer to the zombies. The dead men walking are the people whose lives and preconceptions and expectations have died. They are walking from the world that was into an uncertain future, and the name of the landscape through which they walk is ‘drama’.

As long as good writers bring quality storytelling to the genre, zombies will be around for a long, long time. Deservedly so.

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