Zombies are a topic near and dear to my heart. I’ve written several zombie stories, I have many zombie movies on DVD, and I enjoy reading books about zombies and playing games where you try to survive against zombies. One could say I’m a zombie aficionado. That is why when I see articles that claim that zombies originate mostly from voodoo, I’m given a bit of pause. Why? Because I’m reminded of Shelly’s Frankenstein, and I wonder why the Monster is not credited as a zombie, perhaps one of the first in fiction.
Let’s look at the common components of zombies:
- Zombies are (often) the reanimated dead.
- Zombies are (usually) mindless or have very limited intelligence.
- Zombies are (usually) slow and clumsy.
- Zombies hunger.
All four of those basic zombie “qualifications” are met by the Frankenstein Monster. It is a reanimated body, mindless or nearly so, slow and clumsy (usually, see the movie Van Helsing for an example where the creature is not slow or unintelligent), and it hungers. It may not hunger for human flesh, but it does hunger; in the Monster’s case, the hunger is for companionship.
So why is Frankenstein’s Monster not a zombie? I believe the reason people want to classify the Monster as something separate from zombies comes from our natural desire to organize things into specific hierarchies. We classify flora and fauna, paintings and music, just about everything today has a specific slot it’s meant to fit into. Because the Monster was never advertised as a zombie, and because it’s easier to trace the roots of modern zombies to voodoo stories, it’s more natural for us to accept that the Monster is a separate type of creature.
In many ways, this is correct. The Monster is a melding of technology and flesh in a dangerous way. In that regard, the Terminator cyborgs might be seen as a descendant of the Monster. But wouldn’t virus-born zombies also be cut from the same cloth?
Perhaps the most telling difference between the two mythical creatures is the underlying theme each seems to represent. Frankenstein is about the reckless pursuit of science, though this was supplanted by a message of mob-mentality versus acceptance when the creature made its way onto movie screens. Zombies, on the other hand, represent a fear of conformity, of loss of individuality, and, to a lesser extent, the struggle of the individual against the norm.
The two creatures are parallel in many ways, related perhaps, cousins in a literary sense. In the broad spectrum of horror monsters, they both occupy the same branch of the “family tree”. Perhaps it would be best to liken the Monster to a gorilla and zombies to chimpanzees, both apes, both related distantly and sharing many similarities, but not entirely the same.
With the star of the zombie at its pinnacle, one has to wonder if its cousin might not be the next player to stride onto the stage.