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The original zombie romance?

There’s almost always a part in zombie stories where someone is bit or infected and one of their loved ones has to face a choice: to watch them turn and become dangerous to the rest of the survivors, or shoot them while still human. This is never an easy task. Maybe this happened off screen, and you see the survivor shaken and not quite sane, shocked by what this war with the undead has made them do, and they question themselves and if live is worth living after what they have done.

There are some short stories I’ve read lately which deal with the bond of lovers or family after death. You might question if they are zombies because they might not be precisely called zombies; maybe just undead, reanimated corpses. This is not romance WITH zombies but love for the human-that-is-now-zombie (although one story by Williamson isn’t on this specific theme of love in the time it’s set).

I do think that we can’t be so direct about what a zombie is or isn’t, because authors are bloody inventive creatures and they will force these creatures we once knew to evolve. There’s been quite a few changes in the short 100ish years of the Americanised fictional zombie, and that’s a damned quick evolution from zombiing individuals to mobs (Vampires used to be hidden singular vamps or in small groups, and now are a whole known race in literature with great numbers).

Anywhoos, here’s the stories (I haven’t finished the whole compendium yet, so might add more later):

Was it a dream? by Guy de Maupassant (1910)

The Cairnwell Horror by Chet Williamson (1990)

Later by Michael Marshall Smith (1993)

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Human cruelty

One of the clearest themes in horror, and other genres besides, is pointing out human cruelty. The desire to stay alive in a zombie apocalypse leads some people to sacrifice others so they can live (usually rich and rude jerks we don’t care about living anyway). One of my favourite Twilight Zone episodes is The Shelter, where people do ask ‘Why should your family live while mine dies?’

In Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy, Leah Murray refers to Thomas Hobbes claim that life in a “state of nature”, without government or authority, is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” . Murray extends this to the zombie apocalypse, looking at Romero’s Dead series. In thinking about recent battlegrounds, you could go further and apply this to jerks on the inernet – with anonymity and seeming no authority or law, people are free to call you whatever negative terms they can think of (although I do think ‘baddie’ is a stupid term).

Hiding away food, weapons, information is fairly common – especially outside of horror. But there are other examples of human cruelty that is not against each other. Cruelty against weak/helpless zombies is common, usually red necks picking them off, blowing them up, stringing them up and using them as target practise. Admittedly, this could just be a reflection of what could be our cruelty to each other if we had anarchy.

There’s nothing in the world I love like a person who likes and is kind to animals, especially my cat. There are quite a few heroes in the zombpocalypse who still look after animals and share meager stores with them (non-zombiepocalypses too!). Human cruelty is seen in so many ways and with varying levels of severity. Some see horse jumping as cruelty. Dog fights are definitely cruel. I forget where it’s from, whether academic or fiction, but I remember a saying that our civilisations worth is based upon how we treat our smallest, our weakest.

But mum, he’s just undead!

“The next step in evolution of this highly specially subgenre will likely literalise the metaphor, presenting narratives in which the zombies tell their own stories, acting as true protagainsts and even heroes”

~ Kyle William Bishop, American Zombie Gothic

Why can’t we love the undead? So many friends push aside the idea of a zombie lover completely (you guys can’t judge me! You read about vampire sex!)

As discussed before, zombie romance is more romance. Sex never enters the equation. It’s about a relationship of souls (personalities), a coming together of two people.

But still zombies aren’t good enough! The rotting is either done away with completely or can be avoided with medication. The eating of people or brains is the same. So where is the problem? They are undead humans, as are vampires.

With rational thought, being capable of emotions, moral agency and free will, why are the undead any less suitable as mates? They can’t procreate and have different lifespans, and perhaps different nutritional needs, but so can human lovers. (Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy¬† Should Vampires be held Accountable for their Bloodthirsty Behaviour – John Draeger) Some undead choose to vegetarian and will not eat humans, just as some humans choice to not eat meat or meat byproducts.¬† (Z,V & P – The Blood connection between Vampires and Vegetarians by Wayne Yuen)

So, they might have a disease, parasite, genetic mutation or be cursed by magic. Why do we accept a Trill then (a humanoid that is capable of hosting an inner snakey-alien that shares its lives)? Or a Bajoran’s nose? They are different from humans physically too. (Can you tell I just rewatched Deep Space Nine?)

The lovely Kira Nerys from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Frankly, people stereotype zombies. And if you think its too far from cultural zombie lore, look at Day of the Dead. Bub could recognise death and exhibited signs of sorrow. Big Daddy in Land of the Dead looked after his zombie community. There was even a cute couple holding hands, strolling about the apocalyptic scene, who were zombies.

 

As far back as forever there are stories of love between humans and the unknown, gods , fairies, monsters etc. This evolution of the zombie is no lesser than those stories. At a time, werewolves might never have appealed or vampires not been sexy (but Alexander Skarsgard is always sexy!), it is time and literary evolution and imagination that allow us to perceive injustice to these creatures.

 

Don’t prejudice your daughter’s next boyfriend just because he’s a zombie. He’ll treat her right!

 

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Recommended Reading
Non-Fiction
American Zombie Gothic by Kyle William Bishop
Zombies, Vampires and Philosophy, edited by Richard Greene and K Silem Mohammad
Fiction
Including love with zombies, zombie like beings or humans infected with zombie plague
Dearly Departed by Lia Habel
Warm Bodies by Issaac Marion
Generation Dead (series) by Daniel Waters
The Forest of Hands and Teeth (series) by Carrie Ryan
Die for Me by Amy Plum
I Kissed a Zombie and I liked by by Adam Selzer
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (series) by Seth Graeme-Smith and Steve Hockensmith and Jane Austen (first book is Jane Austen’s with Seth’s additions, the prequel and sequel are by Steve)

ZomRom is misunderstood

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about zombie romance, particularly with the upcoming movie of the brilliant Warm Bodies. People read the synopsis and think they know all the depths of a zombie romance. But there are elements of classic zombie texts in zombie romance too, and compared to vampires, zombies make way better boyfriends!

 

Brilliant artist Matt Busch recreated some of the best movie posters into zombie posters with his Hollywood is Dead series. Click on the picture for his website.

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Vampires are undead too

If anyone mentions necrophilia with zombies only, remind them that vampires are corpses too. Sex is not an essential part of a romance story, and if you really want to think about it, how do vampires get aroused when they have no blood to … stiffen. These zombie romances are young adult books, not erotica (although I’m sure there is some out there!). They are about first kisses and dates to the movies, not horny and sex-obsessed (which most vampires seem to be – True Blood, I kissed a zombie and I liked it.)

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Zombies – the gentle lover

Vampires are dominating creatures in any text, they usually have super human strength, mind reading or controlling abilities and other powers that put them at a distinct advantage over humans. Vampires take advantage of this in many texts, or even use human-like manipulation and psychological warfare, constantly reminding the humans how useless they are, how small, how insignificant, how defenceless against the vampires.

Zombies in romance texts are much more gentle. They are not forceful, never mash their mouths against a woman against her will. They are seen are weak one on one, only powerful in hordes, and it could be this that makes them softer. They are content with basic touches, of hands, hair, hugs.

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Humans, best served warm

There’s a few ways that zombie romances get around the whole cannibalism thing. Some zombies just exist as corpses, not requiring any food. Some use medication to control their urges. Some just have self-control. Authors do come up with interesting ways to control their zombies.¬† There are ways of controlling vampires too, but as they are dominating creatures, they usually find ways around the control. In most texts, without food, the vampire will perish or enter a type of coma. Even in zombie-as-enemy texts, zombies don’t need food. They crave to consume, but can last a long time without food.

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Conciousness is essential

Zombie romance is not the only texts that include zombies with self awareness. Many zombie-as-enemy texts have self-conciousness as well, even in Romero’s work, so it doesn’t go against the lore of the zombie (if there is really any lore, Romero is the definition). Self-awareness is important in their journey. While vampires can choose to become vampires, zombies are always the victim.