Some Thoughts on Zombies


In the very early days of Lake Whimsy, I was often asked if there would be zombies. I disliked the question because it seemed to be loaded with an awareness that zombies in popular culture were approaching their sell-by date; the question implied that if I didn’t hurry along to milk that particular cash cow for every last drop of rancid milk in its decomposing udder, I’d be left sucking commercial failure from the dry teat of a post-apocalyptic, worse yet, post-fashionable, bovine carcass.

I was in no hurry to speed down that path for two reasons: 1) While I would be delighted to find my audience, or, better, have my audience find me, I’m not particularly interested in chasing the siren song of commercial success, and 2) I don’t care much for these modern infectious, flesh eating zombies of I Am Legend or Night of the Living Dead nattering on about eating brains and chasing after left behind humans.

In my view, the only real zombies are dead people raised by voodoo and used to seek revenge or to work as slaves on a sugar or coffee plantation. Those are the real zombies – the ones that first became popular with the film, White Zombie (1932) and, later, the brilliant Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur classic, I Walked with a Zombie (1943). Those are those zombies that Wade Davis chose to study in his book, The Serpent and the Rainbow, which was made into a film by Wes Craven in 1988.

Voodoo zombies are the zombies that captured my imagination.

While the modern zombie has a lot to say about our current cultural fears of contagion and a xenophobic fear of outsiders, the classic zombies brought about by voodoo mischief speak to loss of self, loss of identity, and loss of control.

And voodoo zombies will always win. Why? Because they don’t care. They’re unstoppable. They’re corpses animated by the power of voodoo gods. They can’t be reasoned with. They can’t be deterred. They can’t be distracted. They will always stay on task. They’re not animals looking for a food source – they are resolution made manifest.

Yet, I always wondered what would happen to these zombies once they had fulfilled their original purpose. Such a zombie is Zombie Dennis. The task for which he was originally raised has long since been completed and forgotten. He now lives in the swamps of Lake Whimsy.

In the near future, I’ll discuss the specific roots of Zombie Dennis.

Until then, don’t trust any zombie looking for brains.