The Rock at Boston College is celebrating the spookiest day of the year in a big way by generating new content every day in our first-ever “HalloWeek”. The Rock is proud to present this installment in our holiday special.
“Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.” – Isaiah 26:19-20
There’s no denying it; zombies have been one of pop culture’s biggest stars these past five years. Whether at the box office or bookshelves, on television or in horror sagas, zombie stories will not die out. This theme is more present now than ever, but the tales of the undead have been around for an abnormally long period of time.
Recently, accounts of zombies have been produced at a rapid-fire rate. The initial success of zombie “godfather” George Romero’s first films about the undead (Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead) in the 60’s and 70’s has allowed Romero to continue producing zombie-themed movies, including 2010’s “The Crazies”.
The past five years have also seen the wild success of AMC’s The Walking Dead, a TV show that draws up to four times as many viewers than the network’s wildly popular series Mad Men did. A new season of The Walking Dead is anticipated with more enthusiasm than many top-grossing movies. It has become one of the series that defines the current era of high-budget, high-drama, highly entertaining TV shows.
On the big screen, World War Z and Zombieland have been incredible successes, each totaling over $100 million in box office earnings. Zombieland celebrated the fifth anniversary of its release earlier this month, and WWZ was transformed from a book to a movie only slightly over a year ago. WWZ made over half a billion in box office totals, and has a sequel in the works.
Even zombie love story Warm Bodies, which premiered in 2013, was a massive success. It made over $115 million in box office sales, and it was a zom-com (zombie comedy)! The genre is simply unstoppable, and a lot of people are wondering why. If we take a look into the history of zombie stories though, it’s evident that the popularity of tales of the undead isn’t a new trend.
The popular zombie stories of the modern day have a deep-rooted history. The first occurrence of zombies in popular culture was, literally, engraved in stone over 5000 years ago. That’s right, when civilization was still in diapers, tales of zombies were being told and written down.
“The Epic of Gilgamesh”, history’s first epic poem, references the existence of zombies. The goddess Ishtar mutters these lines when talking about her descent to the underworld: “I will bring up the dead to eat the living. And the dead will outnumber the living.”
These lines are so iconic to the birth of zombie stories that George Romero is believed to have reused them in Night of the Living Dead by writing “When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth.”
“The Epic of Gilgamesh” isn’t the only ancient text that tells tales of zombies. The Bible, a work that some people take literally, mentions zombies on over ten separate occasions. From the Old Testament, to the Gospel of Matthew and everything in between, the undead are abundant in the Bible. A famous Arabian storybook known as “One Thousand and One Nights”, written around the year 800, also tells stories of zombies and undead ghouls that terrorize humanity.
Human interest in tales of the undead has been around since the dawn of civilization. “The Epic of Gilgamesh”, both testaments of The Bible, and “One Thousand and One Nights” were all written in the BC era, or within the first 1000 years of the current age. It is no mystery as to why the popularity of zombie stories has continued year after year. Zombies, are monsters that mankind has been talking about for millennia.
Haitian voodoo tales from the 1800’s were the major influence on the modern zombie. According to folklore, voodoo priests known, known as bokors, would summon the dead through their magical powers, and control them with a combination of specific combination of chemicals to put the undead into a trance. This slow-paced trance and seeming lack of awareness that we associate with zombies, arises from the tales of Haitian zombies and their masters.
Claims of zombies being real, thanks to Haitian voodoo cults, have been present in recent times, which has led some to think that the influence of some mind-control substances are used by these bokors. Controversy surrounded scientist West Davis when he said a possible mixture of chemicals could produce this result. Many skeptics and fellow scientists do not believe him, nor the validity of his “research”.
Zombie popularity is at an all time high, with new stories about the lifeless creatures terrorizing innocent humans beings coming out year after year. When stories are past down generation after generation, they remain popular. The stories of zombies have roots in generations from five millenniums ago, so it is no surprise that zombie stories won’t die out.
Zombies remain a topic that fascinates mankind. What’s particularly interesting about the rich history of zombie folklore though, is that civilizations from all time frames and areas of the world have mentioned them at times. This deep and varied history is quite uncommon, and it’s a testament to the undying characteristic of the zombie.