A zombie (Haitian French: zombi, Haitian Creole: zonbi) is a fictional undead being created through the reanimation of a human corpse. Zombies are most commonly found in horror and fantasy genre works. The term comes from Haitian folklore, where a zombie is a dead body reanimated through various methods, most commonly magic. Modern depictions of the reanimation of the dead do not necessarily involve magic but often invoke science fictional methods such as carriers, radiation, mental diseases, vectors, pathogens, scientific accidents, etc.
The English word "zombie" is first recorded in 1819, in a history of Brazil by the poet Robert Southey, in the form of "zombi". The Oxford English Dictionary gives the origin of the word as West African, and compares it to the Kongo words nzambi (god) and zumbi (fetish). A Kimbundu to Portuguese dictionary from 1903 defines the related word nzumbi as soul, while a later Kimbundu-Portuguese dictionary defines it as being a "spirit that is supposed to wander the earth to torment the living."
One of the first books to expose Western culture to the concept of the voodoo zombie was The Magic Island by W. B. Seabrook in 1929. This is the sensationalized account of a narrator who encounters voodoo cults in Haiti and their resurrected thralls. Time claimed that the book "introduced 'zombi' into U.S. speech".
Zombies have a complex literary heritage, with antecedents ranging from Richard Matheson and H. P. Lovecraft to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein drawing on European folklore of the undead. In 1932, Victor Halperin directed White Zombie, a horror film starring Bela Lugosi. Here zombies are depicted as mindless, unthinking henchmen under the spell of an evil magician. Zombies, often still using this voodoo-inspired rationale, were initially uncommon in cinema, but their appearances continued sporadically through the 1930s to the 1960s, with notable films including I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).
A new version of the zombie, distinct from that described in Haitian folklore, has also emerged in popular culture during the latter half of the twentieth century. This "zombie" is taken largely from George A. Romero's seminal film Night of the Living Dead, which was in turn partly inspired by Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend. The word zombie is not used in Night of the Living Dead but was applied later by fans. The monsters in the film and its sequels, such as Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, as well as its many inspired works, such as Return of the Living Dead and Zombi 2, are usually hungry for human flesh, although Return of the Living Dead introduced the popular concept of zombies eating brains. The "zombie apocalypse" concept, in which the civilized world is brought low by a global zombie infestation, became a staple of modern popular art.
The English word "zombie" is first recorded in 1819, in a history of Brazil by the poet Robert Southey, in the form of "zombi", actually referring to the Afro-Brazilian rebel leader named Zumbi and the etymology of his name in "nzambi". The Oxford English Dictionary gives the origin of the word as West African and compares it to the Kongo words "nzambi" (god) and "zumbi" (fetish).
The concept has been popularly associated with the religion of voodoo, but it plays no part in that faith's formal practices.
How the creatures in contemporary zombie films came to be called "zombies" is not fully clear. The film Night of the Living Dead made no spoken reference to its undead antagonists as "zombies", describing them instead as "ghouls" (though ghouls, which derive from Arabic folklore, are demons, not undead). Although George Romero used the term "ghoul" in his original scripts, in later interviews he used the term "zombie". The word "zombie" is used exclusively by Romero in his 1978 script for his sequel Dawn of the Dead, including once in dialog. According to George Romero, film critics were influential in associating the term "zombie" to his creatures, and especially the French magazine "Cahiers du Cinéma". He eventually accepted this linkage, even though he remained convinced at the time that "zombies" corresponded to the undead slaves of Haitian voodoo as depicted in Bela Lugosi's White Zombie.
Zombies are featured widely in Haitian rural folklore as dead persons physically revived by the act of necromancy of a bokor, a sorcerer or witch. The bokor is opposed by the houngan or priest and the mambo or priestess of the formal voodoo religion. A zombie remains under the control of the bokor as a personal slave, having no will of its own.
The Haitian tradition also includes an incorporeal type of zombie, the "zombie astral", which is a part of the human soul. A bokor can capture a zombie astral to enhance his spiritual power. A zombie astral can also be sealed inside a specially decorated bottle by a bokor and sold to a client to bring luck, healing, or business success. It is believed that God eventually will reclaim the zombie's soul, so the zombie is a temporary spiritual entity.
It has been suggested that the two types of zombie reflect soul dualism, a belief of Haitian voodoo. Each type of legendary zombie is therefore missing one half of its soul (the flesh or the spirit).
The zombie belief has its roots in traditions brought to Haiti by enslaved Africans, and their subsequent experiences in the New World. It was thought that the voodoo deity Baron Samedi would gather them from their grave to bring them to a heavenly afterlife in Africa ("Guinea"), unless they had offended him in some way, in which case they would be forever a slave after death, as a zombie. A zombie could also be saved by feeding them salt. English professor Amy Wilentz has written that the modern concept of Zombies was strongly influenced by Haitian slavery. Slave drivers on the plantations, who were usually slaves themselves and sometimes Voodoo priests, used the fear of zombification to discourage slaves from committing suicide.
While most scholars have associated the Haitian zombie with African cultures, a connection has also been suggested to the island's indigenous Taíno people, partly based on an early account of native shamanist practices written by the Hieronymite monk Ramón Pané, a companion of Christopher Columbus.
The Haitian zombie phenomenon first attracted widespread international attention during the United States occupation of Haiti (1915–1934), when a number of case histories of purported "zombies" began to emerge. The first popular book covering the topics was William Seabrook's The Magic Island (1929). Seabrooke cited Article 246 of the Haitian criminal code which was passed in 1864, asserting that it was an official recognition of zombies. This passage was later used in promotional materials for the 1932 film White Zombie.
Also shall be qualified as attempted murder the employment which may be made by any person of substances which, without causing actual death, produce a lethargic coma more or less prolonged. If, after the administering of such substances, the person has been buried, the act shall be considered murder no matter what result follows.
In 1937, while researching folklore in Haiti, Zora Neale Hurston encountered the case of a woman who appeared in a village. A family claimed she was Felicia Felix-Mentor, a relative who had died and been buried in 1907 at the age of 29. The woman was examined by a doctor; X-rays indicated that she did not have a leg fracture that Felix-Mentor was known to have had. Hurston pursued rumors that affected persons were given a powerful psychoactive drug, but she was unable to locate individuals willing to offer much information. She wrote, "What is more, if science ever gets to the bottom of Vodou in Haiti and Africa, it will be found that some important medical secrets, still unknown to medical science, give it its power, rather than gestures of ceremony."
A Central or West African origin for the Haitian zombie has been postulated based on two etymologies in the Kongo language, nzambi ("god") and zumbi ("fetish"). This root helps form the names of several deities, including the Kongo creator deity Nzambi a Mpungu and the Louisiana serpent deity Li Grand Zombi (a local version of the Haitian Damballa), but it is in fact a generic word for a divine spirit. The common African conception of beings under these names is more similar to the incorporeal "zombie astral", as in the Kongo Nkisi spirits.
A related, but also often incorporeal, undead being is the jumbee of the English-speaking Caribbean, considered to be of the same etymology; in the French West Indies also, local "zombies" are recognized, but these are of a more general spirit nature.
The idea of physical zombie-like creatures is present in some South African cultures, where they are called xidachane in Sotho/Tsonga and maduxwane in Venda. In some communities, it is believed that a dead person can be zombified by a small child. It is said that the spell can be broken by a powerful enough sangoma. It is also believed in some areas of South Africa that witches can zombify a person by killing and possessing the victim's body in order to force it into slave labor. After rail lines were built to transport migrant workers, stories emerged about "witch trains". These trains appeared ordinary, but were staffed by zombified workers controlled by a witch. The trains would abduct a person boarding at night, and the person would then either be turned into a zombified worker, or beaten and thrown from the train a distance away from the original location.
Several decades after Hurston's work, Wade Davis, a Harvard ethnobotanist, presented a pharmacological case for zombies in a 1983 paper in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, and later in two popular books, The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985) and Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie (1988).
Davis traveled to Haiti in 1982 and, as a result of his investigations, claimed that a living person can be turned into a zombie by two special powders being introduced into the blood stream (usually via a wound). The first, coup de poudre (French: "powder strike"), includes tetrodotoxin (TTX), a powerful and frequently fatal neurotoxin found in the flesh of the pufferfish (order Tetraodontidae). The second powder consists of deliriant drugs such as datura. Together, these powders were said to induce a deathlike state in which the will of the victim would be entirely subjected to that of the bokor. Davis also popularized the story of Clairvius Narcisse, who was claimed to have succumbed to this practice. The most ethically questioned and least scientifically explored ingredient of the powders, is part of a recently buried child's brain.
The process described by Davis was an initial state of deathlike suspended animation, followed by re-awakening — typically after being buried — into a psychotic state. The psychosis induced by the drug and psychological trauma was hypothesised by Davis to reinforce culturally learned beliefs and to cause the individual to reconstruct their identity as that of a zombie, since they "knew" they were dead, and had no other role to play in the Haitian society. Societal reinforcement of the belief was hypothesized by Davis to confirm for the zombie individual the zombie state, and such individuals were known to hang around in graveyards, exhibiting attitudes of low affect.
Davis's claim has been criticized, particularly the suggestion that Haitian witch doctors can keep "zombies" in a state of pharmacologically induced trance for many years. Symptoms of TTX poisoning range from numbness and nausea to paralysis — particularly of the muscles of the diaphragm — unconsciousness, and death, but do not include a stiffened gait or a deathlike trance. According to psychologist Terence Hines, the scientific community dismisses tetrodotoxin as the cause of this state, and Davis' assessment of the nature of the reports of Haitian zombies is viewed as overly credulous.
Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing highlighted the link between social and cultural expectations and compulsion, in the context of schizophrenia and other mental illness, suggesting that schizogenesis may account for some of the psychological aspects of zombification. Particularly, this suggests cases where schizophrenia manifests a state of catatonia.
Roland Littlewood, professor of anthropology and psychiatry, published a study supporting a social explanation of the zombie phenomenon in the medical journal The Lancet in 1997. The social explanation sees observed cases of people identified as zombies as a culture-bound syndrome, with a particular cultural form of adoption practiced in Haiti that unites the homeless and mentally ill with grieving families who see them as their "returned" lost loved ones, as Littlewood summarizes his findings in an article in Times Higher Education:
I came to the conclusion that although it is unlikely that there is a single explanation for all cases where zombies are recognised by locals in Haiti, the mistaken identification of a wandering mentally ill stranger by bereaved relatives is the most likely explanation in many cases. People with a chronic schizophrenic illness, brain damage or learning disability are not uncommon in rural Haiti, and they would be particularly likely to be identified as zombies.
If you do not open the gate for me to come in,
I shall smash the door and shatter the bolt,
I shall smash the doorpost and overturn the doors,
I shall raise up the dead and they shall eat the living:
And the dead shall outnumber the living!
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, while not a zombie novel in particular, prefigures many 20th-century ideas about zombies in that the resurrection of the dead is portrayed as a scientific process rather than a mystical one, and that the resurrected dead are degraded and more violent than their living selves. Frankenstein, published in 1818, has its roots in European folklore, whose tales of vengeful dead also informed the evolution of the modern conception of the vampire. Later notable 19th-century stories about the avenging undead included Ambrose Bierce's "The Death of Halpin Frayser", and various Gothic Romanticism tales by Edgar Allan Poe. Though their works could not be properly considered zombie fiction, the supernatural tales of Bierce and Poe would prove influential on later writers such as H. P. Lovecraft, by Lovecraft's own admission.
In the 1920s and early 1930s, the American horror author H. P. Lovecraft wrote several novellae that explored the undead theme. "Cool Air", "In the Vault", and "The Outsider" all deal with the undead, but Lovecraft's Herbert West–Reanimator (1921) "helped define zombies in popular culture". This series of short stories featured Herbert West, a mad scientist who attempts to revive human corpses with mixed results. Notably, the resurrected dead are uncontrollable, mostly mute, primitive and extremely violent; though they are not referred to as zombies, their portrayal was prescient, anticipating the modern conception of zombies by several decades. Edgar Rice Burroughs similarly depicted animated corpses in the second book of his Venus series, again without ever using the terms "zombie" or "undead".
Avenging zombies would feature prominently in the early 1950s EC Comics, which George A. Romero would later claim as an influence. The comics, including Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror and Weird Science, featured avenging undead in the Gothic tradition quite regularly, including adaptations of Lovecraft's stories, which included "In the Vault", "Cool Air" and Herbert West–Reanimator.
Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend, although classified as a vampire story would nonetheless have definitive impact on the zombie genre by way of George A. Romero. The novel and its 1964 film adaptation, The Last Man on Earth, which concern a lone human survivor waging war against a world of vampires, would by Romero's own admission greatly influence his 1968 low-budget film Night of the Living Dead; a work that would prove to be more influential on the concept of zombies than any literary or cinematic work before it.
Films featuring zombies have been a part of cinema since the 1930s, with White Zombie (directed by Victor Halperin in 1932) being one of the earliest examples. With George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), the zombie trope began to be increasingly linked to consumerism and consumer culture. Today, zombie films are released with such regularity (at least 55 titles were released in 2014 alone) that they can be viewed as a separate subgenre of Horror film.
Voodoo-related zombie themes have also appeared in espionage or adventure themed works outside the horror genre. For example, the original "Jonny Quest" series (1964) and the James Bond novel and movie Live and Let Die both feature Caribbean villains who falsely claim the voodoo power of zombification in order to keep others in fear of them.
|'Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction' character|
|First appearance||Night of the Living Dead, 1968|
|Created by||George Romero|
|Type||Undead (influenced by Haitian Zombie), Vampire, Ghoul|
The modern conception of the zombie owes itself almost entirely to George A. Romero's 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. In his films, Romero "bred the zombie with the vampire, and what he got was the hybrid vigour of a ghoulish plague monster". This entailed an apocalyptic vision of monsters that have come to be known as Romero zombies.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times chided theater owners and parents who allowed children access to the film. "I don't think the younger kids really knew what hit them," complained Ebert. "They were used to going to movies, sure, and they'd seen some horror movies before, sure, but this was something else." According to Ebert, the film affected the audience immediately:
"The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying."
Romero's reinvention of zombies is notable in terms of its thematics; he used zombies not just for their own sake, but as a vehicle "to criticize real-world social ills—such as government ineptitude, bioengineering, slavery, greed and exploitation—while indulging our post-apocalyptic fantasies". Night was the first of six films in Romero's Living Dead series. Its first sequel, Dawn of the Dead, was released in 1978.
The 1981 film Hell of the Living Dead referenced a mutagenic gas as a source of zombie contagion: an idea also used in Dan O'Bannon's 1985 film Return of the Living Dead. Return of the Living Dead featured zombies that hungered specifically for brains.
The mid-1980s produced few zombie films of note. Perhaps the most notable entry, The Evil Dead series, while highly influential are not technically zombie films but films about demonic possession, despite the presence of the undead. 1985's Re-Animator, loosely based on the Lovecraft story, stood out in the genre, achieving nearly unanimous critical acclaim, and becoming a modest success, nearly outstripping Romero's Day of the Dead for box office returns.
After the mid-1980s, the subgenre was mostly relegated to the underground. Notable entries include director Peter Jackson's ultra-gory film Braindead (1992) (released as Dead Alive in the U.S.), Bob Balaban's comic 1993 film My Boyfriend's Back where a self-aware high school boy returns to profess his love for a girl and his love for human flesh, and Michele Soavi's Dellamorte Dellamore (1994) (released as Cemetery Man in the U.S.). Several years later, zombies experienced a renaissance in low-budget Asian cinema, with a sudden spate of dissimilar entries including Bio Zombie (1998), Wild Zero (1999), Junk (1999), Versus (2000) and Stacy (2001).
There are not many Japanese films related to what may be considered in the West as a zombie film. Early films such as The Discarnates features little gore and no cannibalism but is about the dead returning to life looking for love rather than a story of apocalyptic destruction. The zombie themed video game Resident Evil (1996) was released to sales of 24 million copies worldwide. Most Japanese zombie films emerged in the wake of Resident Evil, such as Versus, Wild Zero, Junk all from 2000. The zombies film released after Resident Evil behave similarly to the Zombie films of the 1970s.
The turn of the millennium coincided with a decade of box-office successes in which the zombie subgenre experienced a resurgence: the Resident Evil movies (2002, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2016), the British films 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later (2002, 2007), the Dawn of the Dead remake (2004) and the comedies Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Dance of the Dead (2008). The new interest allowed Romero to create the fourth entry in his zombie series: Land of the Dead, released in the summer of 2005. Romero returned to the series with the films Diary of the Dead (2008) and Survival of the Dead (2010). Generally, the zombies in these shows are the slow, lumbering and unintelligent kind first made popular in Night of the Living Dead. Motion pictures created within the 2000s, however, like the Dawn of the Dead remake, and House of the Dead, have featured zombies that are more agile, vicious, intelligent, and stronger than the traditional zombie. An alternate take on the zombie was 2013's film (and book) Warm Bodies, where the zombie has consciousness and some intelligence.
In 2013, the AMC series The Walking Dead had the highest audience ratings in the United States for any show on broadcast or cable with an average of 5.6 million viewers in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic.
Intimately tied to the concept of the modern zombie is the "zombie apocalypse"; the breakdown of society as a result of an initial zombie outbreak that spreads. This archetype has emerged as a prolific subgenre of apocalyptic fiction and has been portrayed in many zombie-related media after Night of the Living Dead. In a zombie apocalypse, a widespread (usually global) rise of zombies hostile to human life engages in a general assault on civilization. Victims of zombies may become zombies themselves. This causes the outbreak to become an exponentially growing crisis: the spreading phenomenon swamps normal military and law enforcement organizations, leading to the panicked collapse of civilized society until only isolated pockets of survivors remain, scavenging for food and supplies in a world reduced to a pre-industrial hostile wilderness. Possible causes for zombie behavior in a modern population can be attributed to viruses, bacteria or other phenomena that reduce the mental capacity of humans causing them to behave in a very primitive and destructive fashion.
The usual subtext of the zombie apocalypse is that civilization is inherently vulnerable to the unexpected, and that most individuals if desperate enough cannot be relied on to comply with the author's ethos. The narrative of a zombie apocalypse carries strong connections to the turbulent social landscape of the United States in the 1960s, when Night of the Living Dead provided an indirect commentary on the dangers of conformity, a theme also explored in the novel The Body Snatchers (1954) and associated film Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Many also feel that zombies allow people to deal with their own anxieties about the end of the world. One scholar concluded that "more than any other monster, zombies are fully and literally apocalyptic ... they signal the end of the world as we have known it." While zombie apocalypse scenarios are secular, they follow a religious pattern based on Christian ideas of an end-times war and messiah.
Due to a large number of thematic films and video games, the idea of a zombie apocalypse has entered the mainstream, and many fans have begun making efforts to prepare for the hypothetical future zombie apocalypse. Such efforts include creating weapons and selling educational material informing people how to survive a zombie outbreak; while most of these are tongue-in-cheek and do not represent an authentic belief that a zombie apocalypse in the near future is likely, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have used the fictional scenario to demonstrate survival and emergency-preparedness techniques that may be useful in a "real-world" setting.
The stories usually follow a single group of survivors, caught up in the sudden rush of the crisis. The narrative generally progresses from the onset of the zombie plague, then initial attempts to seek the aid of authorities, the failure of those authorities, through to the sudden catastrophic collapse of all large-scale organization and the characters' subsequent attempts to survive on their own. Such stories are often squarely focused on the way their characters react to such an extreme catastrophe, and how their personalities are changed by the stress, often acting on more primal motivations (fear, self-preservation) than they would display in normal life.
There has been a growth in the number of zombie manga in the last decade, and in a list of "10 Great Zombie Manga", Anime News Network's Jason Thompson placed I Am a Hero at number 1, considering it "probably the greatest zombie manga ever". In second place was Living Corpse and in third, Biomega, which he called "the greatest science-fiction virus zombie manga ever".
Artist Jillian McDonald has made several works of video art involving zombies, and exhibited them in her 2006 show, "Horror Make-Up," which debuted on 8 September 2006 at Art Moving Projects, a gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Artist Karim Charredib has dedicated his work to the zombie figure. In 2007, he made a video installation at villa Savoye called "Them !!!" where zombies walked in the villa like tourists.
Zombies are a popular theme for video games, particularly of, but not limited to, the stealth, survival horror, first-person shooter and role-playing game genres. Important horror fiction media franchises in this area include Resident Evil, Dead Rising, The House of the Dead, Dead Island, Left 4 Dead, Dying Light, State of Decay, The Last of Us and the Zombies game modes from Call of Duty title series.
PopCap Games' Plants vs. Zombies, a humorous tower defense game, was an indie hit in 2009, featuring in several best-of lists at the end of that year. The massively multiplayer online role-playing game Urban Dead, a free grid-based browser game where zombies and survivors fight for control of a ruined city, is one of the most popular games of its type.
DayZ, a zombie-based survival horror mod for ArmA 2, was responsible for over 300,000 unit sales of its parent game within two months of its release. Over a year later, the developers of the mod created a standalone version of the same game, which currently is in early-access on Steam, and so far it has sold 3 million copies since its release in December 2013
Romero would later opine that he believes that much of the 21st century obsessions with Zombies can be traced more towards video games than films, Noting that it was not until the 2009 film Zombieland that a Zombie film was able to grose more the 100 million.
Outside of video games, zombies frequently appear in trading card games, such as Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game (which even has a Zombie-Type for its "monsters"), as well as in role-playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons, tabletop games such as Zombies!!! and Dead of Winter: A Cross Roads Game, and tabletop wargames, such as Warhammer Fantasy and 40K. The game Humans vs. Zombies is a zombie-themed live-action game played on college campuses.
Writing for Scientific American, Kyle Hill praised the 2013 game The Last of Us for the game's plausibility, which based its zombie enemies on a fictional strain of the Cordyceps fungus, which has real-world parasitic properties. Despite plausibility, to date there have been no documented cases of humans infected by Cordyceps.
On 18 May 2011, the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a graphic novel, Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse providing tips to survive a zombie invasion as a "fun new way of teaching the importance of emergency preparedness". The CDC goes on to summarize cultural references to a zombie apocalypse. It uses these to underscore the value of laying in water, food, medical supplies, and other necessities in preparation for any and all potential disasters, be they hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, or hordes of zombies.
On 17 October 2011, The Weather Channel in the United States published an article, "How To Weather the Zombie Apocalypse", that included a fictional interview with a Director of Research at the CDD, the "Center for Disease Development". Questions answered include "How does the temperature affect zombies' abilities? Do they run faster in warmer temperatures? Do they freeze if it gets too cold?"
Michael Jackson's music video Thriller (1983), in which he dances with a troop of zombies, has been preserved as a cultural treasure by the Library of Congress' National Film Registry. Many pop culture media have paid tribute to this video, such as a gathering of 14,000 university students dressed as zombies in Mexico City, and 1500 prisoners in orange jumpsuits recreating the zombie dance in a viral video .
The Brooklyn hip hop trio Flatbush Zombies incorporate many tropes from zombie fiction and play on the theme of a zombie apocalypse in their music. They portray themselves as "living dead", describing their use of psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin mushrooms as having caused them to experience ego death and rebirth.
In the 1990s, zombie fiction emerged as a distinct literary subgenre, with the publication of Book of the Dead (1990) and its follow-up Still Dead: Book of the Dead 2 (1992), both edited by horror authors John Skipp and Craig Spector. Featuring Romero-inspired stories from the likes of Stephen King, the Book of the Dead compilations are regarded as influential in the horror genre and perhaps the first true "zombie literature". Horror novelist Stephen King has written about zombies including his short story "Home Delivery" (1990) and his novel Cell (2006) concerning a struggling young artist on a trek from Boston to Maine in hopes of saving his family from a possible worldwide outbreak of zombie-like maniacs.
Max Brooks's novel World War Z (2006) became a New York Times bestseller. Brooks had previously authored The Zombie Survival Guide (2003), a zombie-themed parody of pop-fiction survival guides published in 2003. Brooks has said that zombies are so popular because "Other monsters may threaten individual humans, but the living dead threaten the entire human race.... Zombies are slate wipers." Seth Grahame-Smith's mashup novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) combines the full text of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813) with a story about a zombie epidemic within the novel's British Regency period setting. In 2009, Katy Hershbereger of St. Martin's Press stated "In the world of traditional horror, nothing is more popular right now than zombies.... The living dead are here to stay."
The zombie also appears as a metaphor in protest songs, symbolizing mindless adherence to authority, particularly in law enforcement and the armed forces. Well-known examples include Fela Kuti's 1976 album Zombie, and The Cranberries' 1994 single "Zombie".
A variation of the zombie walk is the zombie run. Here participants do a 5k run wearing a belt with several flag "lives". If the chasing zombies capture all of the flags the runner becomes "infected". If he or she reaches the finish line—which may involve wide detours—ahead of the zombies the participant is a "survivor". In either case an appropriate participation medal is awarded.
Researchers have used theoretical zombie infections to test epidemiology modeling. One study found that all humans end up turned or dead. This is because the main epidemiological risk of zombies, besides the difficulties of neutralizing them, is that their population just keeps increasing; generations of humans merely "surviving" still have a tendency to feed zombie populations, resulting in gross outnumbering. The researchers explain that their methods of modelling may be applicable to the spread of political views or diseases with dormant infection.
Adam Chodorow of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University investigated the estate and income tax implications of a zombie apocalypse under United States federal and state tax codes. Neuroscientists Bradley Voytek and Timothy Verstynen have built a side career in extrapolating how ideas in neuroscience would theoretically apply to zombie brains. Their work has been featured in Forbes, New York Magazine, and other publications.