I’ve had some fun questions from readers about Theo… where the idea came from and how I got the zombie thing under my skin. I’m a mystery writer at heart, really, so the crime fiction angle comes from my science roots and years of snitching my father’s true crime books. My love of zombies is something else, and relaying this requires a look at religion, at pop culture, and my very favorite of all subjects to study… DEVIANCE.
First and foremost, I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of zombies. I’m sure this comes from studying religions and the social implications of religion in general. It’s incredible to me that someone can be so immersed in a religious belief that the power of suggestion alone is enough to make them believe another human being has control of them. I’m planning another blog post on the Haitian zombie phenomena so I won’t go into detail about it, but to carry that kind of faith is both amazing and terrifying.
I took a class in college called “Deviance and Social Control.” We studied some subversive cultures like motorcycle gangs and religious cults, and the differences in how one defines deviance both within and without these subcultures. Fascinating stuff. In my own teaching module on deviance in popular fiction, I offer up the idea that in order to truly build a society in fiction, a writer has to study what their society considers deviant. When I took a look at the Haitian voodoo model, the zombie myth really stands out as deviant.
So within this subculture (Haitian, and to some extent, Creole, voodoo) we have another smaller section of believers who include zombies, both the existence of and the act of transforming others into slaves. Western culture considers voodoo to be deviant (this definition of deviant does not necessarily mean wrong, but rather simply violating agreed-upon social norms), and the zombie is even a step further. So combine my love of religious study and deviance and BAM! There’s the zombie.
Popular culture has long been fascinated with zombies, and the first well-known Western example of this is obviously in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. But there are references to flesh-eating dead as far back as in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Our fascination with zombies in one form or another has been around for centuries.
And while deviance can take many, many forms, is there really anything more deviant than the dead rising to consume the living? NO FREAKING WAY.
I love what pop culture has done with the zombie recently, with a few notable exceptions. I love The Walking Dead, both the TV show and the graphic novel. I love Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. I love Joe McKinney’s Dead City and Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin. Wonderful stories with tension and danger. But I also love the Haitian zombie, the one under someone else’s control, used as a slave. Theo was born from my love of the zombies of Voudon. Theo’s under the strict control of societal expectations. He wants to be deviant, all the zombies in Habeas Corpse do, but society controls them as surely as the voudon master controls her minions.