April 4, 2009

REVIEW: Zombies: A Field Guide to the Walking Dead


Zombies: A Field Guide to the Walking Dead
Author: Dr. Bob Curran
Career Press: 2009
RATING: 3.5 / 5 zedheads

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Although the title of Dr. Bob Curran's Zombies: A Field Guide to the Walking Dead seems to suggest readers will get a Zombie Survival Guide-style handbook about Romero-esque zombies, this is not quite true. In actuality, the book is a survey of international folklore, mythology, and belief in the walking corpse or resurrected dead. Zombies of the Hatian or pop-culture variety occupy only a small section of this book. However, Zombies is more than worth your time and money if you look past the misleading title to see the great book within.

Dr. Bob Curran is a historian and psychologist who has written numerous books about reoccurring mythological figures such as the vampire and the green man of folklore.

Given Curran's interest and other books, something tells me this book's title is the invention of the publisher trying to cash in on the pop culture zombie trend. A number of questionable movies and books are misleadingly marketed to zombie fans despite any real zombie content (see: The Ghouls). In this case, however, the book makes up for its misleading title with an intriguing glance at the significance of the walking corpse in many cultural beliefs. From the mythology of ancient Greece, to the belief in Viking draugrs, to the tradition of ancestor worship and dead festivals in Mezo-America, Zombies shows us the enduring fascination and fear with the returning cadavar that, in no small part, has fueled the popularity of zombies in the public consciousness.

More on Zombies: A Field Guide to the Walking Dead after the jump.

Zombies focuses on figures of the dead that are either humans or gods who pass through the afterlife back into life or humans that are dead bodies or corpses that return to a resurrected corporeal life. No ghosts or vampires in this book. Some of these "zombie" figures resemble the popular violent and cannibalistic zombies of modern representation. Most of the walking dead incarnation, such as the ghuul of ancient Arab culture or Strigoria (shroudeaters) of Eastern Europe, are quite different from the movie zombies of the North American tradition.

The most fascinating thing about Zombies is how Curran charts the evolution of a myth through a culture as it changes over time. If you approach Christianity from a mythological perspective, the emphasis on Jesus's miracles of resurrection can be traced back through Hebrew belief, Ugartic, Babylonian, and Egyptian tradition of resurrections. Also, my favorite chapters in Zombies concerns how the industry of grave robbing and public hangings in Europe helped propel myths and belief in the walking dead.

Written in clear accessible prose, Zombies is a quick but enlightening read regarding the tradition of the walking dead. More information about non-European traditions could have expanded the book's scope, however. Also, Zombie horror fans may be disappointed in the lack of Romero-inspired zombie information, especially if they bought this book based on the misleading title. Despite these missteps, Zombies: A Field Guide to the Walking Dead is actually worth a look for any fans of zombies and mythology / folklore.