The Storyteller Reports: A Zombie Anthology and A Greek Legend

RANT OF THE WEEK: Monstrous Possibilities

There I was, Googling for fiction news, when I saw it. Casey Burchby wrote for Science Fiction Weekly about an 800+ page story collection… all about zombies.

Being a post-modern undergraduate student, I simply had to investigate. So I did. Turns out the guys behind this giant book seized short stories from all over the place, with an eye towards showing us how the zombie myth originated. You might know that it got started with voodoo in the Caribbean. What you might not know is that Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft have written stories about them.

That kept my interest. Then I lit upon an interview with the anthology’s editor, Otto Penzler. He had some interesting things to say about the zombie genre.

“In the very modern era, they are mainly depicted as brain-eating, rotted corpses with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. I find that pretty narrow, though I lot of good stories have been written in this tightly constructed definition. Although they weren’t called zombies until much later, there have been creepy characters risen from the dead in literature for a very long time. The Victorians wrote some great stuff there, much as they did about vampires and ghosts, and writers for the pulps could really let it go when they brought zombies into their stories in the 1920 and ’30s.”

Casey Burchy, in his post for SF Weekly, goes into more detail with cultural significance for the Haitian people. It’s more than worth your time.

Anyway, after reading all of this, I furrowed my brow and thought of Zombieland. I laughed as hard as anyone else when I saw it. It was about then that I decided that my generation is in the middle of a zombie craze. I have several college friends with zombie posters and who tell zombie jokes. We talk all the time about where we’ll hide and what weapons we’ll use if a zombie apocalypse happens.

It gets repetitive after a while. This is turn makes me wonder what there is left to do with zombies themselves. We’ve looked at them as monsters, we’ve looked at them as drones, and we’ve looked at the people who have suffered at their hands. What serious themes can we explore that 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead haven’t covered already?

I haven’t read that anthology of Penzler’s, but I want to bring up one thing: what about the creators of those zombies? Whether it’s a man wo brings them to live to be his slaves, or a sicentist who accidentally turns the human race in flesh-eating monsters, I haven’t seen anything that describes their side of the story. How might they feel about what they’ve done? Do they try to rectify it? Do they seek power? How would their loved ones respond to them?

If you know about anything that takes that angle, let me know. Otherwise, I have a short story to write.

STORYTELLER OF THE WEEK

Get your time machine. Oh, I’m sorry. You don’t have one. Okay… stare at this Norton literature anthology.

There you go. Keep staring… and staring… and staring…

Boom. You’re back in ancient Greece. Say hello to our storyteller of the week: world-famous playwright Aeschylus!

This guy was the Martin Scorcese of his day, and that’s an understatement. In his day, there was a theater competition at an annual festival for Dionysus. He won over ten times with his plays. Moreover, he practicaly invented Greek drama. He was the first guy to put two characters on stage. Before that point, Greek plays only depicted religious events. With two characters, Aeschylus could create conflict, and tension.

And after two mellenia, he still reigns as one of the champions of difficult conflicts. Take The Oresteia. It’s a trilogy of plays about murder in a royal Greek family. Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter, his wife Clytemnestra cheats on him and murders him… and then their son Orestes kills Clytemnestra.

“Watch out,” warns Clytemnestra as he’s about to do it, “The hounds of a mother’s curse will hunt you down.”

“But how to escape a father’s if I fail?” asks Orestes.

Poor Orestes. What a predicament! Who are you supposed to avenge? It gets even worse when you consider what Clytemnestra meant by curses. In this play, when you kill your mommy, you get chased by Furies: vengeful demons of the underworld. If you let your father be murdered, and refuse to avenge him, then you still get chased by Furies.

See why this guy is a genius? I’m nowhere near his level, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. My literature class buzzed for a week trying to get inside this guy’s head. I don’t think anybody ever will. A storyteller’s salute to the playwright who has haunted humanity through the centuries!

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2 thoughts on “The Storyteller Reports: A Zombie Anthology and A Greek Legend

  1. Interesting about the zombies. I try to explore some unique sides of them in The Lion, The Leprechaun, and The Lonely Girl, but your post got me thinking even more.

    And good job, Aeschylus. Thanks for sharing about him. Made me think about how to increase conflict and tension in my work.

    • I’m glad I’ve been of help. I’m especially glad to hear you’re looking to innovate with your stories. I REALLY can’t wait to read The Lion, The Leprechaun, and The Lonely Girl. That underworld story you told me about on Twitter might have me even more intrigued. Keep me posted.

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