I have never understood the allure of eternal life. The concept leaves me entirely cold. I distinctly remember the day this came to be—I must have been about ten years old. I was in my room, paging through my Bible (Precious Moments-themed – adorable, right?), looking for the gory stories, when I got sucked into a few verses talking about heaven and the afterlife.
For the first time, my childish brain grasped the concept of eternity. How it truly meant forever. Unending. Never ceasing. Never stopping.
And I was absolutely terrified.
The idea of an eternal stint in heaven, even in my childish idea of heaven (which naturally involved video games and ice cream) was horrific enough to make my eyes sting with tears. It felt suffocating, claustrophobic—like a trap. That’s the perfect word. The idea made me feel trapped, like an animal in a cage. To be in one place forever, to have the chance to experience everything and then to inevitably grow bored of everything—how could that be paradise? How could anyone want it? Had people truly died and killed in pursuit of it? Been comforted by the idea of it? I didn’t feel comforted at all—I felt cursed!
I just didn’t understand. I still don’t.
Death, to me, is not a thing to be feared. It’s natural. Unavoidable. A beautiful constant. Death is the thing that spurs us to live and remember. Death lets us pursue greatness and lends meaning to lives that are not great. Death places us somewhere on the map of Time, and allows us to relate to people of all backgrounds, cultures, and time periods. It is not evil. It just is.
As a child, I think I instinctively knew that immortality would rob me—really, humanity—of the meaning and drive necessary to make sense of my place in the universe. It would leave me existentially adrift. This is why I am not—with certain exceptions—fond of vampires. When it comes to corpse-based monsters, I side with zombies. And my take on the concept of immortality-vs.-oblivion just one of the many “weird” ways in which I tend to envision them, one of the many topics I like using them to tackle.
What I like about the recent crop of zombie fiction is that, while the snappy-and-forward-motivated zombies are certainly represented (and I happily make use of this trope, myself), for the most part zombies are being used to explore what it means to be alive. No other monster can do this as easily or as well, because zombies are us—every bit as dead as we’ll one day be, and every bit as human. Now, these are dark topics to deal with, sad, scary—but also beautiful. And necessary. For all the violence represented in the media, modern Western society has distanced itself from the true mechanics of death, and I’m not the first person to find this disturbing and unhealthy. We fear death more than ever because it is kept from us—secluded in sterile funeral parlors, hidden behind closed doors in hospitals.
But when we pick up a zombie book—well. There it is. And I think this is one clue as to their popularity. Vampires can’t teach us how to die, because physical immortality isn’t real (thank goodness); werewolves with superpowers can’t teach us how to be better people, because we’re pathetic and hairless and certainly not capable of scaling small buildings with our bare paws.
But zombies permit us to explore what life means by literally talking to the dead. In zombie fiction, death is immediate and obvious. Decaying flesh abounds, organs squish, limbs break down. Many “new” zombies deal with this like a living person might deal with a chronic illness. However, like the living, zombies are diverse; for every stoic hero, content to shamble forward until he breaks down, there’s a zombie who reacts to her lot with fear, or uncertainty, or anger. Faced with the same future we all face, we can watch zombies and identify with them, their emotions, their motivations and decisions. No other monster can offer that.
The “earthiness” of zombies, their physicality, the fact that they are identified by their own horribly human flesh is the one thing I really love about them. When I write a zombie character, I’m forced to ground myself in their existence, their basic humanity. I’m forced to consider what it would be like to wake up every morning and glimpse my own failing form in the mirror, and what it would take to get me to carry on regardless. Internal strength? Support from friends? A goal? A desire? What would fuel me? What would keep me moving? What could possibly stop me?
Zombies make for fascinating characters because they are people who have both nothing and everything to lose. Everything is bright and fresh and fleeting—so terribly fleeting. The love they find must end; the people they meet must go; the world around them will show them four more summers, three more autumns, and then no more. Unlike a jaded immortal, or even a living man with fifty years ahead of him, they must consciously treasure every second, every smell, every sight, before their bodies decay, their noses drop off, and their eyes fizzle out.
And that’s how I prefer to live my non-zombified life, personally. The dead remind me to try and do that. Better one beautiful year than a hundred that bleed into one another. Better one human lifetime than a bland eternity.
I write zombies because they are immediate, passionate, stubborn creatures. They are human. And I love them for it.
Lia Habel was born into a time of unparalleled ugliness – it was called ‘the Eighties’. It was horrible – but yet it brought Lia the video for Thriller by Michael Jackson, and a burning interest in zombies followed. A self-described ‘zombie anthropologist’, Lia is attempting to watch every zombie movie ever made. She lives in Jamestown, NY with her three cats, Ebeneezer, ZZ and Bloody Mary. Dearly Departed is her debut novel.
(Photo Credit: www.winterwolfstudios.com)
It is 2196, and the city of New London is now markedly changed. Political and social tensions are building around the advent of ‘civilised’ undead, and there’s violence in the streets. When this unrest hits close to home, Nora Dearly and Bram Griswold are once again forced to take control of their own destinies. As old friends become foes and chaos reigns all around them, Nora and Bram must find strength in each other – no matter the cost.
LIA HABEL ONLINE
Corgi is kindly giving away TWO (2) copies of Dearly Beloved
To enter please answer the following question then fill out the form below: What do you find more frightening — the idea of dying, or the idea of living forever?
This giveaway is UK Only and ends 12:00am GMT 30th November 2012