Greg Garrett: still life with zombies

I spoke recently to Greg Garrett, who is professor of English at Baylor University in Texas, where he teaches fiction and screenwriting, literature, film, popular culture, and theology. Greg’s latest book is entitled Living with the Living Dead, which is not a bad description of this time in our culture: Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are the two most popular TV shows on the planet, and there are innumerable other zombie films, books, comics, games and apps which have become wildly successful. Zombies have even found their way into the academy in the form of zombie studies.

But Greg’s book is not another collection of zombie trivia, film history or even a manual for would-be zombie hunters. He’s interested in asking deeper questions about our zombie-mania, as his subtitle, The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse, indicates. Why are zombies so popular? What deep fears do they tap into? What aspects of being human, what moral issues, do stories about zombies throw into sharp relief? Greg quotes a line from Friedrich Nietzsche in the book: ‘Beware that when fighting monsters, you do not become a monster’ – which could come straight out of a zombie film. Why fight them if all we do is show ourselves to be no better than them? In this new podcast we wrestle with some of the dilemmas of the zombie apocalypse.

After the interview, Greg told me he had written much of the book alone in a cabin in the woods, which had been a terrifying experience. In this short extract from the book, he describes a recurring nightmare:

Early in the writing of this book, I had a familiar nightmare in which Things were coming for me – they looked human (the one looking out the window next door was wearing the Roman collar of a priest) but wanted to turn me into something like themselves. If I became one of them, I would no longer be myself, not as I understood myself. And of course, in this dream my front door refused to lock, so there was little hope that I could keep them out – unless I woke up. This narrative of creeping assimilation is not just familiar to us from horror stories, but is a common topic of science fiction as well. […] In these stories, we are left to defend ourselves against waves of creatures who want to steal our autonomy, our awareness, and our very selves.


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