Rules of the Undead

My husband and I watched the pilot of The Walking Dead a few months ago. During the course of the show, I kept asking things like, “How do you kill a zombie?” “Do they have to destroy the zombie’s brain?” “What do they eat?”

I discovered that I was woefully deficient in my knowledge of zombie lore. When I read Dracula way back when I was in college (hello, 80’s!), I researched vampires to the point that I could tell you all of the strengths and weaknesses of bloodsuckers. Sure, some people go and change the rules sometimes (Vampires sparkle, Stephanie Meyer?), but for the most part there are standards that writers follow regarding the legends of the undead.

I figured some of you might be wondering too. So for today’s Deep-Fried Friday, here is what I found: The Rules of the Undead — zombies, vampires, and ghosts.

Zombies

What they are: A zombie is a corpse reanimated by supernatural or other means. It appears to be alive, but is typically mute and will-less — sort of like that pothead boyfriend you had back in high school. Indeed, the phrase walking dead encapsulates the zombie crisis well. Catie Rhodes did a fabulous post recently on Zombies and Fear tracing the history and beliefs regarding zombies. It’s well worth reading for more information on zombies.

How they are made: You can become a zombie by being bitten by one. I suppose if you are bitten too much, too often, you are just dinner. Having run a preschool at one time, I know you have to bite pretty dang hard to break skin and draw blood, but even some toddlers managed it so I suppose your average zombie can sink their teeth right in.

What they eat: Zombies prefer the delicious taste of human flesh. However, animals will do in a pinch. They do not require cookware or dishes, since they eat their food raw . . . and fresh. Which is a shame because who wouldn’t want to watch a cooking show from a zombie chef on Food Network? Possible titles: Humans & Hollandaise, Fresh Flesh Foodies, The Cannibal’s Kitchen.

How to kill them: To kill a zombie, you must remove the head or destroy its brain. In The Walking Dead (the one episode I saw), the preferred method was a gunshot between the eyes — which of course makes the brains and blood splatter everywhere. Then again, decapitation would be even messier. So make sure you’re not wearing your best threads when you aim and fire.

Vampires

What they are: A vampire is a creature who overcomes death by drinking blood from the living. By consuming another’s life essence, they remain alive themselves after their own death. (Cheaters!) Generally, it is presumed that vampires can be immortal if they continue to ingest blood and avoid the stakes of the Helsings, et al.

How they are made: A vampire bites a human, then gets the human to drink vampire blood. I wonder why a mostly dead person suddenly finds blood yummy. Is vampire blood tasty? Does it have a vanilla or chocolate flavoring to it? Maybe it’s minty.

What they eat: Blood and more blood. Human blood is the first pick on a vampire’s menu. However, some more compassionate vampires have taken to drinking animal’s blood instead. Then again, your local blood bank may store perfectly good human blood that does not require biting into a neck or other artery location and thus killing the human. Another source is humans willing to let a vampire suck on their veins, as long as they don’t die. Now don’t pretend you wouldn’t do this! Some of you had hickeys the size of Canada in your teens, so you’re clearly open to letting suckers have a go at you.

How to kill them: Typically, a stake to the heart ends the undead life of a vampire once and for all. However, fire will destroy them as well. Some believe that a vampire in daylight will combust into flames, thus killing him. Others believe they sparkle. (Okay, I shouldn’t but I’m laughing again.)

Ghosts

What they are: Ghosts are the spirits or energy of dead people who remain on earth. “I see dead people.” No, I don’t. Moreover, I never even saw The Sixth Sense.

How they are made: Ghosts aren’t made. They remain here when some unresolved issue from their life prevents them from passing over to the afterlife. It can be a young or tragic death, concern for a grieving loved one, or confusion that keeps them from moving on. Some ghosts may know why they are here, but most don’t. They are scared, perplexed, or even mad. Thus, they wreak havoc on the living or the places where they reside. And in Poltergeist, they make cool formations with chairs.

Ghosts can pass through solid objects, but usually cannot move objects. They affect the temperature around them, often causing cold spots. They can manifest if they wish and may appear as a deathly figure or with the wounds they received at death.

What they eat: Ghosts don’t eat or drink, but they may need to recharge energy by coming in contact with the living. Zap! You’re juiced up again, ghost.

How to kill them: You can’t “kill” a ghost. It has no flesh to be destroyed. You can only redirect the ghost away from you by getting it to haunt another place or, better yet, by helping the ghost move toward the light and thus the afterlife. Once issues here on earth are reasonably resolved, most ghosts will happily head over to the other side. What’s on the “other side” is apparently much more interesting than what’s going on here. Maybe the Cubs win World Series in the afterlife. Who wouldn’t want to see that!

There are other paranormal creatures such as werewolves, witches, etc., but I stuck with the undead this time around. These are all beings who were once human, but are no longer.

Interestingly enough, claims of vampires, zombies, and ghosts exist throughout the world. I chalk up the first two somewhat to our curiosity about hematophagous animals (those for whom blood is at least part of their diet; mosquito, anyone?) and human cannibalism (zombies run amok). Ghosts reflect our uncertainty about the afterlife. Even if you think you know what happens after this life (if you believe anything happens at all), no one can fully explain it play-by-play.

Meanwhile, you might want to keep your Rules of the Undead at hand. In case a hellmouth opens up down the street from you or the Zombie Apocalypse erupts, you’ll need to know what to do. In fact, I hail back to another show for some tips as well. In a crisis, ask yourself What Would Buffy Do?

What Buffy the Vampire Slayer Taught Me

Welcome to Deep-Fried Friday. Today, our deep-fried food is served with a blood cocktail, to honor the vampires and other paranormal creatures of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Some of my friends know that I’ve been watching through the entire Buffy series on Netflix. (All seasons are available through streaming episodes.)

I missed this TV show when it was on from 1997 to 2003. Why? Those were the years of early parenthood for me, so my television set was tuned in to shows like Yes, Dear and Blue’s Clues instead. I finally decided to figure out what all the hype was about and started watching the series a few months ago.

As I watched all seven seasons, I made a few interesting observations which apply to TV and other sources of fiction (books, movies, etc.). Other than the obvious conclusions that karate moves are still cool and fighting evil doesn’t preclude dressing fashionably, here’s what Buffy the Vampire Slayer taught or reminded me.

Genre is just the setting; the story is about the characters. Is Buffy the Vampire Slayer about vampires or Buffy? Well, yes. But the vampires, demons, prophecies, ninja fighting, etc. are all background to simply tell the story of teenagers growing into adulthood.

Buffy with her mentor Giles

Ditto for Harry Potter. The Twilight series is about lovers couched in vampire/werewolf legends. Mysteries are about the sleuth solving the case. Horror is about someone we’re rooting for making it out alive. Fantasy is about the journey of a questor. And so on and so on.

While I believe that world-building and plots are important, ultimately who cares how clever you are with that unless there is some underlying struggle for a character we can relate to or root for. We cheer for Buffy to kill the bad demons because she embodies struggles we face — such as wanting to be special versus wanting to be normal; needing to stand up to bullies and wanting to take a backseat; dealing with the complications of relationships; and moving from protection by parents and mentors to making our own way in the world. The reason Buffy resonates is because we all have our demons to fight; we understand why her story matters.

Xander, Anya & Willow

Sometimes your favorite character isn’t the protagonist. Buffy Summers is the main character, and the series is about her. Thus, the name: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yet often the protagonist is a person in constant conflict who needs a little support or humor from others around her. Buffy’s closest friends, Willow and Xander, provide that — Willow with compassionate support and Xander with humorous quips. There are plenty of other famous sidekicks in fiction. These characters have their own appeal.

As the series progressed, my favorite character became Anya, an ex-vengeance demon, who ends up working with Buffy’s mentor Giles at his magic shop, having a romantic relationship with Xander, and fighting alongside the good guys even when her motivation is a bit unclear. Why do I love her? She says exactly what she thinks. I love such characters in fiction — the ones who speak with no filter whatsoever, who say what we wish we could say but have too much restraint to, and whose charm lies in their optimism that truth is always best.

If you start a fantastical story, you have to get really inventive to keep it going. I noted to my husband that Buffy and Chuck share this in common: Since they begin with such a far-fetched premise (hellmouth under your town and teenage vampire slayer; all-knowing Intersect stuck in Chuck’s brain and spies to protect him), where do you go from there? You have to keep coming up with bigger and better stories, several of which can get a little, well, unbelievable.

Yes, we’re already in the territory of unbelievable, but sometimes it reached, “Ah, c’mon!” I think this is one of the reasons why long fiction series don’t often work well. The author must either regurgitate plot lines dressed up in other attire or get more and more out there in raising the stakes to keep the conflict and tension up. How far we’ll go with the writer likely depends on how much we like the characters and feel invested in their story.

Romances do not always work the way we wish. Team Spike or Team Angel? I think that predated the perpetual Jacob vs. Edward argument. Maybe you’re even willing to go out on a limb and suggest Team Riley. I know exactly who I think Buffy should end up with, but others have their own ideas. And I doubt anyone was fully satisfied by the end of the series on the romance front.

Interestingly enough, two of my beta readers on my mystery, Grace & Fire, were upset that the romantic portion of my novel didn’t go the way they wanted. I stick by my decision, and more readers than not agreed with me, but I can understand the disappointment of the couple you root for not getting together in that “ain’t it all great” happily ever after. I’m more willing than most to deal with such a proposition — given that among my favorite novels are such depressers as Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary — but it still irks me a little. Why can’t it all work out the way we envisioned in our pretty little heads? Maybe like life, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.

David Boreanaz is my “type.” That has nothing to do with fiction. It’s just another take-away. Actually, the actor who played Angel, the vampire with a soul, reminds me a bit of my husband:  Tall, dark-headed, broad-shouldered, hard to read, and not a big talker. My hubby does need fangs and a long black leather coat to complete the look. I understand that I can keep gazing at David Boreanz now that he’s in the Bones series. I’ll have to check that one out.

So are you a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan? Why did you like the series? Who was your favorite character? What are some of your favorite TV series and what were your take-aways?