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“Peter Haining, ed., Zombie - First published back in...”

★★★★★

written by Dreadlocksmile on 13/01/2005

Peter Haining, ed., Zombie - First published back in 1985 by Traget Books, the collection of short stories edited by Peter Haining entitled "Zombie" was one of the first of its kind to publish such a collection of stories about this type of supernatural being. We are indeed familiar with the many stories of vampires, mummies and werewolves, but a compilation of shorts of the walking dead is far less common.

The short stories included in the book are as follows:
1. Dead Men Working In The Cane Fields - W.B. Seabrook
2. Salt Is Not For Slaves - G.W. Hutter
3. The Country Of The Comers-Back - Lafcadio Hearn
4. Jumbee - Henry S. Whitehead
5. White Zombie - Vivian Meik
6. I Walked With A Zombie - Inez Wallace
7. American Zombie - Dr. Gordon Leigh Bromley
8. While Zombies Walked - Thorp McClusky
9. The House In The Magnolias - August Derleth
10. The Zombie Of Alto Parana - W. Stanley Moss
11. Ballet Negre - Charles Birkin
12. The Hollow Man - Thomas Burke

The book kicks off with W.B. Seabrook's "Dead Men Working In The Cane Fields" (1929) which I believe was one of the earliest stories to be written about our dear friend, the zombie. The short became hugely popular, enough so as to provide the inspiration to the very first zombie movie, "White Zombie" made back in 1932. Seabrook (1886-1945) scoured the earth in search of facts and firsthand information regarding the supernatural and the occult. Indeed, it was his report of these 'dead men working in the cane fields' that first caught the eye of the Hollywood producer Victor Halperin. The short story remains to this day a chilling vision of black magic and the powers of the occult.

The next short is Garnett Weston's "Salt Is Not For Slaves" which was first published in the magazine "Ghost Stories" back in August 1931. Weston (1894-1948) took up the pen-name G.W. Hutter for the piece (Hutter was his wife's maiden name) and penned a story around the haunting message of feeding zombie workers salt, thus waking them from their zombie state and sending them back to their graves. On the strength of the short, Weston was selected to become the scriptwriter for the previously mentioned film "White Zombie" by Halperin himself.

The third short in the book is Lafcadio Hearn's "The Country Of The Comers-Back" more commonly known as "Le Pays De Revenants." First published as an essay in "Harper's Magazine" way back in 1889, the piece depicts a particularly interesting description of a zombie child and a very bewitching zombie woman. Hearn (1850-1904) became interested in the supernatural zombie whilst on the island of Martinique between the years of 1887-1889, where he heard of their presence from the local people.

Next we come to the short story "Jumbee" by Henry S. Whitehead (1882-1932). Whitehead apparently came face to face with the practices of voodoo between 1921-1929, when he acted as Archdeacon to the Virgin Islands in the West Indies. Here his inspiration for the chilling zombie tale "Jumbee" was collected. The story is simple in its nature but holds a morbid undertone that comes forth at its conclusion, creating this altogether fascinating piece of literature.

Vivian Meik's tale of the macabre "White Zombie" was perhaps the first writer to actually take the zombie origins back to the ancestral home in Africa. First published in 1933, Meik (1895-1959) gained his inspiration for the short whilst travelling extensively in Asia and Africa, during which he encountered a whole host of strange and bizarre sights. Meik deliberately named the short after the Bela Lugosi film "White Zombie" due to his fascination and the enjoyment he gained from it. The story is not the same as that of the film, or indeed a reworking of the film's original tale, W.B. Seabrook's "Dead Men Working In The Cane Fields," but is just as unique and outstanding.

Next we come to the American journalist Inez Wallace's newspaper article "I Walked With A Zombie." Wallace (1893-1947) worked along the lines of the much admired "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte to create the mysterious drama about a young nurse who is retained by a strange, wealthy West Indies planter to look after his sick wife. The tale weaves a gripping plot that enfolds in a climatic and tense manner leaving you gasping for breath.

The seventh short in the book is Dr. Gordon Leigh Bromley's "American Zombie." First published as a magazine article, the tale is one of a horrific reminder of the occult powers. The short by Bromley (1900-1973) inspired the talented writer-director Val Lewton to create another film about zombies in 1945 entitled "Isle Of The Dead" starring Boris Karloff.

Next we come to the 1939 tale by Rhorp McClusky "While Zombies Walked" which was a contribution to the legendary pulp magazine "Weird Tales". The story is based around a gang of the walking undead who are employed to work the cotton fields of the South. The story was so well-received that it appeared as the lead story for the issue of September 1939.

The ninth tale takes the form of the short "The House In The Magnolias" by August Derleth (1909-1971). The story originally appeared in the publication "Strange Tales" in July of 1932. Derleth's tale is as macabre as they come, with a dramatic and suspense-filled use of description. Apart from his fame as a writer of such horror stories, Derleth was also the man who founded the publishing business of Arkham House, which gave first book publication to such successful and famous writers of supernatural and fantasy fiction as H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch and Ray Bradbury.

Next comes W. Stanley Moss's tale "The Zombie Of Alto Parana" which saw its first publication in 1952. The story once again takes us to the heart of the South American jungle where strange happenings take place. The story dwells on the edge of the character's sanity, leaving open an underlying sense of unease and the unpredictable. The tale is gripping from the start, dragging you into this atmospheric and dark story.

Next is the short story "Ballet Negre" by the English horror story writer Charles Birkin. This dark and twisted story of a strange dance company from Haiti who come to visit Britain shows an inventive and original take on the supernatural stories of the zombie. The strange tale builds to a climax that ends with such a brutal conclusion, bringing a whole new angle and idea towards the creation of the zombie.

Finally we come to the last short in the book, Thomas Burke's short "The Hollow Man." Burke (1866-1945) sees a new perspective on the idea of the zombie, creating the undead being as a lost soul who just wants to return to sleep again after being disturbed by the 'Leopard Men'. The tale casts a dark and haunting angle on the subject, showing how the zombie can be made into such a diverse source of subject matter.

All in all, the 224-page collection of zombie short stories brings together some otherwise difficult to find, yet daring and important pieces of horror literature history. The stories deliver a wide range of styles and angles on the zombie, showing the changing fashion in horror stories throughout the years. The book includes an interesting introduction by the editor, Peter Haining who is obviously very passionate about the subject matter.

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