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No, Hollywood did not invent zombies
Although George Romero is credited for introducing them to Western pop culture via Night of the Living Dead, Romero never used the word "zombie" to refer to the undead in his 1968 film.
Back in 2017 while watching The Girl With All The Gifts with my daughters, they were trying to recall when zombies transformed from lumbering and unthinking creatures to ones that could move faster than humans. World War Z, Alex said, or was it Zombieland?
That prompted me to ask about the origin of zombies—who coined the term and who first introduced the concept to the world. No one was sure, not even Sam-who-has-seen-all-zombie-films. I started Googling the origin of zombies.
Zombies, it seems, were not invented by Hollywood. Although George Romero is credited for introducing them to Western pop culture via Night of the Living Dead, Romero never used the word "zombie" to refer to the undead in his 1968 film. Zombies trace their origin in the folklore of Haiti. The zombi was a dead person revived to physical animation by a witch or sorcerer.
The definition is an interesting one. People rising (or transitioning) from the dead is something we find in many other cultures. The re-animation may be via witchcraft (stereotyped as "evil") or via spiritual faith (stereotyped as "good"). Think vampires, for instance. And Jesus Christ. Seriously. Cast the non-logic of religion aside (faith defies logic, after all) and consider... If a zombie is a dead person brought back to existence (note that I say "existence", not "life") by someone with beyond-human powers, Jesus Christ fits the description.
Today, however, zombies as we know them have departed from Haitian mythology in many ways. And the interest—nay, the obsession—with zombies is no longer (perhaps, it has never been) the exclusive domain of movie fans of the horror sub-genre. Even academics have devoted time to unravel the evolution of the creatures in pop culture as well as its psycho-philosophical underpinnings in modern thinking. And crucial to the discussion is whether physical death prior to "zombification" (for lack of a better word) is a requirement.
In Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-human (edited by Deborah Christie and Sarah Juliet Lauro), various types of zombies found in contemporary culture are enumerated.
While zombies in Haitian mythology are physically revived dead people, in Western pop culture, death is not a requirement at all. In fact, in many zombie films, a human can turn into a zombie by mere infection (with a virus or by being bitten by a zombie).
In The Girl With All The Gifts, the transition was caused by a fungus. The flesh-eating undead were called "hungries", not zombies. The "hungries" are mostly unintelligent but a small group of "hybrid" children have retained the capacity for thinking (as we know it) and human emotions.
In addition to The Girl With All The Gifts, other zombie films / TV shows that I found worth the time and effort:
The Last of Us (U.S.)
Train to Busan (Korea)
All of Us are Dead (Korea)
World War Z (U.S.)
Do you have a favorite zombie movie / TV show?