Thursday, June 8, 2017

"Living with the Living Dead"

Greg Garrett is Professor of English at Baylor University, where he teaches classes in fiction and screenwriting, literature, film and popular culture, and theology. The author or co-author of twenty books of fiction, nonfiction, and memoir, Garrett is (according to BBC Radio), one of America's leading voices on religion and culture, and a frequent speaker and media guest on narrative, religion, politics, literature, and pop culture.

Garrett applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Living with the Living Dead: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse, and reported the following:
From page 99:
In 28 Days Later Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns) rescue Jim (Cillian Murphy) and Selena, and together they set out for the Manchester barricade. Frank describes horses playing in a field as “Like a family,” words we are clearly meant to apply to this new unit. Selena, in fact, retracts her earlier brutal assessment that being alive is as good as it gets in this brave new world. “She’s got a dad,” she says, “and he’s got his daughter.” There is something higher, something better, about that connection. As they camp out that night, Jim has a nightmare, and Frank comes over and comforts him, telling him it’s just a bad dream. Jim responds groggily, “Thanks, Dad.”
My book Living with the Living Dead is about a lot of things, but only incidentally about zombies, so I’d guess that the Page 99 experiment is pretty accurate this time out, seeing as how this passage and the rest of Page 99 focus on human characters and on relationship. As writer/executive producer Angela Kang told me about The Walking Dead, her show is not about zombies, but zombies offer a reason to explore stories about humans in desperate straits. What makes the Zombie Apocalypse so interesting is that, like war stories or disaster stories, it’s a genre about survival, about human beings in extremis and what they’re willing to do to survive. In 28 Days Later, the first of the great post-9/11 zombie films (it came out a month after the Towers fell), Selena (Naomie Harris) has revealed herself as a pragmatic survivor of the Rage virus that has turned humans into running, raging zombies. She resists connection, and tells Jim that if he gets infected, she will kill him “in a heartbeat.” You can’t afford to get too close to people. Emotion and connection reduce your chances of survival, she thinks.

But one of the central themes of these Zombie Apocalypse stories is community, both failed and dangerous ones and the ones that make life worth living. Being around Frank and his daughter Hannah reminds Selena of that, and it also offers Jim the first comfort he’s had since regaining consciousness in a world that has been mostly destroyed while he slept. In real communities, people offer each other love, compassion, hospitality, in addition to the more prosaic offering of encouragement, safety, creature comforts. A central message of many of the zombie stories I explore in Living with the Living Dead is that one of the things that makes us fully human is our ability to connect with other people. We see that in The Road, in lots of episodes of The Walking Dead, and especially in the ending of Zombieland, when Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) concludes that “without other people, you might as well be a zombie.” During the course of his story, he goes from loner on the road, as nervous about connection as Selena, to a person who grows and develops because of the relationships he finds along the way. It’s a great reminder that even in scary times—maybe especially in scary times—we need each other.
Learn more about Living with the Living Dead: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Entertaining Judgment.

Writers Read: Greg Garrett.

--Marshal Zeringue