Sources: Encyclopedia of the Zombie: The Walking Dead in Popular Culture and Myth

And

The Zombie Book: The Encyclopedia of the Living Dead

Encyclopedia of the Zombie: The Walking Dead in Popular Culture and Myth. Ed. by June Michele Pulliam and Anthony J. Fonseca. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2014. 381 p. Acid free $89 (ISBN 978-1-4408-0388-8). E-book (978-1-4408-0389-5) available, call for pricing.

And

The Zombie Book: The Encyclopedia of the Living Dead. By Nick Redfern with Brad Steiger. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 2015. 367 p. Paperback $19.95 (ISBN 978-1-57859-504-4). PDF e-book (978-1-57859-530-3), Kindle e-book (978-1-57859-532-7), and ePub e-book (978-1-57859-531-0) available, call for pricing.

The AMC television series The Walking Dead is merely one of the latest manifestations of our recurring fascination with zombies. An earlier wave was sparked by George Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead and its sequels, and an earlier one still by W. B. Seabrook’s 1929 travelogue The Magic Island. The two reference works under review delve into the gruesome details of the phenomenon, discussing religion and folklore, writers and their books, films and their directors and actors, graphic novels and comic books, diseases and epidemics, and so on, with side trips into somewhat related subjects such as ghouls and vampires. There are also entries on specific events (particularly in The Zombie Book, whose approach is more anecdotal) and broader concepts.

There has never been a classic work defining the attributes of the zombie or fixing the details of the creature in the public mind the way Dracula did for vampires. Instead, the concept has mutated over the years from its origin in the religion of Voodoo and has now taken on a striking variety of forms. Thus Encyclopedia of the Zombie is compiled using “an expansive definition” (xviii), an approach true of both works. Coupled with the elasticity of the concept, this expansiveness leads to a surprising lack of overlap between the contents of the works.

Both books devote strong coverage to zombies in popular culture (films and so on) but are noticeably weaker in tracing the literary roots of the phenomenon. The two books carry entries for Seabrook, whose sensationalized book introduced zombies to the wider English-speaking public, but only Encyclopedia of the Zombie includes entries on African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston and her 1938 account Tell My Horse, in which she describes an encounter in Haiti with a woman alleged to be a zombie. Both works neglect Henry S. Whitehead, who lived in the American Virgin Islands during the 1920s and contributed finely crafted stories on Voodoo themes to the magazine Weird Tales. Also missing are the brothers Pierre Marcelin and Philippe Thoby-Marcelin, award-winning Haitian writers whose novels of island life won the praise of critic Edmund Wilson.

Both Encyclopedia of the Zombie and The Zombie Book are arranged alphabetically by subject, are well illustrated, and include indexes and extensive bibliographies. The former also includes an eighteen-page chronology of zombie films and makes good use of “see also” references, a feature generally lacking in its competitor.

Thanks to its more informal tone and lower price, The Zombie Book is a good choice for small public libraries. Despite its neglect of a few key authors, Encyclopedia of the Zombie is a better choice for academic and large public libraries, especially those where there are strong interests in folklore and the study of popular culture. Given the popularity of the subject and the lack of overlap between the two books, larger public libraries may want to consider purchasing both.—Grove Koger, retired reference librarian, independent scholar, Boise, Idaho

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