Monday, March 20, 2017

Weird Tales Books-Stories of the Walking Dead-Part Three

More from Stories of the Walking Dead, edited by Peter Haining (1986):

"Salt Is Not for Slaves" (1931)
by G.W. Hutter, pseudonym of Garnett Weston (1894-1948), presumably American
"Salt Is Not for Slaves" was one of the first zombie stories, written by the scenarist of White Zombie, a movie not yet released when the story was published. This is one of my favorite stories in Tales of the Walking Dead. It pushes the origin of zombies back to the Haitian Revolution and makes the strongest association of any story here between slavery under French colonialists and zombies. I don't think anyone can say whether that association is accurate or not, as the origins of the zombie in Haiti appear to be lost. In any case, Weston's story is set in the 1920s or '30s in Haiti, but it is mostly about the historical past. It is a tale of zombie-slaves who don't know they're zombies until they taste salt. With that, they return to their graves. It's interesting that in "Salt Is Not for Slaves," the zombies speak and live like normal human beings. Also, the (presumably) white narrator simply reports on his experience and recounts what he hears from the old Haitian woman. Other than receiving a bad scare, he is never under threat.

"The House in the Magnolias" (1932)
by August Derleth (1909-1961) American
You could pretty well count on August Derleth's being on top of developments in weird fiction. His story "The House in the Magnolias" was published before White Zombie was released. It must have been one of the first zombie stories in America, and it incorporates elements of the Haitian zombie story, including the eating of salt. It is set, however, in Louisiana, home of a different kind of zombi(e), the Voodoo serpent god, Li Grand Zombi. In other words, Derleth transferred the Haitian zombie to the American mainland, a key development in the history of zombies in America. The narrator is an artist in the household of a woman named Rosamunda Marsina and her unseen Haitian aunt. Also in the household and in the fields around the house are the walking dead. The threat is from the unseen Aunt Abby, who turns out to be a zombie-master. The people threatened--the narrator and his now lover, Miss Marsina--are white (or she is a very light-skinned mulatta).

"White Zombie" (1933)
by Vivian Meik (1894-1955) British
Vivian Meik saw the movie White Zombie and liked the title. He recycled that title for his story of 1933. "White Zombie" is set in Africa, but there is a connection to Haiti: a missionary claims to have seen a strange mist only in those two places, a mist that haunts and menaces the protagonist. As it turns out, the mist is associated with Voodoo and with zombies under the control of a white woman who has essentially gone native. (The association of mists with Voodoo and zombi(e)s is a continuing theme in fiction.) In short, the zombie-master is a white woman who threatens white people. The black zombies themselves are far less of a threat.

"The Hollow Man" (1934)
by Thomas Burke (1886-1945) British
"The Hollow Man" is a story of the walking dead, though not explicitly of a zombie. The undead man is white, but he has been made by black men--the Leopard Men--in Africa to be used as their slave. Remembering the man who murdered him, the undead man escapes from slavery and sets off to find that man. His quest takes him all the way to England. There is a variation here: the Leopard Men take the place of the zombie-maker, but their victim is white. He in turn torments the man who murdered him, who is also white. In short, "The Hollow Man" doesn't quite follow the conventions of the zombie story, but then it isn't explicitly a zombie story.

"American Zombie" (ca. 1936)
by Dr. Gordon Leigh Burley (1900-1973) British
"American Zombie" is a brief tale inside of a tale. It is told to a journalist by a M. Champney, a Frenchman who has traveled to America and tells of seeing the creature of the title. She is a white woman who lies on a bed behind a locked door in a building on Lennox Avenue in Harlem. She is one of the living dead, made by Voodoo magic and subject to the commands of her master. She is referred to as a guède, a zombie, but also the French word for the plant woad. In Voodoo, the Guédé, also spelled Gede or Ghede, are the loa, or spirits, of the dead, specifically the loa of sexuality, fertility, debauchery, and so on. To continue, in "American Zombie," the zombie as one of the walking dead is associated with the conventions of Voodooism. Though brief, Dr. Burley's story is rich with zombie lore. It even mentions The Magic Island by William B. Seabrook. In "American Zombie" the white victim is a zombie, while the zombie master is black.

"While Zombies Walked" (1939)
by Thorp McCluskey (1906-1975) American
Like "The House in the Magnolias," Thorp McCluskey's story for Weird Tales is set in the American Southland. The protagonist is a Northerner who has gone looking for his girlfriend, who is a resident of a plantation house owned by her great-uncle. Sharing the house is a monstrous white minister, a Rev. Warren Barnes. As it turns out, Rev. Barnes is a Voodoo master, a manipulator of Voodoo dolls, and a maker and master of zombies. He has learned his craft from a black Voodoo-man. Upon Barnes' death the zombies return to their graves, and the way is clear for the protagonist and his girlfriend to be together again. Here, then, is another variation, for the zombie-maker and zombie-master is white, as are the objects of his torment. The story--cruel and less than likable--has a weird-menace atmosphere fitting for its time.

"I Walked with a Zombie" (1942)
by Inez Wallace (1888-1966) American
"I Walked with a Zombie" was written by Cleveland journalist Inez Wallace for The American Weekly, the Sunday magazine of the Hearst chain of newspapers. It's similar to "Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields" by William B. Seabrook and includes most of the conventions of the zombie story, including the eating of salt. There are three short accounts of zombie-ism in Inez Wallace's article. The first is of a white woman who is made into a zombie by a black Haitian woman and is returned to her grave by the white woman's husband. The second is of a group of zombie-slaves held by a black headman named Ti Michel and of the revenge upon that man taken by the still-living. The third is of a black woman in Port-au-Prince who has zombie-slaves dance for her and whom she manipulates with mud figures like Voodoo dolls. (See "Ballet Nègre" below.) By the way, the 1942 film I Walked with a Zombie was inspired by and named after Inez Wallace's article.

"The Zombie of Alto Parana" (1950)
by Stanley Moss (1921-1965) British
"The Zombie of Alto Parana" is not at all a zombie story. The word appears only in the title. I assume it to refer to one of the two main characters in the story, both of whom live on the edge of the world in a backwater jungle of Argentina. One of the two, the German Emil, evidently cannot return to the outside world. His life is like a death-in-life, and that leads me to think he is the zombie of the title. The other, a British man named Clift, is in a kind of exile, too, but he can return and means to return home. Emil has other ideas for him. This is perhaps the most psychologically complex and character-driven of all the stories in Stories of the Walking Dead. It belongs here, I think, only by a stretching of the definition of "the walking dead."

"Ballet Nègre" (1964)
by Charles Birkin (1907-1985) British
"Ballet Nègre" is the most recently published story in this collection. Like "The Hollow Man," it is set in England. The zombie-master is a black Haitian who runs a dance troupe. The zombies are also black. The victim is a white reporter investigating the dance troupe. Before dying, he manages to feed the zombies some meat. The story ends with an image of them making their way westward across the English countryside, in the direction of their Haitian graves.

Summary
So in the conventional zombie story, there are three (or four) main figures: 1) The zombie-maker/zombie-master; 2) The zombies he or she has created; and 3) The tormented, sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, sometimes a couple. Any or all of these figures can be white. It doesn't seem to matter much whether the zombie-maker/zombie-master--the tormenter--is white or black. The zombies of course are among his or her victims--they are obviously among the tormented--but if they are black, they are also depersonalized to a large extent. They are merely bit players in the zombie drama (as seems to be the case in the contemporary zombie story such as The Walking Dead). It seems to be much more significant when a white person is made into a zombie. A white zombie is at the very least a tragedy. It may also be an affront or threat against white people. Here's the kicker, though: it seems in almost every case in the conventional zombie story that the tormented person or persons is white. That may have been the only way that the zombie story could make its way into the white culture of the 1920s through the 1950s or '60s, for a black hero, a black heroine, or the two together would not have appeared in movies, short stories, or novels made or written for white people. (1) That makes me think: There was black cinema in those days--was there ever a black zombie movie? Or was Ben, the black man in Night of the Living Dead (1968), the first black hero in a zombie story? And look what happened to him. Was he killed because he represented an implicit threat to white people, especially in the era of black marches and civil rights? According to Wikipedia, that fount of all knowledge, Duane Jones was cast in the movie because he had the best audition of all the actors considered for the part. So if the screenplay was already pretty well written by the time George Romero was holding auditions, then the hero--even if he had been white--was fated to be shot. That would not have been a racially charged episode in the movie. But because the part was played by a black man, I can't help but see a racial element, however subtle it might be, especially with the sounds of police radios and barking police dogs as the backdrop for the final sequence.

A final note: There are no zombie apocalypse stories in Stories of the Walking Dead. I wonder now what was the first such story in print.

Note
(1) The exception to all of this is "Salt Is Not for Slaves," in which the main actors in a story told by a white man are in fact black.

Duane Jones (1937-1988) in Night of the Living Dead. Was he the first black hero in a zombie story?

Text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

No comments:

Post a Comment