Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, while not a zombie novel proper, prefigures many 20th century ideas about zombies in that the resurrection of the dead is portrayed as a scientific process rather than a mystical one, and that the resurrected dead are degraded and more violent than their living selves.
Later notable 19th century stories about the avenging undead included Ambrose Bierce’s The Death of Halpin Frayser, and various Gothic Romanticism tales by Edgar Allan Poe.
The Magic Island by W.B. Seabrook in 1929 is the sensationalized account of a narrator in Haiti who encounters voodoo cults and their resurrected thralls. Time claimed that the book “introduced ‘zombi’ into U.S. speech”.
In the 1920s and early 1930s, the American horror author H. P. Lovecraft wrote several novelettes that explored the undead theme from different angles. “Cool Air,” “In the Vault,” “The Thing on the Doorstep,” “The Outsider,” and “Pickman’s Model” are all undead related, but the most definitive undead story in Lovecraft’s oeuvre was 1921’s Herbert West Reanimator, which “helped define zombies in popular culture”.
This Frankenstein-inspired series featured Herbert West, a mad scientist who attempts to revive human corpses with mixed results. Notably, the resurrected dead are uncontrollable, mostly mute, primitive and extremely violent; though they are not referred to as zombies, their portrayal was prescient, anticipating the modern conception of zombies by several decades.
The 1954 publication of I Am Legend, by author Richard Matheson, would further influence the zombie genre. It is the story of a future Los Angeles, overrun with undead bloodsucking beings. Notable as influential on the zombie genre is the portrayal of a worldwide apocalypse due to the infestation, in addition to the initial conception of vampirism as a disease (a scenario comparable to recent zombie media such as Resident Evil). The novel was a success, and would be adapted to film as The Last Man on Earth in 1964, as The Omega Man in 1971, and again in 2007 as I Am Legend.
Though zombies have appeared in many books prior to and after Night of the Living Dead, it wouldn’t be until 1990 that zombie fiction emerged as a distinct literary subgenre, with the publication of Book of the Dead in 1990. and its follow-up Still Dead: Book of the Dead 2 in 1992, both edited by horror authors John Skipp and Craig Spector.
Detailing a small town’s attempt to defend itself from a classic zombie outbreak and featuring Romero-inspired stories from the likes of Stephen King and other famous names, the Book of the Dead compilations are regarded as influential in the horror genre and perhaps the first true “zombie literature”.
David Wellington’s trilogy of zombie novels began in 2004 with Monster Island, followed by two sequels, Monster Nation and Monster Planet. The Monster Trilogy reveals the flesh-eating urge of the zombie is caused by a desire for life force, a golden energy that is found in living organisms. When pushed, Wellington’s zombies will even consume plant matter. The reader is informed of this golden energy via the accounts of Liches, individuals who have voluntarily or involuntarily managed to maintain the flow of oxygen to the brain during death and emerge ‘zombified’ yet intelligent.
Brian Keene’s 2005 novel The Rising, followed by its sequel City Of The Dead, deals with a worldwide apocalypse of intelligent zombies, caused by demonic possession. Though the story took many liberties with the zombie concept, The Rising proved itself to be a success in the subgenre, even winning the 2005 Bram Stoker award.
The 2006 novel Cell by Stephen King concerns a struggling young artist on a trek from Boston to Maine in hopes of saving his family from a possible worldwide zombie outbreak, created by “The Pulse”, a global electromagnetic phenomenon that turns the world’s cellular phone users into bloodthirsty, zombie-like maniacs. Cell was a number-one bestseller upon its release.
In the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, a zombie is described as a human who has been artificially separated from his soul (which, in the alternate world of the novels, takes the form of a visible animal-shaped companion called dæmon) by means of a process called intercision. The novels’ main villain, Marisa Coulter, also uses intercision to create apathic and obedient servants, bodyguards and soldiers.
J.K. Rowling includes zombies, known as Inferi, in the sixth book of her Harry Potter series. The Inferi are dead humans who are re-animated by Dark Magic.
The 2009 novel The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan is set over 100 years after the zombie apocalypse in an isolated village surrounded by a forest full of zombies. The 2009 novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith combines Jane Austen’s classic 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice with elements of modern zombie fiction. Other pastiches of classic works include Canadian Coscom Entertainment’s adaptations of War of the Worlds, Huckleberry Finn, The Wizard of Oz, Dracula, Robin Hood mythos and Alice in Wonderland, now all with added zombie content.