Jamie Says: The Friendly Dead

Speculative fiction has been inundated with the undead element for decades; we’ve all seen our fair share of evil zombies, vampires, werewolves, ghouls, ghasts and ghosts. Even a few mummies have risen from the crypt in the last decade or so to try and scare the pants off us.

But what about the good guys who just happen to be mortally challenged? And by good guys I don’t mean the Anne Rice kind of undead who are generally naughty boys until they meet the right girl/guy/werewolf. I mean the kind of lurching characters who just try to get along in their un-life without meaning harm to anyone; the Friendly Dead.

Thankfully I’m not alone in thinking that just because you lose your pulse you don’t lose your humanity. Over the last decade or so there have been several pretty well known authors trying to bring the dearly departed back into the fold. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be scared of the majority of the undead, just that we should look at them on a case-by-case basis.

I’ll start with a personal favourite; Terry Pratchett. Yes, I know, I go on about him often but when you are a prolific as famous as he, you get a few perks.

In 1989 Pratchett broke ground for the pro-undead movement with Pyramids; a novel parodying Egyptian culture by asking the big question: “What would our ancestors say if they were alive today?”.  This story humanises the mummy community far better than the 1999 Brendan Fraser movie The Mummy ever did.

Since then the friendly dead are a constant element in Pratchett’s works; the most notable of these being theCity Watch series where the undead comprise a large part of the city’s police force, including a ghoul cafeteria lady.

Moving forward to the year of 2007 saw the emergence of the young adult supernatural novel series Skulduggery Pleasant; an ongoing work about the adventures of the skeleton detective and his mostly human counterpart Valkyrie Cain in their attempt to stop the world being destroyed again and again.

Skip another couple of years and we get Nekropolis by Tim Waggoner; a beautiful example of film noir style writing in a modern context. The main character, a private investigator and self-confessed zombie named Richter, attempts to locate an artefact of unimaginable power in full Maltese Parrot style.

What do all these stories have in common? Besides the fact that they are all fantastically written stories full of plot, action and humour? The main characters are not just undead but members of my Friendly Dead category.

They all have emotion, they all act like everyday people –for the most part – doing everyday things, and they are all believable. They don’t just lurch around the place eating people or burying them under the floorboards for later.

Context is everything; the undead are no exception. So next time you meet a zombie or skeleton don’t just run away or try to club their head off; try getting to know them first.

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