Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Revenant: The Medieval Zombie

“They’re coming for you Barbara,” is a line from one my favorite movies, Night of the Living Dead. This movie is the brainchild of George Romero who is considered as being the godfather of the modern zombie phenomenon.

From movies like Night of the Living Dead to TV shows like The Walking Dead we all have been exposed to zombies. They are reanimated corpses that terrorize and feed upon the living; this was not always how we perceived the living dead.

A true zombie comes from Haiti and other Caribbean countries. The first use of the word in writing is dated back to 1819 in a brief history of Brazil.

In the Caribbean culture, a zombie was also a reanimated corpse, raised by some form of witchcraft. Although popularized that it is a ritual of voodoo, this practice is not formally recognized by that faith’s belief or practice.

This undead corpse is raised from the grave by a Bokor, which means one who practices both black and light magic. Once risen, the zombie is now under the control of the Bokor.

Many believe the zombie tale originated from the use of the poison from the puffer fish. This poison, once administered, may make the drinker go into a death-like comma. The body of the drinker would be buried, and the Bokor would then “resurrect” the corpse. Once out of the grave, the Bokor would continuously give the victim hallucinating or delirium drugs making them appear to be in a dreamlike state.

This more “traditional” zombie has appeared in popular culture. The novel” The Magic Island” by William Seabrook introduced zombies to the west. White Zombie is an excellent movie from 1932 starring Bela Logosi. Even in comic books do they made an appearance; Solomon Grundy is a soulless super villain in DC comics.

The “traditional” view of a zombie as a slave maintained in our culture, until 1968 with the release of Night of the Living Dead. In this movie the undead that come back to life, attacked and ate the living. The bites of this modern zombie would cause the living to die, and then they too would become one of the undead. The word “zombie” was never used in the movie; it was adopted by fans later, George Romero, the director of the movie, envisioned them as ghouls.

As a side note, you or anyone could make a new version of the movie, or sell it yourself. The original title to the movie was Night of the Flesh Eaters. The distributor placed the copyright notice on the bottom of the title screen. When the title was changed, they failed to add the copyright text on the new screen, so there is no copyright for this film.

As you can tell, I am a fan of George Romero’s films, and of the modern zombie mythology. As a fan, I wanted to include these undead monsters in my novel, “LEGEND OF THE MYSTIC KNIGHTS”. Doing extensive research into European legends, I found the Medieval equivalence of the zombie; the Revenant.

Like many legends and myths, the story of the Revenant varies from region to region. Some of the legends indicate they are a ghost, in other areas, they are great warriors. Some of these warriors are actually a good version of the revenant, or Draugr, who protects treasures in burial mounds; while others would seek revenge against those who had wronged them in life.

Another version of the revenant is what I used in my novel; the reanimated corpse that comes and terrorizes the living. I combined this with some of the Haiti and modern zombie movie traits.

Similar to the modern movie version of zombies, in my novel the revenants thirst for human flesh. The following is an excerpt of my novel where a knight finds himself attacked by such a creature:

"The revenant pounced on the fallen knight, pawing and grabbing at his armor, trying to rip and tear it off. The living corpse pulled off the knight’s helmet, revealing the chainmail coif underneath.

Seeing the unprotected skin of the knight sent the revenant into a blood frenzy, its limited mind thinking only to tear into the soft flesh of the knight. The undead corpse moved in, sadistically trying to bite into the flesh of the metal clad warrior. The knight pushed the corpse away with his hands in a desperate attempt to the keep the attacker at bay."

I also combined some of the legends of the Haiti zombie. One of these is how to destroy the zombie. In Haitian legend, and my novel, one way to destroy a zombie is by salt. Having a zombie taste salt would shock his mind back to reality; no one wants to be a zombie slave, so the zombie victim would realize it is dead and then it (zombie) would again become lifeless. I used this salt remedy for zombies in my novel. Salt was also very valuable in the Middle Ages, not only as a preservative, but it was also considered a purity substance, used to remove evil. Combining the medieval use of salt with the Haiti version of destroying zombies became easy.

One thing that modern zombie movies may have gotten right is the destruction of the brain to kill a zombie. We all have seen the movies and shows, where the only way of killing these zombies was to shoot or hit them in their heads. In Medieval Europe, it was also believed that by killing the brain, usually decapitation, was the sure-fire way of destroying a zombie. This too is one of the ways the heroes of my novel destroy the revenants.

I hope you have enjoyed my tale of the Revenants. Please leave a comment if you want, or visit my website; www.warusho.com to learn about more medieval monsters.

Next time: Illustrations on a Shoestring, and a Salute to Woman in Horror.


  1. Our taste in movies are completely different. I did enjoy what you watch though when I was a kid. Little did I know then that the reason I liked them was the feel good hormones my body produced when I was watching.

  2. I think I like Zombies because the story world still hasn't prettified them too much like has been done with vampires. I'm also a huge fan of the show The Walking Dead and recently started reading the comics as well.

  3. Yes I enjoyed the tales of revenants
    Thank you!

  4. Interesting. And I thought zombies were a relatively recent creation, devised to sell movies!

  5. I find zombies and anything resembling the occult to be quite scary. Zombies and the horror genre in movies are just not for me!

  6. Thanks for the history on zombies! We enjoy some movies and shows featuring them. It's fun to be scared sometimes.