Howdy, all! The title of this post is a little misleading because the trope (you could also call it a theme in this circumstance) I’m about to talk about occurs in many non-zombie horror novels. However, I associate it with zombies because, well, they’re everywhere, and some of the best examples of what I’m talking about occur in zombie stories. And I’m also going to winnow down what should be a ten thousand-word essay to a fraction of that number because, as always, my time is short, and I’ve got things to do (mainly, being with my family and working on my current novel).
Consider these characters:
The Governor from THE WALKING DEAD. Colonel Schow from Brian Keene’s THE RISING. The soldiers in 28 DAYS LATER.
Aside from the military/governmental trappings that tie these individuals together, they’re also united in their ferocity, their cruelty, and their single-mindedness. But most of all, they’re connected by the dubious distinction of being just as bad—and likely worse—than the zombies.
Like I said, this concept is not unique to zombie stories. Other fantastic examples can be found in Dan Simmons’s THE TERROR (Hickey vs. The Terror), Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD (cannibals vs. the apocalyptic landscape), and J.K. Rowling’s HARRY POTTER series (in which Dolores Umbridge becomes even more despicable than Voldemort himself).
In other words, the danger is us. (I changed the predicate nominative form because it sounded weak. You know, kind of like an unnecessary parenthetical explanation.)
So I warned you a few days ago about the darkness in my new novel CASTLE OF SORROWS. I didn’t specify what made the book so dark, but my very first reader review mentioned it (actually, an email from the reader mentioned it), so the effect I suspected the book would have seems to be occurring (that’s a good thing, by the way).
The main villain of both THE SORROWS and CASTLE OF SORROWS is a god named Gabriel. You can call him Pan if you’d like, but he’s older than literature and one of my favorite villains in fiction. I’m fascinated by him, and he certainly dominates my new book. His shadow loomed over THE SORROWS as well.
However, you could argue that the most despicable character in THE SORROWS is a handsome pilot named Ryan. He’s rich, ripped, and charismatic. He’s also one of my vilest creations.
In CASTLE OF SORROWS, you find Gabriel behaving even more maliciously than he did in the first novel. He’s twice as formidable, his “reach” has grown exponentially, and he’s frankly too powerful for any one mortal to handle.
Yet the characters I hate most in CASTLE OF SORROWS are two men. One I won’t reveal here since his true backstory remains concealed until very late in the proceedings. Another, however, reveals his sadism in his very first appearance:
This character actually appeared in THE SORROWS as well. In that novel’s third or fourth scene, the heir of Castle Blackwood (Chris Blackwood) awakens to find someone in his room. Someone with a scalpel. After some ruthless persuasion, Chris Blackwood agrees to Rubio’s demands.
Now Ray Rubio is back in CASTLE OF SORROWS. And this time he doesn’t just have a cameo.
He’s center stage.
When you read this book, it would be wise to put up mental and emotional blinders whenever Rubio appears onstage. He’s sick, he’s depraved, and he’s cagier than he looks. As I wrote him, incidentally, I imagined the following character actor, a former boxer named Tami Mauriello (seen below and to the right) who appeared prominently in ON THE WATERFRONT (and who once lost to Joe Louis in a heavyweight championship bout):
So even though there are no zombies in CASTLE OF SORROWS (okay, so there are arguably zombie-like creatures at one point, though that one’s debatable), the notion of man’s shadowy nature equalling (or even surpassing) the sadism of an ancient god is a major idea. But sinking to those depths requires some unpleasant subject matter.