The classic definition of a zombie is either a human under the control of a Voodoo Witch Doctor or a corpse that has been animated by _______ (fill in the blank) and is now wandering the earth looking for human flesh to feed on. Sabrina has a great blog about the definition here. But I've been thinking a lot about the term "animated corpse" and wondering if it can apply to other aspects.
Take, for example, Frankenstein's monster. He was nothing more than bits and pieces of various corpses sewn together and reanimated. In essence, a corpse that was brought back to life. If you ask me, I would say he could pass as a zombie. But wait, you say, the monster had free thought. He could learn and rationalize. Traditional zombies don't have that capability. To that I would reply: You are correct. However, zombies retain some level of consciousness, even if they don't remember their human lives.
Take, for example, Day of the Dead. In this film, the good doctor of the underground bunker is conducting experiments on zombies to see if they can be "trained" and how much of their humanity they retain. His methods are questionable and incredibly unorthodox, but he proves that a zombie can remember. He teaches Bub simple tasks, such as talking on the phone and how to enjoy music. At the end, after the doctor has been murdered, Bub even remembers how to use a gun to exact revenge.
In Land of the Dead, many of the zombies continue in undeath do what they did in life. They replay their jobs over and over again until something changes, and then they start to think. No longer are they mindless husks wandering the world hoping for prey to cross their path, they become hunters. Evolution finds a way to take over.
So, would it be possible for a dead person to be brought back and have their memories and ability to function intact? What about near-death experiences? Those people have died and come back to life and they seem to function like normal humans. However, if you are talking about someone who has been dead for an extended amount of time, at the most basic level, I would have to say no, it's not possible for the person to be able to come back and function. That's the point of the vast majority of zombie novels. It shows us the horror of tampering with things we shouldn't tamper with.
But what if they could be brought back to life, altered and improved. I explore this unconventional side of reanimating the dead in my first book, Coming from Nowhere. Smart zombies, if you will. But it's not considered horror, it's classified as science fiction.
Maybe that's the difference between the conventional and unconventional definition of a zombie--horror versus science fiction. What do you think? Can their be a broader definition of "zombie"?