I love zombie stories—in all shapes and forms. From movies to TV shows to books to comics to video games, I enjoy watching humans test their strength and resolve against the undead and hopefully come out a winner.
My fascination with zombies began after I watched Night of the Living Dead. I was in junior high at the time (but not at the same time the movie came out), and my dad had it recorded on a VHS tape. I remember feeling creeped out, but not jump-out-of-my-skin scared. I had to watch more. So I did.
George Romero will forever be the father of the modern-day zombie. There were zombie movies before his, but the creatures were often created with voodoo. Romero introduced the world to creatures that rise from the dead to consume the living.
Zombies have progressed since Night of the Living Dead first came out, evolving into fast-moving, sentient, and aware creatures. Some argue that these zombies taint the purity that is Romero’s slow, decaying creatures, but even Romero’s zombies evolve. By the time we get to Land of the Dead, zombies are aware that they are different from humans, and they don’t like that humans kill them. They go on a revenge mission to kill the humans that have been destroying the zombies.
If there’s one common thread that runs through all zombie stories, it’s that the survivors never hesitate to pick up a weapon to fight the undead. There may be questions about whether or not the zombies can be saved and turned back into humans, but no one hesitates killing the zombies if their life is in danger.
A lot of this boils down to survival and the fight or flight choices humans have when faced with danger. I love this aspect of the story. I love that the story shows that most humans will step up to the plate and do what they have to do to ensure we don’t go extinct.
I’ve incorporated this toughness and badassness into a lot of my own zombie stories and the characters therein. It’s fun to imagine a world with tough characters who don’t back down from a challenge. They may be afraid, but they don’t let it show when the going gets tough.
But what happens after? What happens to these characters when the threat is gone and they don’t have to be tough?
That was a question I wanted to explore in Humanity’s Hope, and I looked at it from the perspective that the main character has been deeply and profoundly changed by the zombie apocalypse.
One of the great allures of stories is that they show us how we wish we could be. We know that if zombies were to rise, the situation would be life changing. It’s fun to imagine how we would react, but we might also question our ability to rise to the challenge. We want to believe that we can be tough, unflappable, and able to do whatever it takes to survive terrible threats. That’s why these tough characters are so appealing.
However, one of the other things that stories do really well is reflect real life back to us and show us ways to overcome our fears and shortcomings. We might not always be tough, and that’s totally okay, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be brave. We also are not going to go into a life-changing situation and not be changed by it—life without zombies rising has proven this to us.
When I conceived the idea of Humanity’s Hope, I wanted to explore how the zombie apocalypse would change a person. While all of us want to believe that we’d still be as strong and tough as we were when faced with zombies, the likelihood of that happening is low. All of us would probably react differently to the situation, but some of us would come out like Caleb: mentally scarred and suffering from PTSD.
Does that make us or Caleb weak? Absolutely not. It makes us human.
Through medical research, we know that soldiers often suffer from PTSD or other mental health issues after being in combat, and they are trained to deal with these types of stressful situations. If they aren’t immune to these problems, what makes us think the rest of us will be?
Where the true strength comes in is how we deal with these problems day in and day out. There’s no doubt it’s a struggle, and it has a profound impact on how we interact with one another and our environment. It may even impact how we interact with our own minds, and that was what I wanted to explore with Caleb.
Humanity’s Hope isn’t exactly a traditional zombie story. Caleb can and has been strong when he needed to be, but most of the narrative focuses on his attempt to return to humanity after all he’s seen and done. We see how the tragedy of watching his family and friends die has impacted him. We see him struggling to understand his world and himself after everything has been turned upside down.
We live in a time and world where mental health is a misunderstood and stigmatized issue. When we hear someone has mental health issues, we automatically assume that they are a danger to others or themselves. Yet, there are more than 200 forms of mental health issues, and most of them are treatable.
My goal with Caleb and Humanity’s Hope was to highlight the struggles someone might go through when dealing with mental health issues and how those issues may have manifested. I wanted to point out that even though these issues can be difficult to deal with, they aren’t impossible to deal with. I also wanted to show that despite Caleb’s struggles, he is a hero.
We all want to live “normal” lives and to be functioning, productive members of society, but the definition of “normal” varies from person to person. Caleb certainly wants to return to a normal life, but how is that possible after the world has been changed and overrun with the undead? Would you be able to return to “normal” after dealing with the undead?