In his upcoming book, a university professor explores the horror—and the hope—of pop culture’s favorite disaster scenario.

In our current cultural moment, most of us are probably familiar with the myth of the “zombie apocalypse”—the idea of a sudden, widespread uprising of undead that threatens civilization and, more often than not, forces humanity to fight off hordes of shambling corpses to prevent its own extinction. This basic premise has been the starting point for films, TV shows, and other media texts for nearly half a century, from George Romero’s foundational 1968 masterpiece Night of the Living Dead to AMC’s popular series The Walking Dead, which recently concluded its seventh season.

Given the myth’s current ubiquity, it may be tempting to think of zombie-themed media as a passing fad. In his upcoming book, Living with the Living Dead, however, writer and Baylor University professor Greg Garrett argues that our fascination with apocalyptic scenarios filled with undead creatures speaks to many of the anxieties—and, oddly enough, the hopes—of our contemporary world.

Today, we feature an excerpt from Garrett’s book, which examines the surprising silver lining on the dark cloud of the zombie apocalypse.

On the surface of it, the apocalypse seems to be nothing but negative. As a story, it is an acknowledgment that things are going wrong for the world in which we live. At the opening of the film Gravity, astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) says, for the first of many times, “Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission.” Following as closely as it does on a title that reads “Life is impossible in space,” we are inclined to give that premonition some weight.

Yes, it’s the end of the world. Yes, life is impossible. We know that full well.

In telling stories …

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