A Canadian author known for her strong political views, feminist stance and award-winning literary novels spoke on a decidedly different topic at Thompson Rivers University Friday night.
Margaret Atwood spent about an hour talking zombies. Well, zombies, werewolves and vampires actually.
The horde of people who packed the Grand Hall didn’t have to check their brains at the door either as
Atwood, who’s been called “a scintillating wordsmith” and “expert literary critic” by The Economist, put meaning into her lecture.
Someone who enjoys tracing literary genealogy, Atwood looked at the origins of zombies and other literary monsters and how they reflect the societal views of the day. She did so with razor-sharp wit and humour.
She titled her lecture The Evolution of the Zombie: Their Past and Future.
“I could have called it Zombies: Their Ancestry and Function or Things Fall Apart,” she said.
Although zombie imagery is taken from history, including depictions of the Black Plague and accounts from the two world wars and Nazi concentration camps, the current zombie craze is reflective of our modern age, she said.
“The future back in the 1930s was very beckoning and bright and much more streamlined,” she said. “But we’re finding it a lot more ominous these days, what with hurricanes and climate change.”
She said vampires, with their allusions to wealth and sexual prowess, reflect more prosperous times. Even Frankenstein’s monster displayed the intelligence and personal growth of the early 19th century.
Zombies are shambling and soulless monsters like the people we encounter on morning commutes to and from work, said Atwood.
“We live in cities now, far from sources of food, not knowing our neighbours,” she said. “Zombies are the horrifying crowd of the urban horde, the grasping hands reach out for something which, if you gave it to them, would destroy you.”
There is a plus side to the mindlessness though, she said. Zombies exist in an eternal now because they lack memories and foresight. They have, like many people, no goals or responsibilities.
Atwood is often asked at events like the one at TRU if there’s hope for society. She said there is because, with hope, people make an effort.
She said zombies are essentially people without the hope.
“And I wish you hope.”
Atwood spoke at TRU as part of the student union’s Common Voices lecture series.