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Undead is the collective name for all types of supernatural entities that are deceased yet behave as if alive. Undead may be spiritual, such as ghosts, or corporeal, such as animated corpses. Undead are featured in the legends of most cultures and in many works of fiction, especially fantasy and horror fiction.

Bram Stoker was the first to use the term "The Un-Dead" as the original title for his novel Dracula [1]. Stoker also uses the term in the novel.

Traditional forms


Corporeal undead have an animated physical body that is otherwise biologically deceased.


Incorporeal undead have no tangible form, but exist in the world of the living as spiritual entities'.

  • Apparition ('Crisis Apparitions or 'Collective Apparitions)
  • Ghosts, common in many cultures — all types of non-corporeal undead could be said to be variations of ghosts
  • Mylings, incarnations of the souls of unbaptized or murdered children from Scandinavian folklore
  • Phantoms, a spirit which may be sensed, heard, or experienced, but perhaps not seen
  • Poltergeists, spirit or ghost that manifests by moving and influencing inanimate objects, originally of German origin
  • Spectres, a spirit with a visible presence
  • Will O'The Wisps, sometimes said to be undead spirits in parts of Europe and North America
  • Wraiths, an apparition of a living person, or the ghost of a dead person


Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein introduced a new variant of undead, the dead brought back to "life" by science, though Frankenstein's creature bears some similarity to a golem. Similar works include H. P. Lovecraft's short story "Herbert West; Reanimator" and the Re-Animator film inspired by the story.

Both legend and popular culture discuss various methods for creating undead creatures. Most involve the reanimation of a corpse, as with zombies, skeletons, and ghouls. Regarding ghosts, the spirit lives on after death, forming an intangible physical body that often mirrors the one the spirit had in life.

In some cases, the undead, especially skeletons and zombies, are under the control of a sorcerer. In other cases, such as zombies as depicted in film and vampires, the undead existence is passed on like a curse or disease. With liches, the necromancy powers of undead are sought after by the participant of a magical ritual that turns them from a living being to a lich. Ghosts are said to be kept in their undead state by willpower, either from a keen desire to remain with the living or from a wish to see something completed that they could not do during their lifetime.


In fiction and folklore, undead creatures are often hostile toward the living. Defending against the undead is often difficult as they are usually depicted as being resistant to normal attacks. Nonetheless, they are often vulnerable to sacred or blessed objects, such as crosses and holy water.

Vampires traditionally can be killed by a stake through the heart or by decapitation, though various traditions have different means of dealing with them. the best way to kill a vampire?

Zombies can often continue to attack when dismembered. To dispatch them, it may be necessary to destroy the head, kill the person who reanimated them, or destroy a significant portion of their body. Firearms, such as shotguns and high-caliber rifles and handguns may be effective against zombies, while low-caliber pistols and rifles may be ineffective.

Incorporeal undead are difficult to defend against because normal physical weapons pass harmlessly through their forms. In many video games and role-playing games, ghosts can only be dispatched by enchanted or silver weapons. [2]

However, in other fiction the only way to get rid of them permanently is to discover what duty or task they failed to complete in life (an example of this is found in Chapter 4 of The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis [3]

Undead are often depicted as vulnerable to sunlight and fire. They may also perish when their creator is likewise dispatched. Undead may be unable to cross certain symbolic boundaries or even natural barriers like running water.

In some cultures, various plants are said to repel the undead. Examples include garlic and wolfsbane, as well as rosewood, rowan, hazel, willow, and holly. This modern tradition appears to be based on pre-Christian belief that some plants are sacred. Additionally, a line of salt is sometimes said to act as a barrier to the undead.


Many films have been made about the undead, usually vampires, zombies, and mummies, including the classics Dracula,' Night of the Living Dead, and The Mummy.

Games and popular culture

Undead are a popular adversary in fantasy and horror settings. They feature prominently in many role-playing games, computer role-playing games, MMORPGs and strategy games. In such games, special rules are often given for the undead.

  • In Dungeons & Dragons and similar systems, clerics can attempt to "turn" undead by invoking their patron deities or channeling "positive energy" (other-dimensional life energy). This forces the undead creature away from the cleric; powerful clerics are capable of completely destroying weaker undead creatures with this ability. Although the act of turning away the undead relies primarily on power of faith, a holy symbol is usually required as a focus for the divine power being invoked. This is derived from the traditional notion that vampires could be repelled by the cross. Clerics of evil gods can rebuke and control the undead in a similar fashion, by means of necromancy. [4]
  • In Dungeons & Dragons and other games such as Final Fantasy, undead can be damaged by using magical effects that heal normal living beings.
  • In many games from Blizzard entertainment, Undead creatures play a vital role. This includes Diablo II, where the Necromancer s have the ability to summon the undead from corpses.

Warcraft III provides an entire races of Undead warriors.

  • Undead characters appear in many roles, be it a mindless horde of opponents (such as zombies or skeletons) or a thoughtful, plotting villain (such as vampires). Some games feature undead playable characters, such as Vampire: The Masquerade.
  • In some stories and settings, such as the Lorien Trust LARP, the word "unliving" is used as a preferential synonym. In reference to the political correctness movement, the undead are sometimes jokingly referred to as the "living-impaired". Vampires were sometimes likewise referred to as "Undead Americans" by characters in the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the spin-off Angel.

In philosophy

Jacques Derrida used the myth of the undead as a means to deconstruct the binary opposition between life and death.

See also

External link

Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.