Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Zombies From the Pulps!: Jumbee - Henry S. Whitehead

The second story in ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS!, the fine new anthology edited by Jeffrey Shanks, is Henry S. Whitehead's "Jumbee", which originally appeared in the September 1926 issue of WEIRD TALES. As Shanks points out in his introduction, it's one of the earliest zombie yarns. Following the lurid "Herbert West: Reanimator" by H.P. Lovecraft, it comes off as a little on the mild side, as the entire story consists of a conversation between an American visitor to the West Indies and a gentleman who lives there, with the host telling his guest about his encounter with an old friend who comes to see him after dying, as well as a brush with a shape-shifter.

"Jumbee" has a couple of things to recommend it, though. Whitehead's prose is very smooth and effective in creating a creepy mood, and the story does a good job of highlighting some differences in racial attitudes between the United States and the West Indies. It's a tale that lingers in the memory, and as far as I can recall, the only story by Henry S. Whitehead that I've ever read.


Keith West said...

Whitehead is worth reading. My memory is a little fuzzy, and I can't check details at the moment, so take what follows with a grain of salt. IIRC He lived in the West Indies, specifically Haiti, which is where most of his fiction is set. He died fairly early in his writing career, or he might have become as popular as Lovecraft or Quinn. If he had lived he might be better known today.

Jeffrey Shanks said...

Keith, it was St. Croix. He was a missionary there during the 20s and that's where he picked up his knowledge of Caribbean folklore and religion. This story is notable for being one of the few mentions of a zombie in American media that predates William Seabrook's Haitian travelogue _The Magic Island_ (1929).

Keith West said...

Jeff, you're absolutely right. I wasn't where I could look it up earlier.

I'm really enjoying the book, BTW, dipping in a reading one or two stories between novels. I'm not quite halfway through.

Jeffrey Shanks said...

Thanks Keith! I'm really glad you're enjoying it. I had it great time putting it together! :)