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(pop culture)

The ghoul, a traditional monster frequently associated with the vampire, originated as part of Arabic folklore. It played a part in several tales in the Arabian Knights. Ghouls represented a more demonic aspect of the world of jinns, the spirits of Arabic mythology. The Arabic ghul (masculine) and ghulah (feminine) lived near graves and attacked and ate human corpses. It was also believed that ghouls lived in desolated places where they would attack unsuspecting travelers who mistook the ghoul for a traveling companion and were led astray. Ghul-I-Beában was a particularly monstrous ghoul believed to inhabit the wilderness of Afghanistan and Iran. Marco Polo, reflecting on the accounts of ghouls he had heard about during his travels, suggested that ghouls, gryphons (an imaginary animal, part eagle, part lion), and good faith were three things people frequently referred to but did not exist.

The ghoul returned to popular culture in the twentieth-century through a multitude of monster movies. New ghouls were similar to vampires because they were reanimated dead people in humanoid form. The ghoul, however, ate human flesh, while the vampire drank blood. The ghoul also acted with neither a will nor intellect, and seemed to have somewhat derived from the zombie—the figure in Haitian folklore reportedly brought back to life by magic and destined to work in the service of the person who brought it back to “life.” One nineteenth-century case, that of François Bertrand, was a popular example of ghoulish behavior. Bertrand, a noncommissioned officer in the French Army, was arrested after he entered and desecrated several tombs in Paris. He was convicted and sentenced to a lengthy term in prison in 1849 after confessing to an overwhelming compulsion to tear the corpses of women and girls to pieces. His story later became the basis of a popular novel, The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore.

Modern ghouls, really a ghoul/zombie mixture, made definitive appearances in two movies directed by George Romero: Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1979). Romero acknowledged that the numerous vampires of Richard Matheson‘s 1954 novel, I Am Legend, inspired his “living dead.” Night of the Living Dead pictured the dead returning to life by some form of radiation and eating their fellow humans. The ghouls walked slowly, were limited in their actions, and were destroyed by a bullet or sharp blow to the head. Although they could be killed relatively easily, in packs they could simply overwhelm individuals and small groups, such as those trapped in the farmhouse in the movie. Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead seemed to have inspired a group of Italian movies featuring a variation on Romero’s ghoul/zombie as exemplified in Umberto Lenzi’s City of the Walking Dead (1983).

The ghoul, in a somewhat different form, has been given new life in the 1990s through Vampire: The Masquerade the popular role-playing game. In the mythology of the game, ghouls are people who have received some vampire blood, hence have attained a degree of immortality, but have not gone through the full Embrace which would make them a vampire. They are servants of the vampires and can be most helpful as they easily move about in the daytime.

The ghoul is a rare creature in Western popular culture, though its cousin the zombieenjoyed extensive revival in the 1990s. It has been integrated into White Wolf’s game, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, and a modest number of fictional writings, most designed for a teen or younger audience have appeared. R. L. Stine has written several ghoul stories in his juvenile series.


Barber, Richard, and Anne Riches. A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts. New York: Walker and Company, 1971. 167 pp.
Russell, W. M. S., and Claire Russell. “The Social Biology of Werewolves.” In J. R. Porter and W. M. S. Russell. Animals in Folklore. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1978, 143–182.
Waller, George A. The Living and the Undead: From Stoker’s Dracula to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois press, 1986. 378 pp.
References in periodicals archive ?
It musta been a treat for them, 'cause ordinarily, to see undead ghouls for real, they'd have to go as far as San Francisco or Los Angeles, and wander downtown late at night.
1283) mentioned a different description taken from an old Arabic source, which says that when the devils wanted to eavesdrop on Heaven, God threw meteors at them, (5) whereupon some were burnt, fell into the sea and later turned into crocodiles, while others dropped onto the ground and changed into ghouls (1980, 236).
Mark Wheeler, leisure centre assistant manager, said: "All the children really got into the spirit of Halloween and arrived dressed up as ghosts, witches, and ghouls.
In this fantasy, Vornholt (author of several best-selling Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other SF/fantasy novels) deftly creates a fantastic world of magical beings such as trolls, ogres, ghouls, fairies and elves.
The ghouls of Monster High(TM) serve up two fang-tastically fabulous adventures in one DVD: When the boys cannot compete in the Skultimate Roller Maze(TM) Championship, Frankie Stein(TM) convinces her friends that some "ghoul power" is needed to save the day in the all-new Friday Night Frights.
Last year we were inundated with snaps of your kids dressed as ghouls, zombies, vampires and werewolves.
The infant ghouls were enjoying a Halloween disco at Craig yr Eos Infants School, Penygraig, last night when the smoke machine from a mobile disco set off fire alarms.
Vampires, ghouls, and ghosts, fog-filled graveyards, a creepy crypt.
There he encounters hungry giants, hostile marsh ghouls, and an enemy out of his past and his future.
GHOSTS and ghouls will be mingling with shoppers to raise money for abused and underprivileged children.
At the end, coatless, faces smudged with black greasepaint, fingers curled, the dancers advance on the audience like a phalanx of ghouls from Michael Jackson's "Thriller.
Namco Networks, a leading publisher and developer of mobile, iPhone and PC games for mass-market casual gamers, today announced the release of Garters & Ghouls for iPhone and iPod touch, available for $4.