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An Oxford Companion to surviving a zombie apocalypse

Sons are eating their mothers’ brains. Brothers are eating each other’s brains, and the baby is eating the brain of the pet cat. It has finally happened. The zombie apocalypse is here. It’s time to put your survival instinct to the test. Tie your hair back, do some stretches, pick up your bloody machete, and join us as we go over the front-line into zombie-occupied territory, armed only with some of Oxford University Press’s finest online products and a ferocious temper. As May is International Zombie Awareness Month, I offer my bloodied hand to guide you through the five things you need to know to survive a zombie apocalypse. Are you ready? Let’s go!

1. Know your enemy
The term ‘zombie’ has seeped into our lexicon and bled into multiple areas of popular culture. For example, a ‘zombie’ can refer to a drink — a cocktail consisting of several kinds of rum, liqueur, and fruit juice. Alternatively, it could refer to a computer controlled by another person without the owner’s knowledge, or a ‘zombie’ could be a pejorative term for a Canadian soldier conscripted during the Second World War for service in Canada. However, the original meaning of the term ‘zombie’ came from nineteenth century West Africa and means “a corpse said to be revived by witchcraft, especially in certain African and Caribbean religions.” This is the entity that you have to fear in order to survive the zombie apocalypse.

According to The Oxford Companion to Consciousness, a zombie is “the living dead, a living creature indistinguishable in its physical constitution and in terms of its outward appearance and behaviour from a normal human being, but in whom the light of consciousness was completely absent.”

Therefore, in order to distinguish between the living and the living dead, you need to be able to spot the sentient from the senseless. Use Oxford Dictionaries to identify symptoms: those with a shuffling, lumbering, Neanderthal gait, faintly lugubrious facial expressions, and letting out guttural roars are most likely zombies. Also, if they appear soulless and are hell-bent on devouring your brain, it’s best to run as fast as you can…

2. Prepare your cardio
You now know what these harbingers of death look like but how can you get away from them if you can’t run? So long as you stay fit and exercise as much as you can during the zombie apocalypse, you will have a head-start on the creatures known as the walking dead. Actually, the clue is in the name. They’re called the walking dead for a reason. They can’t jog and they certainly can’t sprint, so provided you stretch before you attempt to replicate Mo Farah or Paula Radcliffe, you should be able to out-run these brain-thirsty zombies.

However, as Chris Cooper explains in Run, Swim, Throw, Cheat, there are other, less honest ways of improving your running ability. It may be unnatural, and cause you to exceed the normal limits of human endurance, but performance-enhancing drugs may help you out run your supernatural enemy. However, you’ll need more than running shoes to keep you safe…

3. Plan your resources
It may have sounded foolish to your neighbours but who’s laughing at your ‘Zombie Apocalypse Emergency Supplies’ now? Certainly not Martin, your overly friendly neighbour: he’s a re-animated zombie and desperately trying to devour Marjorie, the cat-lady next door. Failure to prepare is not an option. Using The Oxford Companion to Food as your guide, you’ve established what foods are the longest-lasting. Now equipped with a lifetime supply of canned meats, you barricade yourself in a DIY fort comprised of SPAM and canned tuna. Fun fact about SPAM: George A. Hormel, the inventor of tinned pork and the reason for its introduction to the food market in 1937, described the shelf-life of SPAM as ‘indefinite’. As you regard the desiccated daemons closing in around you, this might be the only time in your life you would trade places with a can of SPAM for its ‘indefinite’ shelf-life.

If the zombie attack becomes too much for you and all you want to do is sit in a corner, weeping silently and trembling with fear, then perhaps The Oxford Companion to Beer could help you through the dark times.

4. Pick your Weaponry
Don’t deny it; you’ve seen the films. The only way to kill a zombie is to remove the head or destroy the brain. It’s a lesson as old as time (it isn’t). If you’re thinking of a machine gun or a shotgun right now then you’re lucky to still be alive. Not only would the noise ring out like a dinner bell to the zombies, but ammunition would quickly run out and you’d be left with no means of self-protection. Your best bet is a machete, or anything that you can wield around. Reading the section entitled ‘Hand-to-Hand Weapons’ in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology is an excellent way to understand how to build your arsenal. I’m not sure if you can buy a samurai sword in your local newsagents, but it would be worth a try.

5. Write about your experience
‘Combat Gnosticism’ was a term coined by First World War academic James Campbell who advocated that ‘legitimate war literature’ is literature produced exclusively by combat experience; that soldiers have a kind of ‘gnosis’, a secret knowledge that makes writers such as Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves, and Siegfried Sassoon the exemplars of First World War literature. You, yes YOU, could be the Wilfred Owen of the zombie apocalypse. All you need is a working laptop and you could become the voice of a generation of half-dead souls, documenting your experiences on the front-line. If your very own ‘Combat Gnosticism’ isn’t inspiration enough, Timothy Kendall’s Poetry of the First World War is due to publish October 2013. Let’s just hope the zombies don’t attack until then!

Congratulations brave soldier, you’ve done it! Fearlessly fighting your ferocious foe, you’ve stumbled out of the zombie apocalypse with all your limbs attached. We look forward to guiding you through the next ‘Zomb-pocalypse’!

Image credits: (1) Haiti Zombie. Work of art by Jean-noël Lafargue. Free Art License via Wikimedia Commons (2) Blue Eyed Zombie. Photo by Josh Jensen. Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons

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