In Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, the undead are seen less as monsters, and more as characters with unusual cultural quirks. They even have their own bar in Ankh-Morpork, which is frequented by both Angua and Susan.
It should be noted that the term "undead" is used on the Discworld to refer to many races that seem to be more like separate species, such as werewolves, banshees and bogeymen. Zombies are the only race that belong exclusively to the category "undead", in that they were once living (and human, in all cases seen so far). Vampires are borderline, in that some used to be human, whereas most seem to have been born as vampires.
Almost all undead can be killed with decapitation and fire as well as their other traditional means. It is also said that the more traditional undead hate all other species of undead - it is implied that this is down to having to share a food source (humans).
Zombies are the most basic kind of undead. Essentially, they are people who are dead, but haven't stopped moving. Unlike zombies in most folklore and horror fiction, they are not automatically mindless but retain the same personality they did when they were alive.
Zombies are usually reborn from a human who has 'unfinished business', but rather than simply being a ghostly spirit waiting for somebody else to do the job, has a will to live so strong that their soul can literally force its way back into its body and use it to continue their business. Most zombies are reborn from people with obsessive personalities; even after their business is completed they may find other reasons to live. Some can be summoned back by a voodoo practitioner, others simply refuse to stop living. For instance, Mr Slant, head of the Guild of Lawyers, was executed for an unknown crime centuries ago, but refuses to die until his descendants agree to pay the firm for his defending himself at the trial.
If, for some reason, Death is prevented from releasing someone's soul from their body, the result is many aimless zombies. This has, however, only happened once without someone else taking up the role. During their creation, a zombie will initially not notice that they have died. They will then 'die' for several hours before the soul returns to the body.
The most difficult thing about being a zombie is that your body is dead. A zombie must be fully aware of what they want to do at all times, and since most people don't know how the human body works in detail, a zombie won't naturally heal, nor can they automate their fine motor skills (such as grasping doorknobs and handling small items), and they stiffen up without regular use. Less determined zombies will gradually rot, though still more slowly than a normal corpse. A zombie can remain active even if its flesh is lost to wear, tear and rot. Since this is very inhibitive to social acceptance, most zombies use some artificial methods of preservation.
Zombies have none of the physical restrictions placed on humans. They don't need to breathe or sleep or rely on a circulatory system. All their senses - most prominently pain - seem to be optional and they only feel things like heat, cold or anything else if they want to. Fresh zombies might do a few of these things out of habit but soon find things like getting out of breath and feeling hungry, cold or tired, or their body being worn down by age, are more of an inconvenience to completing their unfinished business. Zombies have full access to the physical potential of a human and none of the limitations caused by pain, muscle strain, age, the injuries that lead to their death or injuries caused after, nor do they require adrenaline to use it, making them incredibly strong.
The stronger the will of the human when alive, the more powerful the zombie once dead - unjust deaths result in exceptionally powerful zombies who can last for centuries in their hunt for justice. Other zombies are just so determined to live that they refuse to die - Windle Poons' unfinished business was his entire life.
It has not yet been detailed what will finish off a zombie; decapitation has little effect since you can return a head to the zombie simply by sewing it back on. Fulfilling their unfinished business can bring a zombie to rest but others will fight one cause after another and continue with their unlife.
Mummies tend not to come back to life on the Discworld. There are only two cultures (Djelibeybi and Tsort) who really believe in mummification anyway, and they have both lost interest in it in recent years. Pyramids, however, describes an occasion when the dead of Djelibeybi did return to their bodies. Essentially they seemed much like zombies, only better preserved. They unanimously despised the pyramids in which they were interred, and upon their release they helped to destroy the Great Pyramid and then dissolved their corporeal bodies in the Djel. This caused some problems for Death, as he was unused to having over 1,600 souls to take at one time (he eventually processed them in queue). Prior to the events of Pyramids, the souls of those mummified appear to have been prevented from totally dying, and were instead trapped within their pyramids.
On the Disc, all our world's vampire legends are true, even the contradictory ones. They just aren't all true for the same vampire.
The "default" Discworld vampire is generally consistent with the Dracula image. Their homeland is Überwald, a land that does not so much resemble Eastern Europe as the Universal and Hammer Horror movie stereotypes of the region. When you live for centuries and instinctively see humans as prey, it's very easy to decide that this means you're destined to rule by force. Überwald is filled with vampire aristocrats.
One odd element of this vampiric attraction to nobility is their names, which often run for several pages. Over the course of their long lives, vampires acquire titles in much the same way as a philatelist acquires stamps. Collecting titles is both a means to pass the time and a subtle reminder to hoi polloi of whom to respect.
The more intelligent vampire nobles know better than to oppress the local peasants too much, realising that there's no sense in driving them to become a torch-bearing mob. Others are too arrogant to worry, or see the whole business of feeding on humans as a very complicated, relatively stylized hunting sport. These vampires (most notably the old Count Magpyr, who returned from the dead so often his coffin had a revolving lid) "play by the rules" and give their quarry ample opportunity to defend themselves. Realizing that even death is rarely permanent for a vampire, these traditionalists like to give their prey a sporting chance and so keep their castles stocked with large collections of holy water, garlands of garlic, wooden stakes (complete with anatomical diagrams detailing the position of the heart in order to reduce the likelihood of their being left looking like a pincushion), metal decorations easily bent into holy symbols, and very clean windows covered by easily pulled-aside drapes. Vampires only really become dangerous when they start breaking the rules, as demonstrated by the younger Count Magpyr, who developed immunity to the traditional weaknesses by lengthy conditioning of himself and his family.
The craving for human blood appears to be more an addiction like alcoholism than a strict dietary requirement. Vampires are reported to have some need for extra "haemo-goblins" and must consume blood to survive, but this blood need not be fresh, or even human. The addiction to fresh, human blood is one which a growing number of vampires are beating, with help from support groups like the Überwald League of Temperance (the "Black Ribboners"). They refer to this change in diet as "going cold bat" (cf. cold turkey). Many get jobs at butcher shops or slaughterhouses in order to obtain their sustenance without harming human beings. In giving up human blood, most vampires sublimate their desire into a secondary, more socially acceptable addiction such as coffee, photography or even politics. Vampires denied the opportunity to satisfy their secondary addiction may begin suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms, including hallucinations such as with delirium tremens. Vampires in this state will eventually become unable to control their natural addiction to blood.
Discworld vampires can survive in sunlight, provided they wear heavy clothes and broad-brimmed hats. As before, some vampires believe conditioning would reduce their vulnerability to the sun. When exposed to direct sunlight they will be immediately reduced to ashes, but require merely a drop of blood to recorporate. Many Black Ribboners carry a dustpan, brush, and explanatory card ("I've crumbled and I can't get up") asking bystanders for assistance in reviving them; Otto Chriek carries his own self-revival kit (a glass phial of blood that breaks upon impact) for automatic recorporation.
Vampires can create new vampires with their bite, but generally prefer not to. Given the existence of vampire couples with vampire children, there must be a way for them to reproduce, and presumably do everything else on the way to becoming adults. This seems to imply that not all vampires were once human.
Ankh-Morpork resident Arthur Winkins became a vampire as part of an inheritance that included an old castle in Überwald and the accompanying noble title. His wife Doreen Winkins refers to herself as a vampiress, or vampire by marriage, although she is not actually undead.
Vampires have the ability to levitate and change into bats or other animals, and can transform with their clothes when they return to 'human' form. However "beetotallers" find using these talents more difficult and find it easier to transform into many bats, thereby maintaining the same body mass. However, the vampire must then control all the bat bodies with a single mind and female Vampires must keep a few carrying clothes unless they wish to arrive naked.
This is because although male vampires can recorporate their clothes after an ashing or a transformation, female vampires find this more difficult. The reason for this is unclear, though many speculate it is to do with the "underwired nightdress thing". In other words, according to narrative convention (the all-powerful force on the Disc), female vampires must always be sexy. There are some exceptions to this rule; in Monstrous Regiment one female vampire recorporates her clothes, although she was pretending to be male and narrative convention seems to be partially derived from what people expect.
Coolness, poise and self-assurance come easily to natural born vampires, while vampires transformed by other means need to put in more effort - although it's been noted that thanks to blood having a low calorie value, they can still lose weight in short order. A female vampire will look fabulous even in a modestly priced dress while males often look extremely stylish in any suit.
Younger vampires seem to have embraced some kind of 'anti-coolness' by dressing poorly and trying to renounce traditional vampiric stylishness in all its forms, ditching sleek black cloaks for ratty jumpers and mournful violin playing for showing off their models out of matchsticks. Additionally a recent trend among rebellious younger vampires involves dressing in bright clothes, using less menacing names, drinking wine (or more commonly drinking blood from wine bottles), complimenting each other on their (fake) rosy complexions and staying up until nearly noon in a reversal of teenage goth culture. Some even try to put on extra weight.
Vampires have a number of weaknesses - a stake through the heart works, as does decapitation and fire (of course these work for humans too) but they also have problems with bright light, holy water and garlic, are temporarily incapacitated by holy symbols, and they can't enter temples or similar places of sanctity. In Feet of Clay, there is a running joke of one particularly unlucky vampire complaining to the City Watch about his various jobs—jobs which happen to subject him to the myriad perils of vampirism: a pencil factory and a fencing firm (wooden stakes), a sunglasses tester (sunlight), a garlic stacker, and a holy water bottler. Even with the most determined destruction of their bodies though, they can be resurrected later by a drop of human blood.
Noted vampires in the books include: Arthur and Doreen Winkins (the Count and Countess Notfaroutoe), the Dragon King of Arms, the Magpyr family, Lady Margolotta, Otto Chriek, Mr Morcombe, lawyer to the Ramkin family (though some in the League suspect he may merely be a man who stubbornly managed to live for 400 years), Maladict(a) and Salacia "Sally" von Humpeding, the first vampire City Watch constable. A Mr. Bleakley is also referred to in several books as a prospective vampire Watch officer.
There is some debate on the Discworld as to whether werewolves are undead or not. The general consensus seems to be "they're big and scary, they come from Überwald, and if you stab them with a sword they don't die. What more do you want?" Regardless of whether or not they are technically undead, inhabitants of the Discworld generally lump werewolves into the same category and treat them in the same fashion.
The Discworld variant of lycanthropy is not considered as merely an infection, as it can be passed along via bloodlines (Discworld Werewolves can be born). Whether or not Discworld lycanthropy is communicable via bites or not however is disputable, but there have been two comments made in the books in support of this notion (one is a joke made by Gaspode and the other was a mental note by Angua von Überwald in the 21st Discworld book Jingo). If Discworld's communicable vampirism is anything to go by, a werewolf must intend to infect the human, while to gain all the benefits the human in question must be willing.
It can be claimed however that it is entirely correct to see a Discworld werewolf either as a human or as a wolf; they are a separate class of being equally at home in either form, and their psychology combines carnivorous animal instincts with human abstract reasoning. In some, this manifests as a fusion of natural predatory instincts with the purely human concept of sadism. Others just make the best they can out of a life where, once a month, they find themselves stealing chickens. Some werewolves (such as Wolfgang von Uberwald) refuse to wear clothes in human form unless required, and some (such as Angua's father) spend so much time in wolf form that they frequently carry canine behaviours over into human form. Their culture combines both human and animal elements; their homes contain few furnishings, both human- and dog-sized doors, and pantries stocked entirely with raw meat. While it depends on the family in question, werewolves have no need to cook very often, and have trouble entertaining human guests.
There are as many werewolf barons in Überwald as vampire ones, and for much the same reason.
A "true" werewolf is a human three weeks out of four, unless (s)he chooses otherwise, and a wolf the week of full moon. There are also yennorks, werewolves who cannot change, and are permanently in human or wolf form - theoretically they would be as intelligent as humans if they are always in wolf form, or with the enhanced fierce instincts and senses of wolves if they live as humans. They usually find werewolf culture uncomfortable and try to live human lives or lead a pack, or in at least one case live as a champion sheepdog.
This is where the other kinds of werewolves come from. Crossbreeding between yennorks and ordinary humans has resulted in various other forms of werewolf. The most obvious are the people who turn into wolf-men, rather than wolves, at full moon, but the spectrum ranges from people who have hairy palms and eyebrows that meet in the middle to creatures that look like feral wolf-human hybrids... except at full moon when they turn into wolves. Meanwhile yennork/wolf mating has led to some extremely intelligent and savage wolves, and is possibly also the cause of the occasional "were-man", a wolf that turns into a wolf-man at full moon.
Werewolves and Vampires are repeatedly stated to despise each other. This is partly down to deep-seated politico-racial rivalry. However werewolves hate how the effortless cool of vampires make werewolves look like hairy animals, while traditional vampires additionally hate having to share a food source (namely humans) with them.
One Hollywood stereotype they do conform to is their vulnerability to silver, which causes burns even on light contact, but they can also be killed by fire and decapitation (although this works for humans too). However they are nigh-invulnerable to being killed by other means. While they will appear to die, they can be resurrected under the light of the next full moon. A longtime supremacy of a number of werewolf clans in Überwald led to a ban on dwarfs mining silver in the region in exchange for the promise that there would be no need for it, though that ban was lifted when the most powerful werewolf clan broke their side of the bargain.
Werewolves are described as synaesthetes, being able to "see" smells.
Noted werewolves in the books include Ludmilla Cake, Lupine (a were-man) and Sergeant Delphine Angua von Überwald and her family.
Little is known about Discworld banshees. Although the banshee of Gaelic folklore are always female, the only two banshee to appear in the Discworld books have been male, as all of the female banshees have now become extinct (see The Discworld Portfolio, and The Truth). They are described as the only humanoid race on the Disc that can fly unaided.
Banshees are tall, lean figures, who appear to be wearing long leather capes. These are actually their folded wings. They have flight muscles like steel armour, but their skeletons are fragile. Banshees have two hearts and many rows of teeth.
The Discworld banshees seem to have evolved in the jungle, where they used their power of flight to help them hunt small (and many not-so-small) animals. This carnivorous instinct tends to backfire in Ankh-Morpork, where any uncooked animal is basically food poisoning on legs.
There appear to be two kinds of banshee, civilised and feral. Civilised banshees can apparently sense when a person is about to die. They will traditionally scream from that person's rooftop as a sign of impending death. However, Mr. Ixolite, the banshee featured in Reaper Man, has a speech impediment and prefers to leave a note instead. Hearing the scream of a feral banshee is also a sign that you are about to die, but the connection in this case is much more direct, i.e the Banshee is coming right towards you and is going to be the cause of your death. Interestingly, though, Mr. Gryle the feral banshee worked as a killer for large amounts of money (not a registered Assassin), and berated himself for being unable to fight the urge to snatch pigeons out of the air as they scattered.
While not technically undead, verging more on anthropomorphic personifications, bogeymen are frequently lumped into this category. Bogeymen are manifestations of human fears, both childish and primal. They seem to be sustained by the fear of humans (belief has considerable power on Discworld), which gives them ample reason to keep to their traditional work of frightening people. When off-duty, quite a lot of bogeymen seem to frequent Biers, the unofficial bar for the undead in Ankh-Morpork.
Because bogeymen believe that children no longer exist if a child puts its head under the covers (although they only believe this because children do), bogeymen become extremely confused and begin to doubt their own existence if a blanket, pillow, or even a handkerchief is thrown over their own heads. Boogeymen like to hide behind and under things until it's time to jump out, and it's hard to know their true physical form as they will also project illusions to inspire fear. However when fully revealed they are portrayed as hulking, hairy and rather brutish-looking men.
The original bogeyman eventually became the Discworld Tooth Fairy.
Thus far, the only ghoul to make an appearance in any Discworld novel is Sister Drull of the Fresh Starters. Described as a shy old woman in a shapeless grey dress, it is uncertain whether she eats human flesh as a traditional ghoul, but it is confirmed that she is a terrible cook. Corporal Carrot briefly suggests allowing a ghoul to work in the forensics department of the Watch, provided that the ghoul doesn't take anything home.
Main Article: Lady Margolotta
A vampire from Uberwald and a major player in that region's brutal politics. So far only seen in The Fifth Elephant, she resides in a castle that looks "as though it could be taken by a small squad of not very efficient soldiers". The inside is decorated with chintz. Margolotta herself wears a pink jumper with embroidered bats, and carries a little ratlike dog (or possibly a doglike rat) with her. A "black ribboner", she has forsworn blood in favour of the far more satisfying hunt that politics can offer. Long ago, she had a liaison of sorts with the young Lord Vetinari. While Vimes believed that she taught Vetinari a lot of what he knows, she strongly hinted it was Vetinari that taught her. Margolotta was also apparently responsible for the tutoring of Mr. Nutt, protagonist (arguably) of Unseen Academicals, and for sending him to Ankh-Morpork to work and "gain worth".
- The Old Count, Count Magpyr's uncle. Very much a stereotyped cinematic vampire, it is no coincidence that his first name is Bela. He kept his castle full of drapes that could be cast aside and ironwork that could be shaped into religious symbols. Because it was so easy to kill him temporarily, no-one ever went to the effort of doing it permanently.
- Count and Countess Magpyr see themselves as modern "vampyres" unshackled by superstition. They are partially unaffected by the traditional vampire weaknesses (due to psychological mithridatism), and keen to avoid stereotyping. They see taking blood from villagers as "The Arrangement"; just an unusual form of taxation.
- Vlad Magpyr also sees himself as a modern vampyre, but has become another stereotype; the romantic Anne Rice-type vampire. He has a ponytail and wears fancy waistcoats.
- Lacrimosa Magpyr embodies a reversal of "lifestyle vampires"; an actual vampire who wears bright clothes and stays up until noon. Lacrimosa herself appears to be a vicious, sadistic, though intelligent, vampire, but some of her friends call themselves names like "Pam", file their teeth blunt and even drink... wine.
- Magyrato, a briefly-mentioned ancestor. His portrait is unfinished, due to him attacking the artist halfway through. From what can be seen, he resembled Graf Orlok.
It is implied that older members of the family were closer to vampires in the original legends. As befits a family of their status and condition, they are served by an Igor (who frequently feels put upon by the less traditional Magpyrs).
Otto von Chriek
See Otto von Chriek
Corporal Reginald Shoe
Main Article: Reg Shoe Reginald Shoe (usually Reg Shoe) is a zombie, and a Corporal in the Night Watch. He was introduced in Reaper Man and joined the Watch in Jingo. He died in the Ankh-Morpork Revolution that took place during now-Commander Vimes' first days on the Watch force, some thirty years before the present. (Details in Night Watch.) Reg died from several crossbow bolts to the chest, although it took him some time to realise this. Afterwards he became strongly interested in his own "Dead Rights" movement, spending the years between then and now on creating his "Fresh Start Club", preaching to the cemeteries of the city on how maltreated dead people are, and taking a job as an undertaker merely so that he can leave flyers for the Fresh Start Club on the inside of the coffins.
Reg was hired on to the force by Carrot Ironfoundersson, on the basis that if the authorities maltreated the dead, they needed some more expertise. Since then, the number of complaints doubled - all against Mr. Shoe, who claims it is all because of a lack of understanding of the demands of policing in a multi-vital society. While he spends most of his time outside it, Reg has a grave in the Small Gods cemetery next to the other important casualties in the revolution.
Nonetheless, he has proven a competent officer of the law. In The Fifth Elephant, he helps decipher the mystery of the Scone. In addition, Vetinari mentions receiving only good reports about him from Vimes. As of Night Watch he has apparently been promoted to Corporal.
Lance-Constable Salacia Sally von Humpeding
Main Article: Sally
Salacia "Sally" von Humpeding is a Lance-Constable in the City Watch and the first vampire to join up. Originally from Überwald, she travelled to Ankh-Morpork to join the city watch there. This coincided with the request by Lord Vetinari and the Ankh-Morpork Mission of the Überwald League of Temperance to Commander Sir Samuel Vimes to accept a vampire constable. Her name goes on for several pages (evolving long names is a well known vampiric hobby) and Sally is afflicted with the belief (which again seems to beset many Discworld vampires) that she can disguise secret messages by signing her name backwards as Aicalas.
"Sally" was greeted with some suspicion by Commander Vimes, as he had previously held out against accepting a vampire, and was deeply disliked by Sergeant Angua, who as an Überwaldian werewolf felt that bad blood was involved. Her abilities as a vampire become of great use to the Watch, and she even manages to reach an understanding with Sergeant Angua. "Sally" von Humpeding is introduced in Thud!. She is revealed to be a spy for the Dwarf Low King, but Vimes keeps her in the Watch anyway.
Main Article: Windle Poons
Windle Poons was a wizard at Unseen University until the age of 130, whereupon he died and unwillingly became one of the undead, due to Death's absence. After his 'death', his senses are quite enhanced from their 130-year-old state although his appearance is somewhat unsettling, mostly from a failed attempt at preventing rotting via an advanced form of biofeedback (basically, controlling the reactions of your organs voluntarily). After numerous attempts to take his own life...or after-life...he joined a band of undead misfits and eventually helped to defend the city of Ankh-Morpork against the additional lifeforce on the Discworld. Before Reaper Man, Windle Poons appeared in one other Discworld novel, Moving Pictures. His physical and mental state then could be described as "invalid, deaf, wandering of mind and hot on the ladies' behinds in his wheelchair". This wheelchair in question is large, iron monster akin to a rolling furnace.
Like most of the University staff, he has also made an appearance in the Discworld computer games. In Discworld, he mainly voices a paranoid fear of having his staff taken away and, when engaged in conversation, constantly returns to the subject of pickles. He also appeared throughout Discworld II: Missing Presumed...!?; as in Reaper Man, his funeral is spoiled by the non-arrival of Death.
Wolfgang von Überwald
Wolfgang is the evil, hyper-violent brother of Angua. He appears in The Fifth Elephant, where he tries to interfere in the crowning of the Dwarf's new Low King. He murdered his sister Elsa for being a yennork (a werewolf who cannot shapeshift), and presumably would have done the same to his brother Andrei, also a yennork, had Andrei not escaped. He is his mother's favourite over Angua, whom she views with disgust for trying to be human, though it is hinted that his mother is also afraid of him. That said, he is afraid somewhat of Angua, partly because she is a better fighter than him.
Wolfgang, unlike the rest of his family, often remains naked when in his human form, seeing it as natural beauty. He continues the family's bloodsport of chasing humans through the woods, known as "The Game" though unlike the rest he does not abide by its rules (e.g. the humans should not have to 'volunteer'). Though Angua tells Carrot that he's not stupid, she later accuses him of not being smart enough to mastermind the Dwarf plot by himself (i.e. their mother helped him). He is put down (killed) fighting Vimes, who intentionally fires a signal rocket over his head, triggering his canine impulse to catch it, whereupon it explodes.