A ghoul is a monster or evil spirit in Arabian mythology, associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh. The oldest surviving literature that mention ghouls is likely One Thousand and One Nights. The term was first used in English literature in 1786, in William Beckford's Orientalist novel Vathek, which describes the ghūl of Arabian folklore. In modern fiction, the term has often been used for a certain kind of undead monster. By extension, the word ghoul is also used in a derogatory sense to refer to a person who delights in the macabre, or whose profession is linked directly to death, such as a gravedigger or graverobber.
Middle Eastern folklore
A ghoul is also a desert-dwelling, shapeshifting, demon that can assume the guise of an animal, especially a hyena. It lures unwary people into the desert wastes or abandoned places to slay and devour them. The creature also preys on young children, drinks blood, steals coins, and eats the dead, then taking the form of the person most recently eaten.
In the Arabic language, the female form is given as ghoulah and the plural is ghilan. In colloquial Arabic, the term is sometimes used to describe a greedy or gluttonous individual.
Ghouls in popular culture
In the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game, ghouls are monstrous, undead humans who reek of carrion and were described as being able to paralyze anyone they touch. A ghoul is said to be created on the death of a man or woman who savored the taste of flesh. They not only eat the dead, but also prey on the unwary living.
Ghouls are significant characters in the Japanese manga Tokyo Ghoul and its anime adaptation, albeit re-imagined with human-like traits. Ghouls also appear as enemies in the Castlevania series of videogames. In one modern theme, ghouls serve as minions of vampires. Ghouls are sometimes confused with zombies, causing them to be mistaken as undead monsters rather than demons. In the original film Night of the Living Dead, news reports refer to the undead cannibalistic antagonists as ghouls, though modern audiences would identify them as zombies.
In the Fallout video game series, the term "ghoul" is used to describe a human being who had been caught outside of the underground fallout bunkers, or Vaults, during the destruction of the atomic bombs in the setting. Those humans who survived the nukes, but had been afflicted by their intense heat and radiation, develop a macabre physique that gives them an undead appearance, hoarse voices, a greatly slowed or possibly halted process of bodily aging, infertility, and even resistance to drugs and chemicals in the Fallout world. Some ghouls in this series, called "ferals", have lost their minds due to their brain rotting and will attack and eat humans.
In the 1961 film Mr. Sardonicus, Baron Sardonicus refers to himself as a ghoul because he defiled his father's grave to retrieve a winning lottery ticket from the pocket of a jacket in which his father was buried.
There are many references to "ghouls" in the CW television series Supernatural as well.
The horror/comedy movie Ghoulies, released in 1985, features small, demonic ghouls on a rampage.
The character Charlie Kelly of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia lists "little green ghouls" as one of his main interests.
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