Ghouls in popular culture
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Originating around the eighth century AD, and Arabic in origin, a Ghoul is a mythical creature often described as hideous human-like monster that dwelt in the desert or other secluded locations in order to lure travellers astray. It was not until Antoine Galland translated Arabian Nights into French that the western idea of Ghoul was introduced. Galland depicted the Ghoul as a monstrous creature that dwelled in cemeteries, feasting upon corpses. This definition of the Ghoul has persisted until modern times, with Ghouls appearing in literature, television and film, as well video games.
Anime and Manga
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Tokyo Ghoul depicts Ghouls as living beings visually identical to humans, save for their eyes; while feeding on human flesh or using supernatural powers, their irises turn crimson red and their scleras turn black. They live among humans, and only need to eat human flesh once a month. If a Ghoul consumes human food, not only does it taste horrible, but if it is not thrown back up, makes them ill. Human/Ghoul hybrids are rare, but are said to possess much greater strength than ordinary ghouls. Hybrids were believed to only appear on the rare occasion that a human and a Ghoul successfully mated, until the advent of protagonist Kaneki Ken, a regular human until ghoul organs are transplanted into his body.
In Hellsing, ghouls are zombie-like creatures that are created when a "chipped" (technological) vampire drains a victim to death, or, in the manga, where a vampire drains the blood of someone who is not a virgin. If fatally wounded, they instantly crumble to dust. They are under the control of the vampire who bites them, eat human flesh, and are intelligent enough to use firearms. It is not rare to see a vampire amass a small army of Ghouls for offence and defence.
In the manga Rosario + Vampire, ghouls are a type of mindless, cannibalistic monster that are created in two manners. Ordinary ghouls are created when an evil spirit possesses a corpse. Rarely, ghouls are created when a human repeatedly has monster blood injected into their veins. The monster blood grants the ghoul supernatural power but at the same time destroys the psyche, leaving them a mindless killing machine. They resemble vampires but are easily identified by the web-like marking surrounding the bite mark where the monster blood was injected and their complete lack of self-control. The lead male character, Tsukune Aono, eventually becomes one such ghoul due to the continuous intake of vampiric blood from Moka Akashiya. Although thanks to some intervention he was able to regain almost all of his humanity and senses by having the vampire blood sealed through a Holy Lock. Although, for a time, there's still a danger he'll revert to a ghoul again. Eventually, Tsukune overcomes the vampire blood and becomes a full-fledged vampire himself.
One Thousand and One Nights is the earliest surviving literature that mentions ghouls, and many of the stories in that collection involve or reference ghouls. A prime example is the story "The History of Gherib and His Brother Agib", in which Gherib, an outcast prince, fights off a family of ravenous Ghouls and then enslaves them and converts them to Islam.
Harry Shannon's 2006 horror novel Daemon features a portrayal of a ghoul as an undead creature.
Lord Byron made a reference to the ghouls in his epic poem “The Giaour” (1813): “Thy gnashing tooth and haggard lip; / Then stalking to thy sullen grave, / Go - and with Gouls and Afrits rave; / Till these in horror shrink away/ From spectre more accursed than they!”
Edgar Allan Poe mentions ghouls in the despairing fourth section ("Iron Bells") in his 1848 poem "The Bells", describing them and their king as "the people, they that dwell up in the steeple" tolling the bells and glorying in the depressive effect on the hearers. "They are neither man nor woman— / They are neither brute nor human— / They are Ghouls." His 1847 poem "Ulalume" also features ghouls.
In the short story "The Nameless Offspring" (1932) by Clark Ashton Smith, the ghoul is a cannibalistic humanoid which, besides eating the flesh of human corpses, procreates with those buried while still alive.
In the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft, a ghoul is a member of a nocturnal subterranean race. Some ghouls were once human, but a diet of human corpses, and perhaps the tutelage of proper ghouls, mutated them into horrific bestial humanoids. In the short story "Pickman's Model" (1926), they are unutterably terrible monsters; however, in his later novella The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926), the ghouls are somewhat less disturbing, even comical at times, and both helpful and loyal to the protagonist. Richard Upton Pickman, a noteworthy Boston painter who disappeared mysteriously in "Pickman's Model", appears as a ghoul himself in Dream-Quest. Similar themes appear in "The Lurking Fear" (1922) and "The Rats in the Walls" (1924), both of which posit the existence of subterranean clans of degenerate, retrogressive cannibals or carrion-eating humans. This theme is elaborated on in Anders Fager's "Grandmother's Journey" in which a large family have degenerated (or changed) into a brood of sub-human beast men.
In Neil Gaiman's novel The Graveyard Book, ghouls are small, ape-like creatures who make their home in an extradimensional realm called Ghûlheim. They travel to our world through ghoul-gates, and name themselves after the first person they eat on becoming a ghoul.
In 1987, Brian McNaughton wrote a series of dark fantasy short stories in which these Lovecraftian ghouls are the protagonists. The stories, collectively published as The Throne of Bones, were a critical success and the book went on to receive a World Fantasy Award for Best Collection.
In P.B. Kerr's Children of the Lamp, ghouls (spelled as "Ghuls") are one of the six tribes of djinn, and one of the three evil tribes.
In Larry Niven's Ringworld series, the ghouls are a race that eats the dead of the other races that live on the ringworld. They have a fairly sophisticated (for a post-apocalyptic people) culture, and are the only race with a communication system that traverses the entire ringworld: heliographs.
In J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, ghouls are harmless creatures that live in the homes of wizards, making loud noises and occasionally groaning; a ghoul resides in the attic of the Weasley family's home as the family's pet. Context implies that in the Harry Potter universe, ghouls are closer to animals than human beings. They are translated in some versions as vampire, although they have nothing to do with the creatures.
In Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series, graveyards became infested with ghouls when the blessing of the graveyard was used up; this was usually caused when too many zombies were raised or voodoo rituals of evil nature were performed in the graveyard. That, or numerous animators (or people who possess magic related to the dead) are buried in the graveyard. Though they were once human, they are like lone wolves, and they are not very smart. The only reason Zach's ghouls stayed and worked together was because Zach was controlling them. They will only attack if a person is vulnerable. A ghoul will run from a healthy, strong human being, and is afraid of fire. Like zombies, ghouls have human strength, but seem stronger because the sensations of pain and the 'governors' that keep people from ripping their bodies apart died with them. So while a human would stop trying to punch a hole in a steel door because of the pain a zombie or ghoul would keep trying until stopped or the door broke even if it would mean completely destroying their arm in the process.
In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files, ghouls are much like they are in the classic mythologies: humanoid monsters that feed on human flesh, and seem to be able to disguise themselves as ordinary humans. These ghouls are intelligent, as opposed to being mindless and feral monsters.
In Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's St. Germain series, the ghoul is an undead being created through an ancient Egyptian ritual to act as a servant to a vampire. St. Germain comes across a dying slave and resurrects him as his faithful servant, Roger, who accompanies him through his adventures for the next 2,000 years. Roger is indistinguishable from humans except for his immortality and that his diet consists of raw meat. In her book Cautionary Tales, there is a short story about a teenage ghoul, working the graveyard shift in a morgue, eating parts of unclaimed dead people.
Caitlín R. Kiernan has written a number of short stories and novels featuring ghouls (referred to as the ghul), including "The Dead and the Moonstruck" and "So Runs the World Away" (both from To Charles Fort, With Love, 2005), Low Red Moon, Murder of Angels, and Daughter of Hounds. Kiernan's ghouls exhibit a blend of human and canine traits, are highly intelligent, live in subterranean cities, possess magical powers, and feed on the flesh of human corpses. According to Daughter of Hounds, they seem to have an extraterrestrial origin. They are often referred to as "The Hounds of Cain."
In R.L. Stine's Attack of the Graveyard Ghouls, ghouls are depicted as noncorporeal green mists that were humans at one point of time, and are able to steal bodies.
In Brian Keene's Ghoul, the titular monster lives in a network of tunnels beneath a cemetery and feeds on the dead.
Television and film
Although many screenplays have featured ghouls, the first major motion picture of this theme was the 1933 British film entitled The Ghoul. Boris Karloff plays a dying Egyptologist who possesses an occult gem, known as The Eternal Light, which he believes will grant immortality if he is buried with it, and thereby able to present it to Anubis in the afterlife. Of course, his bickering covetous heirs and associates would rather keep the jewel for themselves. Karloff vows to rise from his grave and avenge himself against anyone who meddles with his plan, and he keeps this promise when one of his colleagues steals the gem after his death.
The Mad Ghoul (1943), is a science fiction and Universal monsters horror film, also known as Mystery of the Ghoul, starring Turhan Bey, Evelyn Ankers, and David Bruce, and featuring George Zucco, Robert Armstrong, and Milburn Stone.
In 1968, George A. Romero's groundbreaking film Night of the Living Dead combined reanimated corpses (zombies) with cannibalistic monsters (ghouls), creating new film monsters more terrifying than either of their predecessors. The term "ghoul" was the one actually used in the film.
The 1975 British film The Ghoul (unrelated to the Karloff vehicle) stars Peter Cushing as a defrocked missionary whose son has developed a taste for human flesh while travelling in India. As the son's mind and body degenerate, Cushing has several young people dispatched and prepared as food for his offspring, whom he keeps locked up in the attic.
The 1980 anthology film The Monster Club featured a segment about a village of ghouls stumbled upon by an unwary traveller (Stuart Whitman), who temporarily escapes the creatures with the help of one half-human girl, but he is recaptured when it turns out that the ghouls have representatives inhabiting our normal human world.
In Cannibal Flesh Riot, the 2006 film Directorial debut of Children's Book Author and illustrator Gris Grimly, two ancient Ghouls, Stash and Hub, prowl cemeteries by night digging up the decaying bodies of the deceased to feed on their rotting flesh.
In I sell the Dead, the 2008 film Directorial debut of Glenn McQuaid, a comedy horror film about two grave robbers and their escapades, once they discover the prospects of the grave robbing of supernatural entities, their title goes from Grave-Robbers to Ghouls .
The Batman comics-based franchise, including the 2005 movie, Batman Begins, antagonist named Rā's al-Ghūl, whose name derives from the original Arabic name for the star Algol in the constellation Perseus meaning "the monster's (i.e. Medusa's) head".
The video game series Fallout represents ghouls as a person who has survived exposed to an overt amount of radiation. They are nearly immortal with slowed aging and great resistance to injury and even medication but has caused their body to rot, giving them an appearance like movie zombies. They are subject to racism, and are taunted as zombies. While some are have lost their minds to the radiation and will ravenously consume anything they see as being non-ghoul, some may continue to function in society as any ordinary human would as they have not gone feral.
In the Castlevania series, Ghouls are a type of undead and behave much like Zombies, but they are stronger and have more health. In Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, if a certain number are defeated an enemy called the Ghoul King appears. The Ghoul King is stronger and faster than a standard Ghoul. In some games, Ghouls can poison the player as well.
In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Ghouls are living creatures descended from humans but a diet of corpses and rotten flesh transformed them into horrible monsters that dwell in burial grounds and cemeteries. Ghouls usually live underground, but sometimes venture outside in small groups to scavenge for carrion. The vomit of the Ghoul is highly poisonous, but can be dispelled using Light Magic. They are first encountered in the Wygol Village cemetery. Gabriel Belmont and his ally Zobek must work together to plug up holes the Ghoul crawl out of. Ghouls that have just fed on a corpse glow yellow and their vomit is highly poisonous. Ghouls also inhabit the Wygol Abbey Catacombs and Bernard Castle. The Vampire Dark Lord, Carmilla uses the ghouls to clean up the remains of her victims, which are prepared by the Evil Butcher. The Ghouls live in cells and are released into the castle's dining room via special hatches, and can be summoned by ringing a bell in the Dining hall near the Kitchen's main entrance. Gabriel must put a piece of meat (most likely human) on a large plate in the dining hall and ring the dinner bell, luring the Ghouls out and allowing him to sneak up into their cell in order to enter the Castle's Kitchen where he must fight the Butcher for a key, that will allow him access to other parts of the castle. The ghouls in Lords of Shadow were heavily inspired by ghouls which appear in various stories by H. P. Lovecraft, being humans mutated from centuries of subterranean living and the consumption of carrion, while their appearance is similar to the genetically engineered Reapers that appeared in the second film of the Blade franchise. Ghouls also appear in Lord of Shadow DLC Reverie, where they attack both Gabriel & his ally high-born vampire Laura who seeks Gabriel's assistance in preventing the escape of the ancient demon, The Forgotten One who had been sealed by the Founders of the Order of Light before they became the Lords of Shadow. In one section, Laura (who briefly acts as a playable character) must fill a alter with blood and must drink blood from the ghouls to restore her life meter (as it is drained when she fills the alter with blood), however she must be careful how much of their blood she drinks from them. The ghouls will continue to spawn until the alter is completely filled with blood.
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. Likewise, a ghast is supposedly made while someone dies during the act of cannibalism. Ghouls can paralyze their victims with a touch, though elves are immune. Aside from the standard variety, a number of other forms of ghoul exist and are as follows Abyssal ghoul. These extraplanar versions of the standard ghoul have fiendish characteristics that make them far more formidable than their cousins. The ghast is similar to the ghoul, but is distinguished by its monstrously foul and supernaturally nauseating stench. It is also more powerful than a standard ghoul; even elves can fall victim to a ghast's paralytic touch. It very closely resembles its undead cousins, but is far more deadly and cunning. Like ghouls, ghasts speak whatever language they did in life (usually Common). They are chaotic evil in alignment.
Within the Vampire: The Masquerade and Vampire: The Requiem roleplaying games, ghouls are humans fed vampire blood. While they aren't vampires, this allows them to use several of their powers, and they do not age. In VTM Bloodlines game, your ghoul shows an almost fanatical devotion to your character as well. Ghouls are an intrinsic part of vampire society, with entire families that often live to serve one undead master. However, whether treated as friends, servants or property (cattle) to be used up and disposed of depends on their master. While ghouls do not age while being regularly fed the blood, without a constant source of vampire blood they will eventually start aging to their proper age again over the course of a month. While this is what ghouls are to the World of Darkness universe at large, the more classic example that eats corpses (called 'ghuls') have been described and detailed in several sourcebooks, such as Night Horrors: Wicked Dead.
- Al-Rawi, Ahmed K. (11 November 2009). "The Arabic Ghoul and its Western Transformation". Folklore 120 (3): 291–306. doi:10.1080/00155870903219730. Retrieved 14 August 2014.
- "The Story of Sidi-Nouman". Retrieved 2012-07-05.
- Al-Hakawati. "The Story of Gherib and his Brother Agib". Thousand Nights and One Night. Retrieved October 2, 2008.
- The Giaour by Lord Byron