I have never been big on including the ‘undead’ in my fiction. For one thing, they don’t actually mesh well with the rules of my primary fantasy world (or this one, for that matter). It is to be admitted that somewhere in the ‘infiniverse,’ in less logical worlds, there must be such beings but that is beside the point.
In Norse/Germanic folklore, an undead human might well have been a witch in life, already a person with magical power. They are filled with avarice and an unwillingness to relinquish wealth and existence, so they hide in a mound and guard their treasure after death. That is quite similar to the ‘barrow wight’ Tolkien wrote into ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ Such beings were sometimes referred to as ‘trolls’ in ancient lays, the name not having the connotations it does now.
The trolls in my fantasy fiction, by the way, fit the modern concept of a race of creatures of the more or less magical sort — denizens of Faerie. I could see folk mistaking my gray-skinned homely troll folk living in the ground for undead creatures (and may well include it in a future tale).
But the undead of those old tales — they do not and can not exist in my world. The dead do not come back.* Vampires? One might have magical beings that fit their description but they would not be dead (or undead) humans. They also most likely would not originate in my primary world (the ‘D-World,’ as I dubbed it) but find their way there from elsewhere.
Then there are zombies. The only zombies I have created have been in the mold of the original concept of such creatures, that is, corpses reanimated through magic. They are puppets. The sorcerer sends part of his being into corpses to control them. That, to be sure, is dangerous if he gets stuck there! I had one such appear in my second Malvern novel, ‘Valley of Visions,’ but have not revisited the concept. If needed, it’s still there.
Finally, the pseudo-undead. Humans converted (via drugs, disease, what-have-you) into a zombie-like state to serve or perhaps just wander about and create mayhem. That is something else entirely but should be mentioned. They might well seem undead, animated corpses, to some observers. This is more like the zombie of popular modern entertainment.
Revisiting the first version of the undead we touched on here, the witch/troll who dies but refuses to relinquish the world — though that concept, of itself, does not work, I could most definitely see sorcerers extending their lives unnaturally to become something not unlike those creatures (as did Gollum, in a sense). Not undead, strictly, but close to it! Whether I shall ever explore anything of that sort, I do not know. Right now, it is just an idea and not useful to any stories I have planned.
To be honest, I’ve never been big on the whole zombie/vampire/undead bit. I found it hard to get that ‘suspension of disbelief’ working with them. In other words, they simply didn’t fit any logic — and I’m big on logical world-building. So if someone undead shows up in my fiction, know that there is an explanation — even if I don’t give it to you.
*There may be a sort of exception to that in my upcoming ‘Fachalana’s Fortune’ sequence, in that a ‘part’ of someone with magical power could hide in another world when he or she is destroyed. In a way, that could act as a sort of ghost but (probably) only be sensed by other sorcerers.