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They are neither man nor woman

They are neither brute nor human

They are Ghouls

Much like trolls, ghouls are one of the least consistently portrayed creatures in fiction, partly because the phrases "ghoul" and "ghoulish" are poorly defined terms that can refer to anything or anybody interested in the macabre and morbid, giving writers the ability to name any almost any cannibalistic, flesh-eating or just creepy monster after them.

Besides being creatures associated with death, cannibalism, and degeneracy, ghouls (as monsters) can come in a plethora of types and subtypes. Some of the more common varieties include;

  • Zombie Ghouls - Flesh-eating undead, either your standard zombie by another name, or a specific zombie derivative. When the two coexist, the ghouls will generally be the more bestial and savage of the two, and more willing to eat rotten flesh. Perhaps the zombie will be subject to magical control, like the old voodoo zombies. Garden-variety re-animated corpses may count as these.
  • Vampiric Ghouls - Either created by vampires as a servant, or just a relative or offshoot of the standard vampire. They vary from immortal (if twisted) humans to mindless zombie minions to beings more powerful than vampires themselves. This usage of the word seems to have been popularized by the RPG Vampire: The Masquerade.
  • Lovecraftian Ghouls - Ghouls as a living and non-human species, often with Lovecraft's distinctive canine muzzle and ears, and with a pale or greenish cast. Other types of ghouls as their own living race do occasionally appear in other media.
  • Mutant Ghouls - Former humans who have been transformed into a ravenous horde of monsters or a barely sentient Cannibal Clan by The Virus, radiation, or being touched by some Eldritch Abomination.
  • Mythic Ghouls - Similar to the Mutant Ghouls, but transformed by magic or divine punishment rather than radiation. Not very common anymore but for a long time one of the most common types. Typically punished for inhuman acts such as greed, murder, or often cannibalism, these former men are still alive, but turned into flesh eating monsters that typically haunt graveyards. Often growing razor sharp claws, fangs and/or muzzles, long limbs and a lot of hair. Compare the Wendigo
  • Demonic Ghouls - The original ghul of Arabic lore was a demonic child-eating shape-shifting jinn that inhabited graveyards. Only rarely, however, do ghouls get such a degree of supernatural power in modern fiction.

See also: Our Goblins Are Different, Our Zombies Are Different, Our Vampires Are Different, Mutants, The Morlocks.

Examples of Our Ghouls Are Creepier include:


Anime and Manga

  • In the anime/manga series Hellsing, ghouls are zombie-like creatures that are created when 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 just intelligent enough to use firearms but little else.
  • In Tsukihime, "ghoul" is a stage of turning into a vampire, between the mindless "living dead" (a zombie, for all intents and purposes) and a full-fledged vampire.
  • In Rosario to Vampire Ordinary High School Student Tsukune is temporarily able to become a vampire and defend himself if his girlfriend's Superpowered Badass Side injects him with her blood. However, he later finds out that doing this too much results in him becoming a ghoul and losing his sanity. He eventually gains a method of using his ghoul powers without losing his mind. A ghoul apparently has all the power of a vampire, but none of the weaknesses, making it potentially the most powerful kind of monster.
  • In Blue Exorcist, Ghouls are lesser demons possessing the corpses of human and animals.


Comic Books

  • While he's never called this, Buzzard from The Goon is a "reverse zombie" -- an immortal (living) gunslinger that must eat the flesh of the dead -- including zombies -- to survive.
  • In the Fables spin-off miniseries Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love, Cinderella and Aladdin face off against ghoul henchmen. These ghouls are the ones from the original Arabic myth, being huge, superstrong shapeshifters.


Fan Works


Film

  • Blade: Sometimes when a vampire infects someone, it goes wrong and creates a sentient zombie-type ghoul instead.
  • The I Am Legend film has "Darkseekers", aggressive and light-sensitive humans mutated by a cancer cure, who are essentially mutant ghouls. In the original book, they were just vampires.
  • In the original Night of the Living Dead, the word "zombie" wasn't used, instead the reanimated corpses were called "ghouls".
  • Vampire in Brooklyn: The eponymous vampire makes a ghoul servant out of a man by making him drink his blood. The ghoul turns into a vamp by wearing his then deceased master's ring.


Folklore

  • One folklore story about the origins of ghouls goes: the originals were the students of a powerful sage who, envious of the sage's favorite student, murdered the favorite, then cooked and ate the body to hide it. When the students returned, the sage asked the students where the favorite was. When the students lied, the sage caused the favorite to speak, from the stomachs of the students that had eaten him. Angered, the sage cast them out, and cursed them into becoming ghouls, forced forever to be monsters that ate the dead and dwelt in darkness, as well as giving ghouls a weakness: any ghoul who devours a tongue dies a slow, agonizing death.
  • Less creepy example: In the folktale of The Ghul's Daughter, a ghul shows mercy to a human girl whose family have been murdered, and gives her some of his powers. An Older Than Print subversion of Always Chaotic Evil?
  • In Arabian legends from which they originate, ghouls typically belong to two different groups: evil djinns that eat human corpses, and mostly ordinary humans who for some reason lust the flesh of the dead.


Literature

  • The Throne Of Bones by Brian Mc Naughton revolves mainly around ghouls, many of whom are main characters. A mix of Lovecraftian and Mythic ghouls, Mc Naughton expands their voracious appetite to sexuality as well as corpse-feeding. Also detailed is the ability of ghouls to take memories and sensations from the corpses they eat. Furthermore, if a ghoul eats the heart and brain of a person, this transforms the ghoul into an exact duplicate of whoever they have eaten. This makes for some interesting stories, especially if the person the ghoul eats had a strong personality, causing the ghoul to be "stuck" as that person.
  • The Anita Blake series contains some variety of ghoul. The Other Wiki says they were the result of evil rites being performed in a graveyard, and that they formed animalistic packs.
  • In R.L. Stine's Attack of the Graveyard Ghouls," ghouls are depicted as noncorporeal green mists that were humans at one time, and are able to steal bodies.
    • In a Give-Yourself-Goosebumps book, one of the people trapped forever at the Carnival of Horrors claims to be a ghoul rather than a ghost.
  • Discworld has a species of ghouls. They are an intelligent and civilized humanoid race most known for their incredibly refined sense of taste (as in food, not aesthetics).
  • Harry Potter has ghouls, although they are merely harmless, non-sentient humanoid pests that take up residence in wizarding attics. The Weasleys had one living in their attic, which they treat more-or-less as a pet. Becomes useful in Deathly Hallows, when they alter its appearance by magic so it can pass as a very sick Ron.
  • H.P. Lovecraft, as mentioned above. The greenish pallor, rubbery skin, canine muzzle, pointed ears and hooflike clawed feet are all characteristic. However, even within his stories their portrayal varies.
    • In Pickman's Model, ghouls are depicted as horrible and potentially dangerous canine-humanoids, capable of growing to titanic sizes, who live in a complicated network of underground tunnels and raid graves for food from the bottom up. They also leave their own young as changelings in the place of human children. The young ghoul grows up to resemble a human, but retains a ghoulish mindset, while the fate of the human child is vague. Ghouls also appear to have a morbid sense of humor.
    • In The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath ghouls (now including Mr. Pickman, who has evidently retied from the world of art in favor of the underworld) are shown more sympathetically, and they even aid Mr. Carter. The ghouls demonstrate that they can travel between our world and the dreamlands, and that they even ceremonially discard bones from the Crag of the Ghouls into the Vale of Pnath. Later additions to the Cthulhu Mythos have given ghouls their own culture, god (Mordiggian) priests and temples.
      • Which is a contradition to Dream-Quest which explicitly states that the ghouls have no overlords, and answer to no god. Randolph Carter assumes that this means that the Other Gods wouldn't be able to stop them from reaching the Unknown Kadath; no such luck.
      • Mordiggan probably originates from Clark Ashton Smith's short story, The Charnel God, which features a deity by this name served by masked priests who claim right to all dead bodies in their city. They turn out to be creatures very much like Lovecraft's ghouls, and while they come off as extremely sinister at start, they end up saving the protagonist from evil necromancers. Lovecraft and Smith were friends and often borrowed elements from each other's stories, so this was most likely a direct reference to Lovecraft's ghouls. Smith's Zothique Cycle does not share the setting with Lovecraft's Dreamlands, however.
    • Ghasts, a far more deadly species that coexists in the dreamland underworld with ghouls, are described as semi-humanoids with hooves and kangaroo-like legs. Though "ghast" originally was a synonym for "ghost", the word is often used to describe ghouls or, a type of ghoul, in other media, possibly due to HPL's influence.
  • In Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser stories, ghouls are a humanoid race that just so happen to have transparent skin, muscles, and organs, giving them the appearance of animated skeletons . . . oh, and they just so happen to be cannibals too.
  • Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's "Count Saint Germain" novels depicts the count as a vampire. His manservant Roger is a ghoul Saint Geramain created in roman times. Roger is apparently immortal, and stronger than a normal human. His only requirement is that he only eats raw meat. So he buys chickens, cuts it up, and eats it with knife and fork like a civilized person rather than tear at it with his teeth.
  • The ghouls of The Dresden Files are humanoid beasts that look like someone mixed a baboon with a hyena. They can pass as human most of the time. They eat human meat, a LOT of human meat. They can also regenerate from almost anything. There is also some sort of primitive, supersized, armor plated mega-ghoul running around. They can completely regenerate after being reduced to the consistency of chunky salsa.
  • The Ring World Engineers introduces the Ghouls (so named by Louis Wu), a carrion-eating hominid offshoot who are the Ring's garbage collectors, long-range communicators, information brokers and undertakers. Yes, they eat the dead. No, the other races don't object: that's their job.
  • In World War Z, in addition to undead zombies, there are living humans who have gone mad and convinced themselves that being a zombie is safer than being alive, dipping into this trope. These "quislings" act just like Zombie Ghouls and are still breathing like Mutant Ghouls.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, it's no coincidence that the Black Speech word for "ring wraith" is Naz'gul, though these are actually halfway between ghost and lich.[1]
  • In the Night Huntress series, ghouls are a sister race to vampires, created when a human drinks vampire blood during life and is given a ghoul heart transplant after death. They retain their same personalities. They must eat human flesh on occasion but generally stick to raw meat. They can only be killed by decapitation.
  • In The Elric Saga, ghouls drain the strength of those they touch, possibly the inspiration for Dungeons and Dragons ghouls. They are, however, summoned from another world, rather than undead.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Hour of the Dragon" they are humanoid, man-eating forest critters living in northern Argos.
  • In The Vampyres of Hollywood their is a ghoul named Ghul who's an Evil Albino and the servant of Lilith.
  • In The Graveyard Book, ghouls are seemingly mischievous, about the size and build of children, but turn out to be very menacing. Every graveyard has a ghoul-gate, which you really ought to stay away from. They live in the underground city of Ghulheim and take their names after the main course of their first meal, including "The Famous Victor Hugo" and "The 33rd President of the United States."
  • Jack Prelutsky's children's-poetry book Nightmares: Poems to Trouble Your Sleep includes a poem titled "The Ghoul", and combined with Arnold Lobel's illustration it's the stuff of nightmares. You can read it here.


Live Action TV

  • Ghouls in Supernatural are of the Arabian demon variety and take the appearance of the last person they have fed upon. Though to give an actual reason for why they have to be killed (saying that they desecrate human remains would be a bit weak when the Winchesters have to have burned a whole cemetery by this point) the ones they encounter have started eating living people.
    • Funnily enough the second set of ghouls they encounter are also perfectly happy to eat the living. What, did a ghoul write an awesome new recipe book for fresh meat in the last few years?
  • A sleazy reporter becomes dinner for the charitable organization known as the Grateful Homeless Outcasts and Unwanted Lawaway Society while investigating the murders of the city's homeless population in the Tales from the Crypt episode "Mournin' Mess."
    • "House of Horror" features some fraternity pledges going into a supposedly haunted house for their final test. The pledgemaster even invited some sorority girls to watch to make potential failure more humiliating. Little did the fraternity realize that they were an all-Ghoul sorority, who eat frat guys as part of their pledging.


Tabletop Games

  • The portrayal of the Lovecraftian ghouls in Call of Cthulhu varies widely, mirroring the source material. Sometimes they are savage corpse eaters with no redeeming virtues, and other times they are intelligent and even show human emotions and attitudes.
  • Dungeons and Dragons has quite a few examples.
    • Edition 3.5 has the regular ghoul, plus the ghast (a more powerful ghoul with a nauseating stench) and the lacedon (an underwater ghoul). The ghoul's trademark ability is its diseased bite, which transmits a supernatural disease called "ghoul fever."
      • The supplement Libris Mortis introduces the "gravetouched ghoul" template, which can be added to other creatures, allowing for quite a diversity of ghouls.
    • The fourth edition has five different types of ghouls in the Monster Manual; the supplement Open Grave introduced five more.
    • The 2nd. ed. Al-Qadim setting has the Ghul, which is based on the Arabic ghoul; it's an undead genie with powerful magic and shapeshifting abilities.
    • It is possible that D&D based it on Romero. D&D ghouls are stupid (in earlier editions; smart in later ones) but free-willed, they have a dangerous bite, they eat people, and they can kill people and make them into ghouls. D&D zombies have none of these traits and are more like voodoo zombies.
    • Somewhat unlike Romero's zombies, however, D&D ghouls traditionally have the ability to paralyze their victims with their attacks. (Likewise by tradition, elves were generally immune to this one particular kind of paralysis.) 4th edition introduces a variation on the theme -- a ghoul attack will temporarily cause the victim to become rooted to the spot (the specific in-game meaning of 'immobilized') and potentially leave it open to nastier followup attacks that have that condition as a prerequisite, but not actually render it unable to still fight back.
    • Even more amusingly, the 1st-edition ghouls in the original Monster Manual specifically ate corpses, NOT living humans. They would just kill the humans first, THEN eat them. This led to much confusion when this troper first saw Night of the Living Dead until someone explained the "modern" definition of the word...
    • Hourglass of Zihaja contains Arabian Nights-styled ghuls, who Word of God states are the superpowered demonic variety.
    • D20 Modern brings it all full circle, in that its zombies are simply the traditional voodoo type, but its ghouls are straight out of Romero's playbook.
    • Pathfinder ghouls follow D&D's example and also take inspiration from Lovecraft, giving them an underground kingdom and a hatred of the more powerful ghasts.
  • The Ghouls in Shadowrun are metahumans who contracted a virus that 1) blinded them, 2) deformed them, 3) shunted them halfway into the astral plane, 4) made flesh a dietary requirement. Often ends up making the poor character either a monster, evil or (if they are lucky) a tougher shadowrunner.
  • In Vampire: The Requiem and its predecessor Vampire: The Masquerade Ghouls are the mortal servants of vampires. Though not undead, they enjoy a form of agelessness (not true immortality) that is a "gift" from their vampire domitors from drinking their Vitae (vampire blood). It has the unhappy side effects of: addiction and More Than Mind Control by the vampire. Also, should they ever stop getting Vitae, they experience rapid aging to their true age (followed by death if they're very old).
    • There's also a bloodline of special black magic vampires that have to eat the whole human, not just the blood, that match a more mythological variant of ghouls - though they are not referred to as such.
    • The Wicked Dead sourcebook also features the mythic variety of ghul, which feed on corpses (some of which they make themselves) and have the ability to take on the form of their meals. They also tend to not care about being habitual necrophages, seeing as how the "curse" comes part-and-parcel with eternal youth, Functional Magic, and, oh yeah, the complete lack of anything resembling a Beast. In other words, if you really want to live forever, being a ghul is a rather large step up from vampirism in quality of life.
    • The Old World of Darkness also included "The Families". Clans who had been ghouled, generally by the Tzimisce, for so long that it was now In the Blood. They could survive for centuries without vampire blood, as well as inheriting the ability to use certain vampire Disciplines. While some varied, particularly of the scholar family, most were so insane that even vampires didn't want to deal with them.
  • Ghouls in Warhammer are the degenerate descendants of humans who were driven to cannibalism. Though not supernatural creatures themselves, they have an innate connection to dark magic that allows vampires to easily dominate them. Mention must also be made of the Stirgoi vampire bloodline, who were driven to the periphery of society by their vengeful rival vampires. The Stirgoi learned to survive by feasting on the blood and flesh of the recently dead, and preferred graveyards as their favored haunts. They are hunched, bestial creatures more ghoul than vampire, and are commonly referred to as "Ghoul Kings."
  • Ghouls in Magic the Gathering were originally a separate creature type, but since the only ghouls for the longest time were the Scavenging Ghoul and Ashen Ghoul, Wizard of the Coast eventually decided to go the Zombie Derivative path and lump them under the Zombie family, (ghouls after those two had been printed as zombies). Given that the zombie creature type covers mindless dead to liches, it isn't that much of a stretch.
  • Ghouls in GURPS: Fantasy are complete race and are indistinguishable from normal humans until they try to eat you. The only thing they can eat is human flesh, all other foods are dangerous to them.
  • In kill puppies for satan, ghouls are depraved people who are addicted to a supernatural charge they get out of eating corpses. They're looked down on by all the other supernatural types; the narrator describes them as "the desperate needle-sharing ass-peddling heroin addicts of our world".


Video Games

  • The ghouls in Fallout are humans who have been mutated by the radiation, but are behaviorally still normal humans. They do resemble corpses, and are functionally immortal, but tend to be discriminated against. Some of them do go feral, however, and act like standard Hollywood zombies (eating human flesh and the like).
  • Ghouls of Guild Wars are semi-bestial undead melee-fighters of the Orrian undead horde. Resembling Warcraft ghouls, they are poisonous and have the annoying habit of spawning by burrowing up out of the ground right underneath you.
  • Ghouls in the Warcraft games are a basic type of undead. They are the basic footsoldiers of the Scourge in Warcraft III (who double as lumberjacks and eat corpses to replenish health) while the basic zombie is a very weak unit unavailable by normal means. In World of Warcraft, they are slightly less common but still one of the most encountered types of undead along with Skeletons and classic zombies. In the second expansion, they were promoted to Deathknight pets with a few distinctive abilities, while their old role as worker/melee seems to have been taken over by Geists (one-eyed, crawling zombies).
    • It's mentioned in the background that Ghouls are Zombies that have "ascended" (descended?) into "true" undeath. Their bodies have mutated to make them more efficient killers and instead of being lumbering and mindless like Zombies they are agressive and posess bestial cunning.
      • Of course, based on the classic definitions of the word, Forsaken characters qualify as ghouls, being undead that can eat corpses to heal.
  • Ghols in the Myth games are apelike living creatures who resemble H.P Lovecraft Ghouls. They also take on some of the traditional aspects of Orcs, being tribal mountain dwellers who are the ancient enemies of the Dwarves.
  • Ghouls in Nexus War are a type of minion animated by the Lich class. They are stronger and more vicious than normal zombies, and gain health from successful attacks.
  • In Boktai, Ghouls, also known as Boks, are fairly close to the traditional zombie. Only they squeak when they see you.
  • Final Fantasy I's Ghouls were the first really nasty undead you encountered in the game, who, like the ghouls of Dungeons and Dragons, had the ability to paralyze you. White Mages with the Harm spell were an absolute must for dealing with them, especially in groups, because if they managed to paralyze your entire party, you could only pray for the paralysis to wear off so you could get the hell away before they killed everyone. God help you if they manage to ambush you...
  • The Rakghouls of Knights of the Old Republic belong the the "mutant ghoul" subtype.
  • Battle for Wesnoth has ghouls of the zombie/mutant variety. Distinct from "Walking Corpses," ghouls are larger, eat their dead opponents instead of zombifying them, and have poisonous claws. Depending on the campaign, they can be created either by cursing live humans or reanimating recently dead.
  • Ghouls in Dragon Age are people who have succumbed to the Darkspawn Taint after eating Darkspawn flesh. The Taint gradually eats away at their mind, body, and soul and allows them to hear the Song of the Old Gods. Most Ghouls spend the remainder of their twisted lives -- which aren't very long thanks to the Taint -- in slavery to the Darkspawn as manual labor and possibly food.
    • Some fans have described the Grey Wardens as effectively "high-functioning ghouls" since they've all drunk a mixture of darkspawn blood, Archdemon blood, and lyrium that gives them some minor darkspawn powers (and eventually kills them, drives them insane, and/or turns them into full ghouls or darkspawn themselves).
  • In "The Ghoul's Forest" series of Game Mods for Doom (and its multiplayer sequel, Ghouls vs. Humans) most ghouls are huge floating skeletal heads which fly around incredibly fast and eat people. Except for the Creeper, who's just a Humanoid Abomination.
  • In Dungeon Crawl, they are one of the many playable races, as well as an occasionally encountered monster. As a race, they get all sorts of wonderful immunities and abilities, but they gain experience slowly, and they need to constantly eat meat, preferably rotten.
  • The Witcher has quite Lovecraftian ghouls, albeit without culture or language. According to the novel they originate from the "Conjunction of the Spheres" that brought magic into the world, making them an existence outside the natural order, though what exactly this means is unknown beyond the implication that the Witchers could theoretically hunt them to extinction with no averse effects to the native ecology.
  • Ultima Underworld has ghouls that are technically still alive, but they've turned into the standard flesh-eating-monster (and even look the part) as a result of cannibalism. Which makes them somewhat more like Morlocks, but everything else fits the "undead ghoul" description.
  • "City of Heroes" has Mutant Ghouls in the alternate dimension of Praetoria. They were created by Praetor Berry, who was trying to create a new variety of super-soldier to replace the legions of conscripted superhumans through the use of a genetic serum. However, the serum turns people into super-tough brutes instead, and they look like deformed monsters because the serum causes their altered endocrine systems to accelerate the build-up of stress damage. Because Berry is still curious about how the failures could be used, but the Praetorian leader, Emperor Cole doesn't want the monsters mucking up his perfect world, Praetor Berry dumps the Ghouls into the gigantic network of sewers and maintenance tunnels under the city, with the added benefit of the Ghouls constantly attacking and eating the Resistance group that occupies those same tunnels.
  • Castlevania ghouls are typically just Palette Swaps of zombies.
    • Save the protrayal of ghouls in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which are a cannabalistic, underground-dwelling evolutionary offshoots of normal humans, though very much alive, they still share the undead's weakness to holy water.


Web Comics

  • In the Spanish webcomic El Joven Lovecraft, Glenn the Ghoul is the hero's pet. He looks mostly like a jackal.
  • In the Sluggy Freelance storyline "Aylee" another dimension is overrun by creatures called ghouls, which are basically humans, but with claws, fangs, much lower intelligence, and a tendency to speak entirely in hisses. Oh, and they feed on human flesh, of course. It's unknown at first where they came from, and some initial suggestions are that they're some form of undead, or people mutated by a virus or something. Turns out they're actually alien/human hybrids, who are the other-dimensional version of Aylee's species.
  • In The FAN, a group of characters fight a ghoul in a side story. A later filler strip provides more information of ghouls in the comic's world.


Web Original

  • In Tales of MU, ghouls are vicious undead predators who arise "when a waterlogged corpse is exposed to the light of the new moon", but unlike skeletons or zombies they can breed and form colonies. Other than that they fit the model of zombie ghouls.

Notes

  1. nazg is 'ring' (cf. the Ring inscription "Ash nazg durbatulûk..."); (g)ûl could be 'wraith', or could be a loanword from Sindarin gul meaning 'sorcerer' or 'sorcery' (cf. a lot of placenames eg. Minas Morgul, 'Tower of Black Sorcery'); Prof. Tolkien constructed the Elvish languages in a way that makes it look like old human languages have elvish loanwords in them: hence gûl becomes Arabic ghul (wraith, ghoul), and gul becomes Persian gul (sorcerer, illusion, from which English gull as in gullible).
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