How Ghouls Work

How Ghouls Work: Author's Note

Robert Lamb
Robert Lamb, Staff Writer
HowStuffWorks 2009

The fall of 1996 was a magical time. I was a junior in high school, the Tool album "Ænima" had just hit the stores and I was halfway through my first volume of H.P. Lovecraft short stories. Amid those pages, I first encountered the ghouls of "Pickman's Model" and "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath," and I knew I'd found my people.

Ghouls spoke to the outsider in me. I didn't fit in with the werewolves and the jocks, nor the vampire prom queens -- to say nothing of the zombie masses in the hallway. I read 70-year-old horror stories, laughed at the more morbid Monty Python sketches and considered a "Dante's Inferno" T-shirt an excellent fashion choice.


A lot has changed since then, but I still have a special place in my heart for the ghouls. I reread portions of Brian McNaughton's "The Throne of Bones" every year and am quick to correct anyone on improper usage of the word "ghoul." So it was a real thrill to write How Ghouls Work and, in some small way, redeem the thoroughly uncredited hours I spent reading about them in college.

There was no room to mention all of the excellent ghouls from the world of fiction, nor all the ghoulish creatures of myth and legend, so I hope any like-minded ghoul aficionados will forgive any heartbreaking exclusions.


  • Al-Rawi, Ahmed. "The Mythical Ghoul in Arabic Culture." Cultural Analysis, Volume 8. 2009. (Oct. 4, 2011)
  • Baring-Gould, Sabine. "The Book of Werewolves." Cosimo Classics. 1865.
  • Collins, Andy and Bruce R. Cordell. "Libris Mortis: The Book of the Undead." Wizards of the Coast. Oct. 1, 2004.
  • El-Zein, Amira. "Doctrinal Islam and Folk Islam." Cultural Analysis, Volume 8. 2009. (Oct. 4, 2011)
  • Gaiman, Neil. "The Graveyard Book." HarperCollins. Sept. 30, 2008.
  • Lovecraft, H.P. "The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft." Amazon Digital Services.
  • McNaughton, Brian. "The Throne of Bones." Wildside Press. 2000.
  • PBS. "Timeline of Islam." "Frontline. 2001. (Oct. 4, 2011)
  • Rose, Carol. "Giants, Monsters & Dragons." W. W. Norton & Company. 2000.
  • Shah, Saeed. "Pakistani brothers 'dug up corpse and made it into curry.'" The Guardian. April 4, 2011. (Oct. 4, 2011)
  • Smith, Clark Ashton. "The Emperor of Dreams." Gollancz. 2002.
  • Smithers, Leonard Charles. "The book of the thousand nights and a night, Volume 4." H.S. Nichols & co. 1894.
  • Thurman, Robert A.F. "The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Liberation Through Understanding in the Between." Bantam Books. 1994.