Sunday, June 14, 2009

(Thoughts) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

This book is a satire on the original book Pride and Prejudice. Pride and Prejudice was originally considered a comedy of manners on the English upper class. This book would be satirizing a satire. Seth Grahame-Smith preserves 85% of the original text of the novel, then changes the setting completely. The majority of the changes in content are in the background description and settings. Essentially the book has been moved from the genteel english countryside to a countryside infested by the living dead.

What seems to make this possible is that the characters in the original novel are completely focused on their immediate selves and interests. They are aristocrats who are worried about marriage, money, and genteel activities like attending balls, having tea, and throwing dinner parties. The world outside does not seem to hold much interest. Seth Grahame Smith is making a statement that you could have placed the original Pride and Prejudice almost anywhere. The story is universal.

In addition to the changes in the setting, Seth Grahame Smith mashes in pop culture elements to create a slightly different story. A mash up is where you take two different things and put them together to make something completely new. For example when you mix google maps with the prices and locations of apartments you would get a map of how much it would cost to rent an apartment in a neighborhood. This is the first time I have seen this kind of mash up using a novel. Apparently, this novel has set off a frenzy to publish more of these kind of novels.

This is different than a pastiche where you use the original characters to create a new story. It is fairly common with Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes has become a world travelling character by now, travelling to America, China, Scotland and many other places.

Some of the mashed in elements are that Elizabeth Bennett becomes a zombie slayer as well as her love interest Lord Darcy. She has survived "The 36 Chambers of Shaolin," a reference to the Shaw Brothers 1978 martial arts film. Also she must challenge, Catherine Darcy and her ninjas to gain Lord Darcy's hand. Elizabeth has learned Chinese martial arts and Catherine Darcy has studied Japanese martial arts. This adds an element of silliness not that far from the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The zombies are both a source of horror and farce. Most of the zombies who die are townsfolk, servants, and villagers. Towards the end of the novel, the zombies are mistaking cauliflower for brains. There are other minor farcical elements thrown in like the card game Crypt and Coffin. The book is not meant to be taken seriously. This runs counter to the way many people read the classics. People who take the classics seriously may not like this novel.

There are also black and white hand drawn illustrations throughout the novel. My favorite title for one of the illustrations on P.200 is "The smoke from Darcy's musket hung in the air around him, wafting Heavenward through his thick mane of chestnut hair." At the end of the book, there is a two page Pride and Prejudice Readers Discussion Guide. This is is quite morose and funny.

While I was at Book Expo America, I got a chance to visit the Quirk Books booth. They told me that they were publishing another mash up on July 15, 2009, but they could not give the title. They also have published a Deluxe Heirloom Edition with color pictures in the tradition of separating fans from their money.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was on the Locus Bestseller List and the New York Times Bestseller list. I liked reading it. There is value in reading this not just for the content, but to understand a new form of novel that a lot more people are going to be writing. Quirk Books did not have to pay any royalties to use Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen's work is in the public domain.


Anonymous said...

The cynic in me wondered if this was done for the Twilight set. I am seeing it everywhere at the moment.
Just enjoying catching up on your posts.

Book Calendar said...

It was done as a humor piece. Quirk Books has a lot of very satirical material. They also have published several other works on Jane Austen if you look at their website. Seth Grahame Smith thought he might sell 5000 copies of the books initially. He was very surprised at the amount of coverage he got.

Jane Turley said...

I got hold of a copy of this after you mentoned it a while back. It gave me the giggles - although less so towards the end when it could have done with a bit more silliness. Worth reading though:)