Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

In the last couple of weeks I’ve bought about half a dozen copies of this book:

I ran across it on Amazon and couldn’t resist buying a copy. Having bought it, and read it, I promptly bought about half a dozen more for various people I was sure would get a kick out of it. (That is, by the way, the point of this heretofore cryptic post -- Kris with a K not only was delighted to get her hands on PPZ, but she also sent me a very charming hand-written thank-you note and included a copy of The Eyre Affair, which every lover of literature should read and which I hadn't yet gotten around to acquiring a copy of. Happy times all around.)

To really, properly enjoy this book to its fullest, one ought to be the sort of Jane Austen fan who has most of Pride and Prejudice memorized. And also a big fan of zombie movies. there’s you a demographic. Got “best-seller” written all over it. I meet the first half of the qualifications, of course, but not the second. Still and all, it’s well enough done for me to have gotten well more than an ordinary ration of belly-laughs out of it.

A couple of quotations will give you a good idea of the flavor of the book at its best. You, Gentle Reader, of course remember – since like myself you have Pride and Prejudice memorized – the impression Bingley and his party, and especially Mr. Darcy, make upon us when first we meet them and hear the report of Mr. Darcy’s having over ten thousand a year. Well, here’s how it happens this time:
Mr. Bingley was good-looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners. His sisters were fine women, with an air of decided fashion, but little in the way of combat training. His brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst, merely looked the gentleman; but his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien -- and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having slaughtered more than a thousand unmentionables since the fall of Cambridge.
And then there’s the ever-so-satisfying scene in which Mr. Darcy, who has been taught by the unwitting Lady Catherine to hope as he had scarcely dared hope before, makes his second proposal to Elizabeth:
"It taught me to hope," said he, "as I had scarcely allowed myself to hope before. I knew enough of your disposition to be certain that, had you been absolutely, irrevocably decided against me, you would have beheaded Lady Catherine without a moment's hesitation."

Elizabeth coloured and laughed as she replied, “Yes, you know enough of my temper to believe me capable of that. After abusing you so abominably to your face, I could have no scruple in beheading any number of your relations.”
At least, that is PPZ at its best if you are, like me, a fan of Pride and Prejudice rather than of zombie movies. The zombie devotee, on the other hand, may prefer passages such as:
A few of the guests, who had the misfortune of being too near the windows, were seized and feasted on at once. When Elizabeth stood, she saw Mrs. Long struggle to free herself as two female dreadfuls bit into her head, cracking her skull like a walnut, and sending a shower of dark blood spouting as high as the chandeliers.

As guests fled in every direction, Mr. Bennet's voice cut through the commotion. "Girls! Pentagram of Death!"

Elizabeth immediately joined her four sisters, Jane, Mary, Catherine, and Lydia in the center of the dance floor. Each girl produced a dagger from her ankle and stood at the tip of an imaginary star. From the center of the room, they began stepping outward in unison -- each thrusting a razor-sharp dagger with one hand, the other hand modestly tucked into the small of her back.

From a corner of the room, Mr. Darcy watched Elizabeth and her sisters work their way outward, beheading zombie after zombie as they went. He knew of only one other woman in all of Great Britain who wielded a dagger with such skill, such grace, and deadly accuracy.
I have the very strong impression that Seth Grahame-Smith's true love is zombies and that Pride and Prejudice simply came easily to his hand as a convenient target. Thus I find the book rather uneven, and while I think some of Grahame-Smith's plot and character changes are inspired, others I thought were quite unfortunate. For example, I thought it was a great pity that he decided to make Mr. Bennet openly sarcastic toward and verbally abusive of Mrs. Bennet – though it may be that modern young persons simply can’t fathom the idea of detesting somebody and not flaming them. (For example, in the literally unwatchable Keira Knightley movie, the scriptwriter and presumably Ms. Knightley herself simply can’t rest until they have at least once required the character to whom they refer, apparently in mockery, as “Elizabeth,” to scream shrewishly at both her parents something along the lines of, “Oh, why can’t you leave me in peace just once!” This, despite the fact that most of Austin’s whole point is that Elizabeth ends up happy, and Lydia wretched, precisely because Elizabeth would never under any circumstances or provocation stoop to speaking with such disrespect and discourtesy to her parents, while Lydia sees no more harm in such behavior than...well, than does the typical modern Hollywood actress. Then again, it could have been worse -- Bridget Jones’s Diary was written by a woman who kicked Elizabeth out of the book entirely and moved Lydia into Elizabeth’s role, then spent an entire book fantasizing about how Lydia could eventually find true happiness with Darcy, apparently without the slightest comprehension that she had chosen Lydia as her heroine rather than Elizabeth. The result was an extremely funny book and movie, but one in which even as one laughs with Bridget, one laughs at the implicit folly of Ms. Fielding – a book and movie at the end of which one knows that, as much as one can’t help but like Bridget, Mark Darcy has just made a mistake he’ll spend the rest of his life regretting. The number of modern English women who model their behavior after Lydia’s and then sit around mystified as to why their life doesn’t turn out as satisfactorily as did Elizabeth’s, is as far as I can tell from the Bridget-worship pretty bloody staggering. But I digress.)

At the same time, there is a plot twist that I wouldn’t have thought of (and that I don’t want to spoil) that strikes me as near-genius. Let’s just say that it takes Mr. Collins, “one of the stupidest men in all England,” and cranks his Stupidometer up to eleven, as Nigel Tufnel might have it. And to have Elizabeth incur Lady Catherine’s displeasure while at Rosings, not through her playing the piano unskillfully, but instead by her killing several of Lady Catherine’s favorite pet ninjas in an after-dinner display of combat skills...and to transform Lady Catherine’s final confrontation with Elizabeth into a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon send-up complete with midair swordplay...

Well, you can put up with plenty of pages that don’t quite work out in order to get to the ones that so spectacularly succeed.

I sent a copy to my parents, and their reaction has been (a) priceless and (b) about what I'd expect. My father is enjoying the book immensely -- fifteen pages or so at a time, which is all he can take before the parodic zombie gore gets to him. Meanwhile my mother thinks the idea is hilarious in theory but can't make herself even think of reading it -- in fact, when my father is done with his fifteen pages, he is careful to make sure to leave the book lying face down lest my mother accidentally catch another glimpse of the front cover and be thereby further traumatized.

Anyway, this is a book that has everything, or, as the back cover has it, a book that "comes complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses." If you can stand the odd bits of cannibalism, rotting corpses, and fountains of dark blood, and you know Pride and Prejudice well enough to understand the parody, then I heartily recommend PPZ.

I will mention one other thing about the book I find highly amusing. The authors are officially listed as "Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith," meaning that Jane Austen is the primary author. As a result, the local Borders at one point had Pride and Prejudice and Zombies shelved in the Classic Literature section alongside Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and so forth. Apparently the Complete Works of Jane Austen have undergone augmentation...


At 6:05 PM, Blogger Kris with a K said...

I am in thei exact demographic for this new genre; I enjoy Austen's prose, but seriously groove on the zombie/killer/slasher movies and books also. Throw in gangster/mafia flicks in there also.

I am a woman of varied, yet refined (in my own way) tastes.

At least that's what I tell myself. And I always believe myself.


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