Sunday, February 17, 2013
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
© 2009 Seth Grahame-Smith
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is the old story of girl meets boy, girl declares boy to be Worst Man in the World and humiliates him, girl and boy fight off horde of drones from hell together and decide the other's alright after all. And there's dancing, lots of dancing.
Hearing about this book some many months ago scandalized me at first. The idea of modern people, taking a Classic and sullying it with their infantile obsession with monsters and sparking vampires! -- and yet after I read the Classic, the idea of Elizabeth Bennet dispatching zombies with a musket was too good to pass up. (It was a bit silly of me to defend the honor of a book I hadn't read, anyway.) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is in a word, hilarious, largely because the author has managed to take most of Austen's text and set it against a completely bizarre background, one in which England is suffering under a prolonged plague of zombies. The dead refuse to stay properly buried, and insist on shambling around trying to nibble on people's heads -- and being bitten can cause the transformation of the living into the undead. In this world, families who can afford it send their sons and daughters to the East to learn martial arts, and children spend their time learning musketry instead of the pianoforte.
The woes of Mother Bennet in trying to marry off each of her five daughters are now complicated by the fact that every trip into the countryside between homes is perilous attacks on carriages by zombie bands are common, and solitary travelers are suicides. It's not as if she's rich enough to support a security force of ninjas, not like Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Those who have seen the Leonardo de Caprio version of Romeo and Juliet may have been amused, as was I, by the combination of Shakespearean language and modern scenery, wherein the Capulets and Montagues fight not with swords in a plaza, but with pistols at a gas station. That kind of contradiction is here: the archness of Austen's writing and the dignity of her characters stand against the absurdity of zombies and ninjas. For the most part, Grahame-Smith makes subtle adjustments: Mr. Bennet is cleaning his musket while Mrs. Bennet prattles on, Mr. Darcy admires Elizabeth's martial poses rather than her piano playing, and so on. He also adds to the plot; characters in general are much more aggressive here, with Mr. Bennet and Darcy both threatening violence against chatterbox women who won't leave them alone. Some alterations are more substantial, like the fates of Charlotte, Mr. Collins, Lydia, and Wickham. At its best, the tension between Austen and Grahame-Smith is wildly funny, as when a ball is interrupted by a zombie attack and Elizabeth's impulsive plan to follow Darcy outside and kill him for insulting her (it's the warrior code, doncha know) falls apart. Other times, it's a bit too absurd.The Bennet sisters being warriors, renown for their expertise in slaying the walking damned, that's hilarious -- ("Girls! Pentagram of Death!"). But ninjas? That's just silly. At its worst, Graham's brief additions can be gratuitously vulgar: one character becomes lame and incontinent in the course of the story, and the humiliation of their constantly soiling themselves becomes a running joke for the final third of the novel -- a tasteless display which dampened even my enjoyment of the Epic Duel between Lady Catherine and Elizabeth.
I would have like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a lot more were it not for the toilet humor. The zombie plague almost makes the book like a western, with lots of action and the wilderness being a dangerous, hostile place. Unlike in the original novel, here the blue-blooded characters have use: they're not sitting around gossiping, they're out defending the realm against the 'sorry stricken'. And the invisible 'other' characters, the legions of servants and laborers who were nonexistent int the original, make quite a few appearances here. Usually they're beating eaten, but they're there. I don't know that I'll be reading any more of the "Quirk Classic" series, but this is definitely a work I'll remember, and it met the yearning in me for more of Pride and Prejudice.