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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Originally posted on Great stories, 27 November 2009

The idea is promising: weave a zombie plot through a Jane Austen classic.

In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith inserts zombie references and action throughout one of the most loved and recognisable stories in the English language.

The altered classic opening line certainly captures the mash-up idea: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains”.

In Grahame-Smith’s version, Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters are renowned Shaolin-trained warriors, roaming the countryside to cut down zombies – much to the disdain of higher bred women such as Mr Bingley’s sisters. Mr Darcy is also a zombie slayer of great repute and his clashes with Elizabeth are no longer just verbal…

The set up for the zombie plot is actually all there in the original: the constant presence of militia, the threat of disease and the horror associated with breaches of social etiquette.

I laughed out loud the first time I heard about this book (and then again when I found it shelved in the classics section at my local book shop).

It promises to put familiar characters in unfamiliar territory (fighting the trashiest of all pop culture supernatural baddies), and comes complete with a tongue-in-cheek study guide at the end. It should be clever. It should be fun.

And it is, for about 50 pages. Then the zombie references and B-grade-worthy fight scenes become a distraction from the real story: the tension between Elizabeth and Darcy.

Around 80 per cent of the original text remains intact, and that’s the problem. Austen’s writing and original plot are so strong, it makes the new scenes completely superfluous. It would have worked so much better if Grahame-Smith had actually re-imagined the story, rather than just inserting a few lines here and there in the original text.

Actually, the best bits for me are the sketches scattered through the pages, perhaps a sign the mash-up idea would have worked better as graphic novel.

The book’s success (which has led to other hybrids, including Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters) proves there are enough people with eclectic reading tastes to create a market for this type of literary bastardisation.

And I have no issue with the concept, I just wish this one had offered something more because, by the end, I just wished I’d read the original.

(According to Wikipedia, due to the success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Grahame-Smith has been contracted to write two follow-up books, one of which is reported to be titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.)

Update: Apparently Natalie Portman has signed on a for a film version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which actually could work much better than the book – and something I’d definitely go and see.