“I survived the 36 chambers.” -Miss Elizabeth Bennet
I’ll be honest, I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice. 19th century Britich romances are really my thing though I do recall enjoying Northanger Abbey though it is somewhat of a satire of the gothic romance genre that was so popular during the 19th century. However, I am of the firm opinion that zombies are to literature what bacon is to food. That is, they make everything better. So when I first heard that Seth Grahame-Smith was adding “all new scenes of zombie mayhem” to Jane Austen’s classic story I was totally on board. While the final product is hardly a modern masterpiece of horror fiction it does make for an absolutely entertaining twist on a classic story.
There is something attractive about taking the familiar and making it strange. Unsettling in some cases as it might be in some cases, like Marilyon Manson’s 1990s cover of the Eurythmics’ song “Sweet Dreams,” it has a certain value in creating renewed interesting in the source matieral and allowing for a fresh perspective of old and well-tread material. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies exists in some no-mans land between cover-song and mash-up inhabiting a realm similar to frequently hit-or-miss What if? series by Marvel Comics; though perhaps the less well known What the!? series is just as an apt a fit. Though where What if? (or What the!?) riffs on in house characters and stories, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies takes on a rather well-respected literary classic that is beloved in both the world of literary academia and to a large chunk of the general reading public as well.
A quick glance over at wikipedia’s plot summary for Pride and Prejudice falls in line with events as they occur in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Things are, of course, more or less turned on their ears. The England in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is one racked by a terrible zombie plague with large swaths of countryside riddled with packs of roaming “unmentionables” and London is quarantined into various sections. Where riding and hunting and balls are as prominent in the novel as they are in other 19th century english fiction; the value of individuals in the novel, especially from Elizabeth Bennet’s perspective, is measure by the skill in the “deadly arts” and thus there ability to dispatch zombies.
Where the Bennet sisters of Austen’s novel are the daughters of a simple country lord, the Bennets of Grahame-Smith’s adaptation are the warrior trained guardians of their town trained in the deadly arts to defend their home, friends and country from the zombie menace. The elder Bennet sisters Jane and Elizabeth are the most dedicated to their task (Elizabeth the moreso) while, as in the original novel, Lydia and Kitty are the flightiest of the bunch more interesting in men and parties than any zombie slaying. Mary fell by the wayside, she is there but rarely mentioned. Grahame-Smith, in a rather clever tension-building maneuver, had the Bennet’s trained by Shaolin monks in China while the rest of high English society views Japanese training as the best of the best. It is a nice little twist on high society prejudices that works well in his alternate history England.
Where I suspect mostly verbal arguments between characters existed in Austen’s orginal text we now get physical fights. When Elizabeth Bennet feels her honor is offended by Mr. Darcy she doesn’t respond by getting to a male authority figure to stand up for her but instead resolves herself to killing him to right the injustice done her name. When Lady Catherine de Bourgh informs Elizabeth of the inpropriety of her match with her nephew the verbal sparring is immediatley followed by literal fight. Parties are interupted by zombies and even a simple trip to a neighbor’s involves the potential threat of death. As a way to clear their heads both Jane and Elizabeth track and wrestle deer in order to kiss them. It is a strange England that is both familiar and different as well as frequently violent.
The stilted often verbose speech of Jane Austen’s characters is still present. Even the new material falls in line with Austen’s style of writing though I admit, even to my untrained eye, some of the writing had a certain implicit difference that I couldn’t quite place my finger on and I suspect it has to do with whose writing it actually was: Jane Austen or Seth Grahame-Smith’s. If you enjoy zombie fiction I can heartily recommend Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It isn’t often (or ever that I can think of) that we deal with zombies in any sort of historical setting so it is interesting for that regard (though I admit that Grahame-Smith’s mention of musket’s frequently implied rapid-fire use which I found difficult to swallow, but maybe I was missing something). Fans of the original novel who aren’t offended by violence and slight tongue-in-cheeking mockery might give the book a try but it seems to me that the book is aimed more at the former zombie loving crowd rather than the storied Jane Austen fan. Regardless, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an entertaining diversion that despite being largely borrowed material remains a suprisingly and refreshingly imaginative work with a fair amount of wit and B-movie charm to make it worth a look.