Those of you who follow this blog regularly know that I write about zombies with an alarming frequency. Well, okay, I’ve probably written about them three times. For reference, we have the “Shaun of the Dead”/zombie fruit rats entry, the Klimt’s “The Kiss” is actually depicting a zombie feast entry, and the mathematical geniuses predict the probability of defeating zombie attacks entry.
Yesterday I picked up a book that I’ve been really excited to get ahold of ever since I first heard about it: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” Yep, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a remake of “Pride and Prejudice,” with zombies in it.
I can already hear some of you recoiling in horror, especially if you clicked on the link and had a look at the cover design…I still jump and squeak with fright every time I look at it. But I was so excited to get a copy of this book, which combines very unexpectedly three of my great loves: Jane Austent, zombies, and martial arts. If only there were a little belly dancing in there I would never need to read another book, it would have everything!
Unfortunately, I decided to stay up late huddled under the blankets giggling over my new (and gory) tome. It’s full of paragraphs like: “As Mr. Darcy walked off, Elizabeth felt her blood turn cold. She had never in her life been so insulted. The warrior code demanded that she avenge her honour. Elizabeth reached down to her ankle, taking care not to draw attention. There, her hand met the dagger concealed beneath her dress. She meant to follow this proud Mr. Darcy outside and open his throat.” Unfortunately at that moment she gets interrupted by a zombie attack and she and her sisters–trained in what is called in the book “the deadly arts”–are called upon to rescue the party.
I have previously remarked on the hazards of thinking about zombies before going to sleep, and because of this failure to heed my own advice I’m feeling a little slow and clumsy myself today. But I really enjoyed the book and I wasted no time finishing it–you might say, if you were so inclined, that I devoured it.
The book raised a couple of salient issues: for instance, since Lizzie Bennet and her sisters are trained in kung fu, while Darcy is a master in an unnamed Japanese martial form (I’m going to go out on a limb here and claim that it’s jiu jitsu, although ninjas feature prominently in the book as well) they have to consider how these combat techniques are going to work differently on the undead. If you try to put an arm lock on somebody and their arm comes off, you’ve lost control of the situation, and they might bite you. Not ideal.
Equally, if someone you love were turned into a zombie, would you be able to remove their head, destroy their brain, or set them on fire, the only accepted killing technique for zombies? Or would personal sentiments get in the way of your survival? (By the way, according to the author, zombies can be trapped by using cauliflower as bait, because it resembles brains.)
I thought the author, Seth Grahame-Smith, did a good job of integrating his text in with Jane Austen’s original text (because Pride and Prejudice is in the public domain, there are no copyright laws to prevent Grahame-Smith from editing the book at will). Stylistically there were few places where I would fault him, and I found all the blood-and-gore parts so absurdly silly that they just added to the parody.
Where I feel he fell down–quite far down, actually–was by inserting some graphically scatalogical references and some very explicit sexual innuendo. While Austen’s original work is a satire, a comedy of manners that calls into question a moral system so focused on propriety above all things and the arbitrary definitions of propriety in the Regency period, she never actually crossed the bounds of propriety within her writing. She speaks about characters’ reputations getting ruined and alludes to things like bastard children (natural children, as they were termed in polite society then.) There is a good deal of flirtatious innuendo in her books, but never of an explicitly sexual nature, or at least if she did, the idioms she might have used to refer to it at the time are not common knowledge to us now, so I am unaware of them. The evidence points against it as well in that the slang used in other author’s works which is not contemporary is widely documented–Oscar Wilde’s play on the term “earnest,” in wide use at the time as an allusion to homosexuality; those endless footnotes in editions of Shakespeare that explain many of the puns lost to us today because we no longer carry those extra sets of meanings for the words he uses–and I haven’t come across descriptions of this type pertaining to her work.
I don’t mind graphic scatalogical references (well, okay, those I do mind) or explicit sexual innuendo per se, but I really felt they pulled me out of the action whenever they occured in this book. Maybe it was just that he referred to those things using modern terminology (despite how excellent he was in mimicking the Regency writing style in other respects) and if those things too had been referred to in a more delicate fashion–or at least not using slang that I seriously doubt is from that period–I might not have minded it so much. After all, the fountains of blood and strings of decaying zombie flesh didn’t bother me. Grahame-Smith even made a point of having the characters refer to zombies using polite euphemisms while in mixed company, something very apropos to the time period for anything bothersome or vulgar.
But on the whole I still really enjoyed it (how can you not like a book where Darcy’s home, Pemberly, is reimagined as a grand Japanese palace with a solid jade door? And the Bennets have a dojo in their house? And Lady Catherine DeBurgh is a renouned despatcher of the undead as well as being terribly proud and haughty?) and will probably read it again…though definitely not at bedtime.