Saturday, July 31, 2010

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (book) by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

I just barely managed to finish reading this in time (before my ILL due date). Even with zombies and changes here and there in the text, there's still a lot of Jane Austen's writing to get through (I'm not an Austen-hater, I'm just a modern reader who stalls a bit when confronted with non-modern writing). I had a lot of fun with this book, though, and I'm now thinking that I need to reread the original.

Brief Synopsis:

In short, this is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice set in an England facing an outbreak of zombies. Young men and ladies are trained in the art of combat if they're physically able, but that doesn't stop everyone from being interested in appearances and marriage. Everyone except Elizabeth, who would rather concentrate on kicking zombie butt. Something she does very, very well.

If you want more details, read the longer synopsis, but, basically, Grahame-Smith works the zombie bits in very well. In some cases, he works them in so well that I think his version of events is better than the original. In other cases, he tries so hard to keep the story from straying from the original that his own additions can't properly be followed to their logical conclusions.

Longer Synopsis, with Zombie Bits
:

It's been so long since I read the original that I can't remember much about it - I read it in middle school as part of a "you must read some of the classics, but you can read whichever ones you want" project, and I remember being a bit surprised that it wasn't as painful to get through as I thought it would be. I picked it because it was short and seemed likely to have romance.

My most recent memories of non-zombiefied Pride and Prejudice therefore come from the two TV versions (at least, two is all I remember, and I haven't seen the more recently produced movie version). I remember Mrs. Bennet being silly, but she's even sillier in an England filled with zombies. Most of her attention is on marrying off her daughters. Mr. Bennet, rightfully so, is more interested in seeing all his daughters survive to adulthood, unafflicted by England's mysterious plague. Out of concern for their future survival, Elizabeth and her sisters were trained in combat from a very young age, sent to China by their father to learn the "deadly arts."

Elizabeth and Jane are two of the most accomplished sisters in the family when it comes to combat, although all of the sisters are deadly. Jane is a kind person, who tries to see the good in everyone (even, in some cases, zombies), but Elizabeth can be a bit scary at times (perhaps sociopathic?). It looks at first like Jane might end up being the first of the Bennet sisters to marry, but various other people interfere. Mrs. Bennet is also excited when it appears as though Elizabeth may have a chance to marry, but Elizabeth wants nothing to do with Mr. Collins, the man who proposes to her out of a desire to appear generous (he'll be moving into the Bennet family's home after Mr. Bennet dies - one of the reasons why Mrs. Bennet desperately wants to see all her daughters married off).

Mr. Collins ends up marrying Charlotte, a friend of Elizabeth's, instead - later on, Charlotte relates to Elizabeth in confidence that she is stricken with the plague and only wishes to end her days in happiness. After the marriage, Elizabeth visits and is stunned and horrified that Charlotte is showing obvious signs of becoming a zombie (oozing sores, speech problems, sickness) that no one but her seems to notice, not even Mr. Collins. Eventually, though, Lady Catherine, a woman whose skill at killing the afflicted is considered legendary, forces Mr. Collins to realize his wife's undead condition. Mr. Collins beheads Charlotte and then hangs himself.

Although Elizabeth was not particularly impressed with Mr. Collins, she did find a soldier named Mr. Wickham a bit interesting. She didn't expect or even want to marry him, but she liked talking to him and, through him, she learned all kinds of distasteful things about Mr. Darcy's character. Apparently, as a child Mr. Darcy broke both of Wickham's legs in a fit of jealousy over his father's attention. Elizabeth resolves to dislike Darcy.

Unfortunately, Mr. Darcy confesses his love to Elizabeth, a love that he feels despite her rather embarrassing family. Elizabeth angrily turns him down and even battles him when she discovers that he is responsible for her sister Jane's unhappiness. However, Elizabeth later comes to regret her response when she discovers that Mr. Darcy isn't the horrible person she thought he was. Mr. Wickham had lied about their past - Mr. Darcy broke his legs after he discovered that Wickham had planned on beating a deaf stable boy. Also, Mr. Darcy interfered with Jane's budding romance with Mr. Bingley because he believed she had become afflicted - since he thought it was only a matter of time before she'd start trying to eat brains, he wanted to protect his friend from an unhappy relationship with her.

After kicking Mr. Darcy's head into a mantelpiece during their fight, Elizabeth is sure that he could not possibly still care for her, and she regrets this dearly. When her sister Lydia is basically kidnapped by Wickham, however, she and her family have other things to worry about. If Wickham and Lydia don't marry, Lydia's reputation will be ruined - Mary and Kitty Bennet resolve to come up with plans to kill Wickham for the affront to their sister's honor. Eventually the family hears news that Lydia and Wickham are to be married - Wickham lost the use of his arms and legs after a bad carriage accident and now only hopes to marry Lydia for just enough money per year to cover new bed linens, as he now soils them often. He also plans to join the seminary. When Lydia arrives back home with her new husband, she is bubbly and joyous, despite Wickham's shocking condition - apparently, she doesn't care about the state her husband is in, so long as she can say she's a married woman.

Elizabeth later discovers that Mr. Darcy had a hand in Wickham's change of heart - and his changed physical condition. Presumably in order to avoid being killed for his behavior, Wickham allowed Mr. Darcy to beat him until he lost the use of his arms and legs, as well as his ability to procreate (Mr. Darcy was not pleased at the news of the number of bastards Wickham left behind). He also promised Mr. Darcy that he would marry Lydia and join a seminary.

Now that Lydia's situation is happily resolved, Elizabeth has to deal with her personal problems again. The Lady Catherine shows up at the Bennet family's home, angry that Elizabeth is apparently rumored to be getting married to Mr. Darcy. Lady Catherine had wanted Mr. Darcy to marry her own daughter, and she is not happy at the idea of Mr. Darcy marrying someone like Elizabeth, who learned the deadly arts in China of all places (she considers Japan to be higher class). She challenges Elizabeth to a fight. Although Elizabeth manages to stab Lady Catherine, Lady Catherine keeps the upper hand for a while, until Elizabeth finally corners her with a katana. Rather than behead her, however, Elizabeth chooses to let her live, because she doesn't want Mr. Darcy to hate her for killing Lady Catherine, his aunt.

Later, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth finally work up the courage to talk to each other about their feelings for one another. Mr. Darcy's haven't changed, much to Elizabeth's joy. They agree to be married, and celebrate their engagement by killing some zombies together. Elizabeth's father is shocked that she wants to marry someone she had earlier said she hated, but he accepts her decision. Mrs. Bennet is overjoyed that both Jane and Elizabeth are finally getting married.

Commentary:

Depending upon how you feel about the original book, you may either like the characters as they are in this one, or you may be outraged by them. I was thrilled that Elizabeth was so kick-butt, but I was also a little put off by her sociopathic tendencies. Not only does she coldly think about killing several people during the early parts of the book, at one point, she fights Lady's Catherine's ninjas, rips the heart out of one of them, and takes a bite out of the heart. Ew. Not to mention, isn't that an awfully zombie-like thing to do? Mr. Bennet, who I remembered as being the more likable of Elizabeth's parents, is revealed to be a cheating bastard at one point, which I didn't like, although I understood. Charlotte was a great change, and I think one of the best uses of zombies in the story, although it was really bizarre that no one but Elizabeth noticed her gradual descent into zombiehood.

There are inconsistencies in the story, though. If the plague is only in England, why do other countries allow Englanders to visit them? I wouldn't think Japan or China would want to risk getting the plague too. Also, no one notices that Charlotte is ill - huh? No one comments that Mr. Collins has killed himself. Lydia's reaction to her husband's condition is kind of creepy and surreal. Also, I think the author mixed Chinese and Japanese cultures a bit too much - I think he not only used the word "dojo" for both cultures, I think he also had Japanese weapons in the Bennet's Chinese house.

Although a lot of the zombie stuff if played for laughs, there is a bit of creepy stuff. For instance, the zombie baby that Elizabeth lets live, or the zombie children. The fact that this country is overridden by zombies is also creepy, especially when you consider everyone's continued fascination with marriage - you'd think people would be a wee bit more focused on survival and the steady shrinking of the living population. Those who take issue with the less amusing and more horrific aspects of all the zombie stuff may also find that they have problems with the prominent presence of vomit in the story. I didn't think it was possible to vomit politely, but apparently it is, because characters do it a lot. Also, Mrs. Bennet vomits when she's worried about Lydia. I think vomiting replaces having the vapors in women. Not sure what it replaces in men.

I've talked to at least one person who said they probably wouldn't read this book because they liked the original and didn't want this book tainting that love. I suppose I can understand that (especially when I think about the vomiting and heart-chomping), but, at the same time, I think fans of the original story would be in the best position to appreciate the punishments meted out upon certain characters: Mr. Collins committing suicide, Wickham ending up with a bedpan, etc.

The book ends with a section of discussion questions (a lot like what you'd find in a book discussion group edition). They're often funny, but they should not be read unless you don't mind spoilers or have already read the book.

I'm going to try something new, starting with this post. In the interest of being able to list all read-alikes and watch-alikes I can come up with, and not just the ones I'm willing to write about, I'm now not going to write brief descriptions for them. True, I usually ended up just copying and pasting things from previous posts, but that's not possible when I haven't used something as a read-alike/watch-alike before. I'd now like to only write briefly about whatever it is that made me decide to include the book/movie/whatever in my list. We'll see how that goes. More than likely, no one will miss the old way (hey, does anyone even read these lists anymore? or my posts??). If you do miss it, well, click on the links, do a search in your favorite search engine, or use the little WorldCat search box I put at the top of the right-most column in this blog.

Even after cutting out all the descriptions, it's still not possible for me to list all the potential read-alikes for this book. Do you know how many rewritten Jane Austen books, rewritten classics in general, and classics rewritten with zombies/vampires/whatever there are? It's mind-boggling. And zombies, so many zombies everywhere.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Shaun of the Dead (live action movie) - For those who see the humor in zombies, here's a hilarious British zombie movie. Just like it took forever for anyone to realize there's something wrong with Charlotte, it takes a lot longer than it should have for anybody to realize everyone's become a zombie. No, that lady isn't just drunk.
  • Pride and Prejudice (book) by Jane Austen - If you haven't read the original yet, you really should.
  • Zombieland (live action movie) - Yet another funny movie with zombies, this one with more zombie-killing action than Shaun of the Dead. If you liked the bits where the Bennets kicked zombie butt, you might enjoy this movie, set in a near-future (or present-day) where likely most of humanity has been turned into zombies.
  • Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (book) by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters - Tired of all the Pride and Prejudice-based stuff, but still want more Jane Austen parodies/rewrites? Then try this, which, obviously, has sea monsters in place of zombies.
  • Pride and Prejudice (graphic novel) adapted by Nancy Butler, illustrated by Hugo Petrus - Holy crap, there's a Pride and Prejudice graphic novel! No, there aren't any zombies, but I couldn't help but list this.
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls (book) by Steve Hockensmith - If you liked P&P&Z, you might like this sequel, which takes place five years before Bingley moves to Netherfield. This one may be even better than P&P&Z, because it's not bound to any particular text and can therefore be a bit more free, aside from making sure that its ending conditions match up with the beginning of P&P&Z.
  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (book) by Seth Grahame-Smith - Oh. My. God. Ahem. Anyway, this one's written by the same guy who did P&P&Z, only now he's re-imagining history through the lens of horror. Sounds like fun.

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