Zombies & Aliens in Austenland??

This is just too good not to print the whole thing right here.  Much has been made the past few weeks about the zombied-out Pride & Prejudice and Elton John’s latest foray into a literary alien-infested monster-land – I’ve not commented on it, just  taking it all in and wondering what to make of it really!  But today in the New York Times, Jennifer  Schuessler writes on this so perfectly, I copy it all here for your delight and save you the need to even click on a link:

I Was a Regency Zombie


These days, America is menaced by zombie banks and zombie computers. What’s next, a zombie Jane Austen?

In fact, yes. Minor pandemonium ensued in the blogosphere this month after Quirk Books announced the publication of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” an edition of Austen’s classic juiced up with “all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem” by a Los Angeles television writer named Seth Grahame-Smith. (First line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”) 

Then, last week, the monster alert at Meryton went from orange to red when it was reported that Elton John‘s Rocket Pictures was developing a project called “Pride and Predator,” in which the giant alien from the 1987 cult classic pays a call on the Bennet family. 

Holy Northanger Abbey! Is this some mutant experiment in intellectual property law escaped from the lab? Proof of the essentially vampiric nature of today’s culture industry? Or an attempt to make Austen safe for audiences – read “boys” – raised on “Mortal Kombat” and “Evil Dead”? 

According to Mr. Grahame-Smith, who confessed to being “bored to tears” by “Pride and Prejudice” in high school, the idea was mostly to sell resistant readers on the joys of Jane while having a bit of fun. The book, probably the first Austen/horror mashup to make it into print, is roughly 85 percent Austen’s original text, with references to monsters, putrefying flesh and ninja swordplay added on just about every page.

 “I think Austen would have a sense of humor about it,” said Mr. Grahame-Smith, whose previous books include “How to Survive a Horror Movie.” (Rule No. 1 in a zombie attack: “Stop Being So Pathetic.”) “Or maybe she’s rolling in her grave. Or climbing out of it.”

 But not everyone in the Austen world relishes the idea of Elizabeth Bennet, action hero. Myretta Robens, site manager and co-founder of the Austen fan site Republic of Pemberley, pemberley.com, (and herself the author of two Regency romance novels), said she was cautiously pessimistic about the forthcoming zombie invasion. 

“I’m interested in anything relating to Jane,” she said. “But to me this is like Jane Austen jumping the shark.” 

To some scholars, however, it’s a short leap from verbal sparring to real swordplay. “It makes sense to give Lizzie a grander scope for her action,” said Deidre Lynch, an associate professor of English at the University of Toronto and editor of “Janeites,” a collection of scholarly essays about Austen devotees. “It goes with the muddy petticoats and the rambling across the countryside in this unladylike way. The next step is ninja training.”

 In fact, “Pride and Prejudice” may already be a zombie novel, contends Brad Pasanek, a specialist in 18th-century literature at the University of Virginia.

“The characters other than the protagonist are so often surrounded by people who aren’t fully human, like machines that keep repeating the same things over and over again,” Professor Pasanek said. “All those characters shuffling in and out of scenes, always frustrating the protagonists. It’s a crowded but eerie landscape. What’s wrong with those people? They don’t dance well but move in jerky fits. Oh, they are headed this way!”

 While the vast industry of Austen sequels and pastiches runs heavily toward the romance-novel end of the literary spectrum – see “The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy” by Maya Slater, to be published in the United States in June – scholars have long emphasized the mean-girl side of Jane’s personality. Professor Pasanek, who has collaborated on a project that uses spam-detection software to analyze Austen fan fiction, cites the psychologist D. W. Harding’s 1940 essay “Regulated Hatred,” which sounds more like a death-metal band than a piece of influential Austen scholarship.

“Most people try to ignore the fact that Austen’s novels are sort of acid baths,” Professor Pasanek said. “She’s so much better, deeper, more sensitive and intelligent than everyone around her that she has to regulate her own misanthropy. Her novels are hostile environments.”

Despite her own reservations, Ms. Robens acknowledged that Austen would probably be “laughing her head off” at the new mashups. 

Or maybe plotting delicious revenge. Next year, Ballantine Books will publish Michael Thomas Ford’s novel “Jane Bites Back,” in which Austen turns into a vampire, fakes her own death and lives quietly as a bookstore owner before finally driving a stake through the heart of everyone who has been making money off her for the last two centuries. 

“She’s a woman who has been middle-aged for 200 years and is fed up,” Mr. Ford said. “She finally gets to restart her life and reclaim her literary fame.”

The undead Austen also settle scores with some old literary rivals, though Mr. Ford declined to name names. Another mashup in the making? 


bennet-zombie-pic[Leah Hayes]




2 thoughts on “Zombies & Aliens in Austenland??

  1. Holy Northanger Abbey is right! Thanks for posting this great article Deb. We have moved into new Austen territories with P&P&Z and Pride and Predator. We used to complain when adaptations diverted from the text. Now we will be hard pressed to recognize it!


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