First, a preamble. If you’ve been hiding in a cave with your eyes closed and cotton in your ears, you might not be aware that zombies are in. Though at one point nothing more than one entry in a pantheon of ghouls (which also included mummies and vampires), they have quickly worked their way into popular culture. Nowhere is this more apparent than the internet, where they have become a meme along with such colorful characters as pirates, ninjas, pirates vs. ninjas, lolcats, raptors, &c..
Zombies in particular have proved fodder for both cursory reference and more substantial fare: be it books such as World War Z or Breathers, films such as 28 Days Later, or video games such as Resident Evil1 or Left4Dead, zombies have begun to infiltrate our niche media.
It was from this laundry list of internet memes that Grahame-Smith chose his topic (this isn’t speculation; it’s from his mouth). Rather than simply write another book about killing zombies, however, he decided to pair the crass and referential nature of the zombie meme with a paragon of Victorian elegance and eloquent English: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Austen is listed (first) as a co-author, and for good reason: her original text, abridged, makes up the bulk of this satirical version. The superstructure of the plot is largely the same, including the same characters we know and love, seeking love, fighting against the vagaries of 18th-century British economies, and bumbling around comically against the walls of their own vanity and misunderstandings. But now, zombies roam the countryside, occasionally crashing parties in their hunger for brains; the Bennet girls themselves are consumed by the “deadly arts,” Elizabeth in particular being skilled with both the musket and the sword.
The humor inherent, as you have already guessed, is the incongruity of the base novel and the additions which have been bolted on. A section of florid Victorian prose turns on its head when it ends with a Bennet girl beheading a shuffling zombie. Here’s the problem: it’s really the same joke, repeated ad nauseam. There are only so many times that the sudden shift from “Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances” to “[Elizabeth] saw Mrs. Long struggle to free herself as two female dreadfuls bit into her head, cracking her skull like a walnut” can induce either mirth or a high-minded sort of appreciation.
The truth is, this entire concept, though I may admit dreadfully clever, belongs as a 10- or 15-page story in a McSweeney’s anthology, whose readers would appreciate its many merits. But a full novel, consisting of little else than modules of zombie-killing or mortal combat strategically dropped into a Jane Austen’s text? By the time I was a third of the way in, I wanted to toss it. What a labor! It’s like having the drunk at the party slur the same joke at you every fifteen minutes.
I appear to be the minority in my opinion though, as the books has been receiving generally high marks (and has been optioned into a feature film).
If you want to read Pride and Prejudice, then read Pride and Prejudice (or, if you are more of an audio-visual person, see Joe Wright’s excellent film adaptation); if you want to kill zombies, read a Max Brooks book, or play a video game. I can’t escape the feeling that at 320 pages, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was 300 pages too long.
- Note that I list Resident Evil as a game and not the perhaps better-known films. This is on purpose.[↩]