Sunday, June 14, 2009

More Pride, More Prejudice, More Zombies

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”

Thus begins Jane Austen’s finest work on love, prejudice and the undead. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is co-written by Seth Grahame-Smith, who, to my understanding, rewrote an unfinished manuscript that Austen had tentatively titled “Pride and Prejudice.”

The good news: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is everything it promises to be. It’s “Pride and Prejudice” with a superfluous zombie subplot. The bad news: This isn’t as much fun as it sounds.

Grahame-Smith changes almost none of Austen’s plot or her characters. He just adds a few fight scenes between the Bennett sisters, Darcy and the undead that plague Britain.

Sure, it’s funny the first time zombies interrupt a formal ball in search of succulent brains. The juxtaposition of ravenous zombies and uptight British folk is the type of stuff Monty Python fans love.

Unfortunately, the joke runs out quicker than the page count.

Grahame-Smith apparently has nothing more in mind than adding the occasional zombie fight. It doesn’t dovetail with the plot in any significant way. If anything, it’s a persistent distraction. If I were an editor who had never read “Pride and Prejudice,” I’d tell Grahame-Smith, “Great story, but cut the zombie crap.”

Grahame-Smith has missed a golden opportunity here. (His title alone is brilliant.) There are, at least, two ways he could have made this a cult classic. He could’ve committed to the inherent zaniness of zombies invading Longbourne; or he could have used the conceit to comment on the similarities between upper-class snobs and zombies.

Grahame-Smith’s primary problem is he’s too precious with the source material. All of the new, zombie-fied prose is immaterial because he refuses to change anything of importance from “Pride and Prejudice.”

Sure, we get a few amusing moments where Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy and Lady Catherine de Bourgh stop verbally sparring and make with the fisticuffs. There’s also one brilliant scene where Grahame-Smith commits to his crazy idea:

The Bennet sisters and their cousin, Mr. Collins, are accosted by the undead. Unable to fight the entire horde one at a time, Elizabeth sets the lot on fire. Jane mercifully points her musket at one, hoping to put it out of its misery; but Lizzy stops her.

“Let them burn,” Elizabeth says. “Let them have a taste of eternity.”

“Zombies” would have benefited from more of this sort of sacrilege.

-Jason Lea,

P.S. Grahame-Smith saves all of his funniest stuff for the Reader’s Discussion Guide at the end. Some sample questions:

1. Many critics have addressed the dual nature of Elizabeth’s personality. On one hand, she can be a savage, remorseless killer, as we see in her vanquishing of Lady Catherine’s ninjas. On the other hand, she can be tender and merciful, as in her relationships with Jane, Charlotte, and the young bucks that roam her family’s estate. In your opinion, which of these “halves” best represent the real Elizabeth at the beginning—and the end of the novel?

3. The strange plague has been the scourge of England for “five-and-fifty years.” Why do the English stay and fight, rather than retreat to the safety of eastern Europe or Africa?

7. Does Mrs. Bennett have a single redeeming quality?

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