reileen: (reading - books)
[personal profile] reileen
So. Yeah. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The title is pretty self-explanatory; the book is a decent, enjoyable read (speaking as someone who liked the original), and I suspect this is going to spark a craze in the publishing world where authors take works of fiction in the public domain and fuse it with something that is completely, anachronistically dissonant with the tone and setting of said work. Grahame-Smith is apparently already working on Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. I soon expect The Sound and the Fury and the Androids, or The Odyssey: Gotta Catch 'Em All!, or Treasure Island: With Extra Pirate Action!. (...wait.)

For the most part, Grahame-Smith does a commendable job of integrating such a ridiculous element with the refined atmosphere of late 18th-century England. The zombies are referred to as either "the unmentionables" or "the sorry stricken" or, well, "the zombies." Not much explanation is given as to the origin of the zombies; they've just been an ongoing plague to the Empire for a while already (dating back to at least the youth of Lady Catherine). Zombie attacks are more frequent in the spring and summer, when the earth is soft. Zombie attacks are also apparently the reason that there is a militia camped out nearby the Bennets. (I could be misremembering this.) Okay, that's fine. I can dig that.

Another thing I can dig: the Bennet sisters being trained in kung-fu. Yes, apparently the Bennets spent time in China, training in Shaolin for a couple of years under some martial arts master, with the result that they can now kick ass while being modest about it. While that would obviously preclude some interesting encounters with the zombies (the first appearance of which occurs at the ball where the Bennets first meet Mr. Darcy), I was a lot more excited about the showdown between Elizabeth and Darcy when Darcy shows up to first propose to her. That was classic, and I suspect many fans of the book (and perhaps some non-fans) have been waiting a while for something like that. (Spoiler: Also thematically satisfying in terms of the whole martial arts thing was Elizabeth's final fight against Lady Catherine de Bourgh.) A subtle but interesting touch that Grahame-Smith added was the clash, for lack of a better term at the moment, between Chinese-style and Japanese-style martial arts. In particular, Lady Catherine de Bourgh looks down on Elizabeth not just because Elizabeth is from a lower social class, but also because Elizabeth is trained in the "barbarian" arts of China, and not the "superior" style of Japan. There are other such instances of this in the book, but that was the one that stood out to me.

Still, even while hastily invoking the Rule of Cool every other paragraph, there were some things that I just couldn't get over. For example, if Lizzy was trained in Chinese martial arts, what the hell was she doing with a Katana (yes, capitalized like it was in the book), which is a Japanese sword? Shouldn't she have been wielding, like, a jian or a dao or something? I know, I know, such a nitpick, but that was seriously bugging the hell out of me.

Then there were some characterization problems I was trying to wrestle with.


The recharacterization of Lizzy as this warrior gentlewoman (gentlelady?) wasn't an inherent problem for me, since as a non-fighter sort myself I'm all the more fascinated by warrior characters in all stripes, of all eras. And anyway, the personality generally seems to suit Lizzy.

But during the fight with one of Lady Catherine's ninjas, Lizzy promptly reaches in with her bare hand, pulls out the ninja's still-beating heart, and then proceeds to eat it. That provoked quite the feral "bzuh?!" from my end. It's not even that I was grossed out by it (which probably says something non-flattering about my mind), it's that it just felt so out of place. Because, you know, plopping zombies into a novel long considered to be a part of the English literature canon is totally subtle. That is to say, it felt like the author was trying too hard to be "cool" and "edgy" about this whole Pride and Prejudice and zombies deal, without letting the situation just be cool in and of itself. I had a similar bzuh-ish reaction to the one part in the novel (I can't remember which one) where Lizzy entertains the guests by first doing a handstand (while being modest about it!), then doing a one-handed handstand, then a one-fingered handstand, and then walking around on her hands until the guests got bored and went home. Again, author: You're Trying Too Hard.

The resolution of the Wickham fiasco read too much like a fanfic author heaping all this shit on a particular character just because they didn't like the character in canon. Yeah, Wickham is a dickham and all, but seriously, Darcy beating the shit out of Wickham and rendering him a cripple for life as part of the condition for accepting regular monetary compensation? What's really bugging me even more about this, though, is the fact that I can't think of how I would have resolved that particular situation myself, were I the one committing the unthinkable blasphemy of mashing up an Austen novel with the undead. I would have expected more zombies, I guess. Though I'm not sure that I would've had Wickham zombified, himself, since Lizzy's friend Charlotte was unfortunately bitten and eventually died.

Which brings me to the treatment of the zombies themselves. They're alternately written as simple gimmicks by which Grahame-Smith injects some hilarity and action into an otherwise formal novel, and as characters in their own right, deserving of pity and of contemplation. Nowhere is this more evident than when Lizzy finds out that Charlotte has been "stricken" by the zombie plague. The situation is played for both laughs and for sympathy, especially in the one section of the novel where Charlotte temporarily gets her own POV.

At the same time, I find myself dissatisfied with the overall handling of this particular element. I was particularly bothered by the scene near the end where Lizzy and Darcy go a-zombie huntin' as their first date as an "official" couple. It just seemed so frivolously rendered, especially in light of the fact that Lizzy lost a dear friend to the plague. The sheer lack of sympathy struck an odd, sour note with me. I suspect that part of my unease with this comes from a recent discussion on Slacktivist about the zombie trope and all of its weighty moral ramifications ("force of nature with hit points" and "this could be you or a loved one" being two of them), so perhaps I should just sit back, crosslegged, and repeat "Rule of Cool" like Raven's meditation mantra. Because otherwise, I do like the idea of Lizzy and Darcy fighting side-by-side as their first date.




Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is worth taking a look at, at the very least. Just be aware of your own personal "Rule of Cool" tolerance, and you'll be well-equipped to deal with the zombies and their hunters.

-Reileen
men are mere mortals who are not worth going to your grave for
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Reileen van Kaile

April 2010

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