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A classic infused with zombies

By Staff | Sep 29, 2009

I’ve never read “Pride and Prejudice,” but have read other Jane Austen works, so I entered into reading “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith a bit unclear as to the source material. I wondered at any rate how it would work, taking a literary classic and inserting a campy element of horror into it. And for the most part I think Grahame-Smith did a good job of blending the new material with the old.

A co-worker of mine said he thought part of the “joke” of the book is to trick the reader into reading “Pride and Prejudice.” And maybe that’s true, for I’m sure a lot of people haven’t encountered the book outside of a literature class. And for fans of the original book, it can be a fun new look at their favorite characters living in an alternate universe, one in which zombies have infected England for more than 50 years.

I got a copy of the new hardcover edition of the New York Times’ bestselling book, which says it has 30 percent more zombies than the original paperback printing. It also features a leatherette binding and satin ribbon marker to give it that authentic “classic” feel. The new edition also includes a new preface from Grahame-Smith, 13 oil-painting illustrations by Roberto Parada (my favorite is of the zombies eating cauliflower thinking they are spare brains lying about,) and an afterword by Dr. Allen Grove of Alfred University. Elizabeth Bennet is one of five sisters. Her father has had them well trained in the deadly arts and their swiftness with a blade and musket is well known. Their mother, however, still clings to the old ways and is determined to see her daughters marry well. And so they continue on with balls, trips to visit friends and relatives, even though the  “unmentionables” still roam the land.

But Elizabeth isn’t scared of any “manky dreadfuls,” nor is she ready to lay down her blade to be a wife, especially to one Mr. Darcy, a proficient zombie killer himself, whose haughty pride causes him and Elizabeth to verbally spar on more than one occasion. And while Elizabeth isn’t above ready to cut down anyone who dares insult her family, she does face some difficulty with Darcy’s aunt, the high-society Lady Catherine and zombie warrior who trained in Japan (as opposed to Elizabeth’s family training in China), employs ninjas, and is rumored to have killed zombies with nothing but an envelope. While Elizabeth’s friends and sisters continue on their quest to find love, Elizabeth may have found it with whom she least likely suspects.

I enjoyed seeing these proper ladies as also Buffy-like warriors. Many times when the men at the balls, driving the carriages, etc. are set upon by the zombies, they are the ones that are shrinking back in terror (or getting eaten) and it is Elizabeth who is slaying the undead and saving the day. Mr. Darcy, though, is one of the few men to also do some zombie slaying too. It is also interesting to see how a woman’s propriety is praised by society, but also her experience in the deadly arts and where she trained. Just as Austen used her original story to take a hard look at class in British society, so is Grahame-Smith in his side of the story.

The zombie portion of the book is always running in the background, and if you’re not an Austen fan and feel like skimming the book, you’re going to miss some zombie jokes that will just pop up in the middle of a discussion of an engagement or a ball. It’s a world in which everyone has gotten used to the fact that there are zombies around, and the characters are going about with their lives like nothing is wrong. At times it did seem a bit much that Mrs. Bennet is so bent on her daughters finding husbands that she seems less concerned that they’re traveling where zombies could get them, but maybe it’s because they are such accomplished warriors that she doesn’t feel like she needs to worry about their safety. And it was strange at one point in the story where someone is slowly becoming a zombie and no one seems to notice, including another zombie hunter, but Elizabeth. But since Elizabeth even mentions how strange it is, maybe the other characters are being blind to the situation because they don’t want to accept it.

Overall, I think the blending of the old story with the new sections worked quite well together and provided a quirky new take on a classic.

Contact Amy at amendenhall@graffitiwv.com