Friday, October 09, 2015

A look back -- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Because trailers for the upcoming movie are beginning to show up, I think now is an appropriate time to reexamine my opinion of the book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Full disclosure -- I am an Austen fan. However, I've enjoyed other irreverent takes on her works (in particular, Pride and Promiscuity : The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen by Dennis Ashton was a hoot) and I really wanted to enjoy this book.

This particular mash-up, the one that started the latest craze, was just a series of missed opportunities, 7th grade humor, and lack of understanding (or perhaps a lack of reading) of the original work. I wanted to like it. It had a lot of promise. There were redeeming scenes and funny moments. But, in the end, it was just not well done -- and with very little effort, it could have been so much better. If I hadn't been so disappointed I wouldn't rant against the book quite so much.

First, let's start with some simple research. In this version, Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters are Shaolin-trained zombie killers who spent years in the Orient undergoing rigorous schooling in sword work and other martial arts. Note that Shaolin thing -- it's prominent in the book. Anyone who watched the 1970s show Kung Fu or its later reincarnation, or who can type into Wikipedia, will know this references a Chinese martial arts style and monastery. If you've seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon , you've seen Chinese swords. This isn't deep research -- it's popular culture.

However, Elizabeth uses a Katana -- a Japanese sword with a distinct fighting style. The Kill Bill movies featured Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu using them, and any samurai has one. Again, this is pop culture. The book makes a point of pitting Japanese/Ninja zombie fighting style against the Chinese style. It's pervasive in the book and forms the crux of a couple of important scenes. Yet Elizabeth would not use a Katana because her training was Chinese, not Japanese. I know zippity-do-dah about Oriental fighting schools and such, but I know that, and it's just dumb. If it hadn't been made such a point in the books, I'd have ignored it, but the whole Japanese/Chinese thing is used as part of the conflict between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine deBourgh (if you know the original book, you know how crucial to the plot this is). That Grahame-Smith and his editors made this kind of error just illustrates how careless they were about the whole book. It irritated me throughout.

[notice, please, that I am perfectly willing to accept the outlandish proposition that someone from early 19th century England could have traveled to China, trained to become a proficient warrior, and returned all before turning 21. We won't even go into the issue about this person being female. See how generous I am about all this? And he couldn't get the swords straight?]

Second, the constant sexual puns on "balls" read like a bunch of 12 year old boys trying to make it through a sex-ed class. Anti-zombie weaponry includes blunderbusses or muskets, which used a round "ball" shot. At least that was, more or less, period accurate (early rifles that used bullets instead of shot were in use in the 18th century.) A few such puns would have been no problem, but Grahame-Smith never gets tired of sniggering over this little joke. Also, you'd think that in a 20 year war against zombies, the best weapons would be in production and in use by everyone. Again, a quick glance at Wikipedia would have served to take some of the dumb out, but that would have removed opportunities to giggle about "balls".

Third, Wickham is punished by being beaten to near death, rendered a quadriplegic, and made incontinent (because, of course, people in wheelchairs are there as punishment for something). Lydia is destined to a lifetime of changing her husband's diapers and living with the horrible smell, because of course that's the punishment for slutty behavior. On top of this, Wickham is pressed into the clergy now. Has the author insulted enough people at this point, or did he leave anyone out? Moreover, it isn't the least bit funny. It's stretched thin, squeezed for non-existent humor, and -- in the midst of a zombie novel with descriptions of brain eating, body rotting, and bursting fluids, no less! -- disgusting.

The last thing that irritated me was the handling of Charlotte and Mr. Collins. Talk about lost opportunities! Mr. Collins is patently one of Austen's most easily dislikable characters. He's a parody already, and deserved a proper treatment in this mash-up. Instead, he's made into a near-hero. Charlotte is stricken with the zombie disease (which is, in the depiction, actually pretty funny) but instead of having her eat Mr. Collins (I was so rooting for that), he mercifully kills her off and then hangs himself for love of her. I very nearly tossed the book there. I suspected that Grahame-Smith only read the Cliff's Notes version of P & P and so missed the whole sub-plot about the Collinses. A grand chance for satisfaction to many an Austen fan just ignored!

In fact, on reflection, it seems Grahame-Smith worked hard to make sure he skewered only the female characters in the novel while protecting (or, in some cases, enhancing) the dignity of all the male characters, trying to undo the fine and evenhanded work of the original author. While some of my favorite scenes -- in particular, the piano scene at Rosings and the confrontation between Lady deBough and Elizabeth over the question of Darcy's proposal -- were pushed to the edge of ridiculousness and so worked very well as humor, they also worked hard to show just how stupid all these women were.

The more I think about it, the more I realize how sadly wasted was the whole effort.

I won't say "don't read this book". It's already being made into a movie, for pete's sake (although I hope someone catches those big errors before it hits the screen, because the geek audience at whom it is aimed will raise a hue and cry over those details). But don't hold out much hope if you do read it. Don't expect much. That way, you won't risk disappointment.

Also, try to buy it used or get it from the library. It's not worth spending money.

[edited 2/22/11 because I am STILL mad.]