Literary Mashups – the New Classic or High Culture Vandalism?

Arguably, the biggest trend to hit 2009 mass paperback fiction was vampires, fuelled by a little book you may or may not have heard of (Twilight).

The second biggest trend was the literary mashup.

Mashups have been around for a while, employed in the music business as a song or a composition which blends two or more other songs. It would appear that the controversy of mashups bends over the question of originality, but so far they hold up under copyright laws as a transformation of the original, and thus original in its own right.

In March of 2009, a book titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies slobbered its way onto the scene, impressing upon the reading public the idea that Austen’s famous and much-loved gentility prose could be ‘zombified’. The story begins much the same as the original text, except that while Mrs Bennett endeavours to marry off her daughters, Mr Bennett goes about teaching the girls the art of martial defence. The gaggle of ladies still attend the ball, yet amidst the social interactions a zombie attack ensues and the women slap about like petticoat-ed Charlie’s Angels, hacking away and sloshing the floor with zombie limbs and other delicious bits. And so on and so forth.

Author Seth Grahame-Smith (in collaboration with Jane Austen – ha!) said at the time:

“You have this fiercely independent heroine, you have this dashing heroic gentleman, you have a militia camped out for seemingly no reason whatsoever nearby, and people are always walking here and there and taking carriage rides here and there…It was just ripe for gore and senseless violence.”

By no means an Austen purist, I was drawn in by the hype. I read the text, but was thoroughly perplexed by the message behind the book (if there was one). To my knowledge Pride and Prejudice and Zombies never purported to be fine literature, but I must admit I felt a little uneasy, and did I only imagine the ground shook for a moment, in response to a certain someone rolling over in their grave?

Since then, the bloodlust for monster mashups has only increased. Austen appears to be the current favourite, with the release of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and Mr Darcy, Vampyre. Louisa M. Alcott has since had the pleasure of werewolves invading her classic, Little Women, and Android Karenina is rumoured to be released on the 100th anniversary of Tolstoy’s death.

Sadly, Seth Grahame-Green couldn’t reprise his role of author for the brand-spanking-new prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, as he had his hands up to the elbows in Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. And no, I’m not kidding.

So what do you think? Is it blasphemy, or does it encourage more people to read classic literature? Reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies didn’t inspire me to pick up the next mashup I came across, but for my one voice of nonchalance there are probably one hundred voices of praise.

SOMEONE must be laughing…

Is it the readers, giggling over lines that shouldn’t be taken so seriously?

And the publisher, skipping all the way to the bank?

Or is it one entirely more sinister, horns throbbing and forked tail twitching; cloven hooves trampling delighted over a pile of freshly-sold literary souls?

USER REVIEW WINNER: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies  by Jane Austen (via Seth Grahame-Smith)
Reviewed by HelenphH

This was recommended to me by someone who is a huge fan of Jane Austen. Another recommendation came from someone who HATES Jane Austen and felt that Grahame-Smith’s additions fully redeemed Austen’s own efforts. Taking a middle view on Austen’s work, I also thoroughly enjoyed this book, so it seems safe to say it would be appreciated by all.

Imagine the formality and rigidity of life in Regency, England, centred around a family consisting of a silly and fussy mother, a sensible but down-trodden father and their five unmarried daughters – just as Austen created them. But now imagine those same young ladies were employed by the government to help wipe out the plague of zombies whose habits included eating brains and attacking all and sundry. Imagine the Bennett girls all taking concealed ankle daggers to Mr Bingley’s ball and you can see that this is a very clever and funny version of the original.

It helps to have some knowledge of Austen’s work to fully appreciate the book, but if you’ve watched one of the television or movie versions that is sufficient to put this in context. I must admit to visualising Dame Judi Dench reprising her role as Lady Catherine, now renowned for killing ninety zombies with only a wet envelope. I see her with elegant gown tucked into her waistband, slicing into zombies left and right with that indomitable look she does so well.

Great fun.

A big thanks to the 100 members who submitted reviews – keep reviewing your favourite books at http://www.boomerangbooks.com.au for your chance to win! For being this month’s winner, HelenphH has won $50 to spend in Boomerang Bucks.