The art of zombie-fying literature
The works of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters are among the most beloved classics that have been taught in literature courses for centuries. While many students are still reading Pride and Prejudice, others are reading new novels such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Jane Bites Back, which involve the same timeless characters, but with a new twist: horror. These new versions incorporate elements of the fantastic to modernize or bring excitement to the novels. But do these modern re-interpretations of classic works improve society’s perception of the classics, or do they make an older work more accessible to modern audiences? In an age where technology and instant gratification reign, what effect will these re-tellings have on classic literature?
The notion of the mash-up is a popular phenomenon in today’s society. The idea behind the mash-up seems to be: Why not mix the old with the new and create something innovative? But while this concept may work for music and film, its entrance into the world of literature is a decidedly new frontier.
Jason Rekulak, associate publisher and creative director at Quirk Books, thinks literature is fair game. However, he is certain that the “mash-up” won’t become a literary genre.
“I think [mash-ups] only work with a novel that everyone really really likes,” he said, “Many other publishers have tried to do this sort of thing without the same kind of success because people just don’t love those books as much as they love Pride and Prejudice. As for what this means for literature, I think I’m still going to prefer my books the old-fashioned way.”
Rekulak is responsible for the creation of P&P & Zombies and is affiliated with other Jane Austen “mash-ups” such as Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters. With so many mash-ups, spin-offs, prequels and sequels, literature seems to often pay homage to Austen and her novels. But do these novels detract from the originals? Rekulak doesn’t think so.
“I don’t think they could have any detrimental effects,” he said. “The novel is still there and always will be there, so I don’t really think so. The novels … will always be more popular than our mash-up version.”
Margaret Sullivan, founder of AustenBlog, a website for all things Jane Austen, agrees with Rekulak.
“If it stops them from reading Austen, they wouldn’t have read her stuff in the first place,” she said. However, she added that Jane Austen isn’t for everyone. “Austen’s work won’t be to everyone’s taste—and that’s okay.”
Sullivan is actually more open to Austen re-workings than one might expect from a die-hard fan.
“I have no objection to [spin-offs] on general principles. … I think the idea of P&P & Zombies is very funny,” she said. “I found the premise wasn’t robust enough to carry the whole book, however, and I haven’t been able to summon any interest in the prequel and sequel.”
According to Sullivan, many fans of Austen have similar opinions, although Sullivan does indicate a surge of negative reactions.
“What really disturbed me was the backlash, especially when the first monster mash-up came out, from people who don’t like Jane Austen or are tired of all the recent films. [They] lashed out about how much they hate Jane Austen, how zombies improved it, Jane Austen deserved it, Janeites [Austen lovers] deserved it. Any Janeites who objected to the backlash (as distinct from the books themselves, mind you) were labeled humorless purists,” she said.
But all humor aside, what do these “mash-ups” mean in the academic world? Could these novels start to sneak into classrooms in place of the real thing? Michael Stuprich, an English professor at Ithaca College who teaches Austen’s works, doesn’t think so, but he also doesn’t think they will have a negative impact on the original works in the long run.
“I don’t think these works have a detrimental effect on the original novel at all,” he said. “People are still able to identify the real Pride and Prejudice. I think readers see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as being cute, maybe? I’ve looked at a couple of them and think they’re really poorly written, but I can’t imagine they would affect someone’s judgment to what’s a classic and what’s a rip-off.”
So while these new Austen works may not be replacing the original, they are still prevalent in the literature community. While one would speculate that these literary tributes cause readers to embrace the “more exciting” versions of Austen’s work, it is clear that this is not the case. Therefore, as technology continues to pervade even the most formal subjects, it becomes the job of the musician, the filmmaker or reader to decide what is innovation and what is too much. In the end, it is important to be progressive and keep up with technology, but take caution that valuable elements of our culture don’t get left behind.
Jenni Zellner is a sophomore English major who wants to write Dracula and Vampires. Oh wait… Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.