To begin, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is wonderfully clever. Seth Grahame-Smith takes an idea that would be a great 5-minute SNL skit and manages to have it carry a 300+ page book. He weaves the Zombies into the existing work organically, placing the action where it heightens rather than impedes the plot. Grahame-Smith works in a complete world, the zombies don’t just appear every dozen pages and wreak havoc, they are very much on the characters’ minds. In fact, I found that I had no problems with the additions to Austen’s text in the form of Zombies, Ninjas, and Martial Arts; they work, and that is a compliment to Grahame-Smith’s very inventive mind. Beyond simply functioning, the Zombie/Ninja stuff is hysterical.
“To walk three miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! With the unmentionable menace dragging poor souls off the road and to their doom day and night? What could she mean by it? It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum….I am afraid, Mr. Darcy,” observed Miss Bingley in a half whisper, “that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes.”
“Not at all,” he replied; “they were brightened by the exercise.”
This was the first passage that made me actually laugh out loud, and considering that instead of a walk through the countryside Elizabeth’s exercise was a desperate fight against three Zombies, it actually improves on the original. Grahame-Smith manages to give many of the iconic moments in Pride and Prejudice his own twist, and I never disliked those changes.
If all Seth Grahame-Smith had done to Pride and Prejudice was add Zombies, even preserving the passages he edited to better fit the undead, this would be an unequivocally enthusiastic review. However, he falls down in two major areas that give me pause in recommending it, especially to other Austen fans. First, he could have used a better editor, in terms of consistency, the abridgment, and the text making sense. Second, he adds passages that push things to the point of caricature, demolishing depth and historical accuracy along the way. I’m saving most of my full blown ire on this subject for a separate post, for people who think they can handle me in full on I-once-aspired-to-be-the-world’s-foremost-authority-on-Jane-Austen mode.
Grahame-Smith really needs a better editor. His spelling of Bennet, the surname of 7 main characters, fluctuates throughout the novel. This something a word processor can fix; there’s simply no excuse for it. He also, consistantly refers to the militia quartered at Meryton as the “shire Milita.” In Austen’s text they are the “—-shire Militia”, a proper noun with the full name of the county ommitted. By deleting the “—-” Grahame-Smith indicates that they are either the militia for the county, the archaic (even in the 19th century) term would be shire, or that he doesn’t understand what he’s doing by either improperly capatalizing a proper noun or ignoring the reasons for the “—-” altogether. A better editor would have, hopefully, improved Grahame-Smith’s abysmal abridgment as well. He cuts scenes so that, from my (Comprehensive Pride and Prejudice Awareness of 50.25) perspective, they cease to make sense. Deleting lines for no reason other than to make scenes shorter, on at least a few occasions sacrificing Austen’s subtle humor for space to fit in his own. Furthermore, there are actual logical errors in his alterations, places where he has characters talk about other characters pages before discovering their identities. I’m not talking a “we haven’t been introduced” thing, this is a “whoah! I never would have guessed that these people are actually —” thing. Suffice it to say that his abridgments bothered me, both as an Austenite and because some of them made no sense. Simply put, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies gives Twilight a run for it’s money when it comes to bad editing. (grammatical errors intended)
Jane Austen write light satire; her characters have flaws that critique certain elements of Regency life, but her commentary isn’t blatant, at least not until Seth Grahame-Smith gets his hands on it. I understand that Grahame-Smith’s work is satirizing Austen, I do, but I really dislike how he goes about it. He pushes several of the characters, including Darcy to the point where they lose their depth and become caricature. It’s painful for me to watch these characters that I know so well get regulated to two dimensions and it’s untrue to the spirit of the book. I could maybe handle some of the satire if it wasn’t so entirely modern in character. I’m weird and I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in lieu of a book I’m still reading: What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England, a history book dedicated to bettering the 21st century reader’s understanding of 19th century literature, and I’m not learning a whole lot of new information from it either. I know my shit when it comes to Austen, so when people like Darcy spout things like
“Miss Bingley, the groans of a hundred unmentionables would be more pleasing to my ears then one more word from your mouth…”
it actually causes me pain. 1) Darcy is, according to Austen, polite to those select few he deems his peers, which definitely includes Miss Bingley. 2) At this time period, even given certain changes for an infestation of zombies, class is still important enough to prevent Darcy and Bingley from marrying the Bennet sister of their choice so it would be unthinkable for Darcy to be so rude to his friend, peer, and hostess. The caricaturization and historical inaccuracy persist throughout the book and while they are nitpicky details, they contribute to ruin the otherwise enjoyable experience.
In the end, do I recommend Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? To anyone from the Austen-hater to the casual Austen fan, yes. It is a clever, funny, entertaining take on the classic novel. However, if you really love Pride and Prejudice, if you’ve watched the BBC/A&E Miniseries multiple times, if you’ve read all of Austen’s other novels, then you might want to take a pass on this one, maybe take it out from the library. I’m not saying that no Pride and Prejudice fan could enjoy Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I enjoyed it quite a bit, actually. I’m just cautioning people before they invest time and money into something they might not enjoy.