Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: If you thought that might be the punch line for a joke about what could get guys to read chick lit, you’re half right. It’s also a new well, kind of novel, in bookstores today, by “Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.”
Austen was unavailable for an interview, but Grahame-Smith, 33, is promoting the collaboration. A comedy writer with five books to his name, he’s writer/executive producer of a pilot filming for MTV, Hard Times.
Grahame-Smith retained Austen’s plot and characters but added a 55-year zombie infestation of the English countryside. The husband-hunting Bennet sisters still sally out to tea parties and balls, but they go armed with muskets, swords and their training as ninja zombie killers.
It’s all rendered in Regency-style prose, complete with the wit that’s an Austen hallmark. When one of Elizabeth Bennet’s friends announces her marriage to an unsuitable suitor, she confides that she has been bitten by a zombie: “I don’t have long, Elizabeth. All I ask is that my final months be happy ones, and that I be permitted a husband who will see to my proper Christian beheading and burial.”
Grahame-Smith chatted by phone from Los Angeles.
Collette Bancroft: What’s the origin of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?
Seth Grahame-Smith: My editor, Jason Rekulak, and I had done five books together. He always had this obsession. He wanted to add some ridiculous subplot to a classic book.
One day he called me and said, “All I have is this title, but I can’t get it out of my head: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”
I said, “I think that’s the most brilliant thing I’ve ever heard.”
CB: People thought this might be a short, one-joke item. Why rewrite the entire novel?
SGS: Jane Austen did all the hard work. She gave her characters such life and such unpredictable arcs, she let the plot unfold so brilliantly. All I had to do was paint over it.
Take Elizabeth. Instead of the sharp-witted, independent young woman, she’s a sharp-daggered, independent young woman. She just happens to be a talented slayer of the undead.
CB: Did your publisher think it was a brilliant idea?
SGS: We had to work hard to sell it as a concept. Finally they said, “Okay, but you’ll have to do it quickly, and we’re not going to spend a lot of money on it.”
Then some industrious blogger found it, and suddenly it propagated throughout the blogosphere.
CB: Despite its crazy concept, you took the writing of the book very seriously. Why?
SGS: I wanted people who would never read Austen to pick this up. I also didn’t want to write a book that wouldn’t be palatable to her fans. I was afraid it might offend the Janeites. I call it the “How dare you, Sir? syndrome.” But so many Janeites have loved it. They have a great sense of humor.
CB: Do you think we’ll see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Film?
SGS: Hey, it’s no crazier than half the movies that get made.