"I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be truly disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man."

07 July 2010

Slay Me, Please

Whilst delving into my newest read (Jane Slayre), I find it appropriate to discuss the recent influx of paranormal-centered re-imaginings, rewrites, 'sequels' and such of both 'classic' literature and historical figures.
Sure, everyone's heard of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and (like its Austen counterpart) the not-quite-as-popular Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. P&P&Z author Seth Grahame-Smith has metaphorical tentacles (I hope they're metaphorical, I haven't actually seen the man in person, so who knows?) stretching into the historical zone as well with Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. However, are you aware of Mansfield Park and Mummies? How about Queen Victoria Demon Hunter? Or the dueling Alcotts, Little Women and Werewolves vs. Little Vampire Women? Lest I forget, there's also the Austen-centered vampire mania of Jane Bites Back and Mr. Darcy, Vampyre.
Obviously I have more than a passing interest in these books or I wouldn't be writing about them. Yes, I've read several. Several others stir in me conflicting emotions of being equal parts morbidly curious and more-than-slightly nauseated at the (to an English major) blasphemous nature of these stories. What probably would offend purists and English major snobs most is that eventually my morbid curiosity will overtake the appalled nausea and I'll end up reading the ones I haven't already.
So why this new-found obsession/fascination/fanaticism with the supernatural and classics? Sure, it's a post-modern hallmark to reinvent and retell past stories in a new way. Sure, the young adult section of your local bookstore has turned into the paranormal-pseudo-bodice-ripper section thanks to Stephenie Meyer. Sure, it's easier in some respects to bastardize adapt someone else's work than create your own. Yet the influx of this style hints more at a cultural shift than a bunch of copycats trying to make a quick buck (though there's plenty of that, too -- and I'm not saying there's anything inherently wrong with that, either).
For one, in my non-snob-ish opinion, while I'm all about people reading as much as possible to further the general idea that reading = essential to life, I also think some of this writing is popular because it's like the supernatural cliff-notes to books 'normal' people don't want to read in the first place (read: people who hear the term 'classic literature' and flinch while running off to find the latest trendy bestseller) . However, now that it has become acceptable in our culture to enjoy the more, shall we say 'macabre,' forms of entertainment (and boy is that a rant for another day), toss a few zombies or vampires or werewolves... or a robot into Anna Karenina, and suddenly it's more accessible to the masses. (Seriously a rant for another day: how/why/when vampires, zombies, and other assorted night-creature miscreants rose to the height of popular entertainment.)
In the case of Austen, re-writing and expanding her work is nothing new, in the relative sense that people have been doing it for decades. I suppose it's only natural that she really be the first to have her works re-vamped to fit present trends (pun intended). One could draw a comparison between Austen's work and the many interpretations, sequels and the like, and those of Shakespeare -- who himself is no longer above joining the ranks of the undead. Though in the Austen re-imaginings her characters and tone are more or less honored in a way that Shakespeare's frequently are not.
While I'm only at the beginning of Jane Slayre, I'm already intrigued by the concept of what possibilities lie ahead for young Jane as she discovers her slaying capabilities while still dealing with the tumultuous emotional fires stirred by Rochester. Granted, I'm not much of a fan of the original novel, or its author (Anne got all the sense in that family), though I have developed a respect for it over the years. From my personal perspective this particular book could use a little spicing up.
However, I think that's the inherent problem in the cavalcade of this type of writing: the assumption that a work, or figure, which has been worthy of accolade for decades, perhaps centuries, can be 'improved upon' or 'made more interesting' by adding some supernatural beings, violence and, in some cases, steamy scenes. I'm not saying we don't sometimes like a little more pepper or garlic in our classic dishes, but if a person's initial introduction to such culinary delights indulges some spices to the point where the flavor of the original dish is tempered and lost, they may never be able to truly relish the first bite of the 'real' meal...
Granted, I have just spent several paragraphs repeatedly saying I don't take much issue with the existence of these kind of books. I take issue more with the idea that people are reading these before and instead of their source material, and fear that in doing so when (or if) they eventually read the original it will seem 'too boring' or 'bland' or 'too hard to follow' or any number of a dozen excuses many of these books already get without the hack-and-slash treatment current popular fiction is giving them.

To sum up a long-winded rant, when someone who is as voracious about reading as I am sees each of these books, I get both exhilarated and queasy. Sea Monsters don't really interest me, so I won't be going down that road, but mummies invading Mansfield Park sounds fun. My biggest hope is that someone unfamiliar with the original stories and lives now presented in glorious alternate universe gore will be able to one day return to the zombie-less Pride and Prejudice and enjoy it on its own far more considerable merits.*

(*I spent the better part of this entry praising the talents and longevity of Jane Austen. A certain former English professor of mine would be so proud...)


  1. First of all, thanks for the mention of my book Mansfield Park and Mummies!

    If you're curious, here are the first three chapters of the novel.

    Enjoy! :-)

    Vera Nazarian (the author)

  2. Thank you so much for commenting - I will absolutely check out the chapters of the novel!

    (Honestly, when P&P&Z came out I started imagining the other possibilities for Austen-Supernatural titles and the first one I thought of that would be appealing to me was Mansfield Park and Mummies. I was elated -- and surprised -- when someone actually wrote it. So, Thank you!)


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