This may seem a strange topic, but in case you’re not aware, there has been a zombie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It was created by author Seth Grahame Smith, who very literally edited Jane Austen’s text. It was made in to a film and released in cinemas back in February.
Now, this brings me to a bit of a confession. When I picked up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I had not read a Jane Austen book before. That’s not to say I have never enjoyed classics, I loved reading stuff like Little Women by Louisa May Alcott when I was younger.
But the truth is, like so many other people, Shakespeare kind of put me off classics. It’s not like Shakespeare lessened my appreciation for the classics I’d enjoyed, it just put me off the idea of actively looking for books that had been written centuries ago.
Before all the people who are in to classics write me off as an insane person who doesn’t understand the beauty of Shakespeare, it’s not that I think Shakespeare’s a dreadful writer. I personally didn’t enjoy Shakespeare’s writing, but my main objection to Shakespeare, is the idea that he was the greatest writer ever, something that’s thrown around like it’s a fact when actually it’s a very subjective opinion. Particularly with someone from so long ago, there could have been more skilled playwrights than him whose works have not survived.
Then of course there’s the debate about the authenticity of Shakespeare. I can’t say I’m bother whether the plays were written by William Shakespeare as we know him from history, someone else entirely different or a whole team of people that worked for his theatre company, the latter of which I personally think is most likely. Those plays are plays, that have been performed for centuries and whoever wrote them and whatever people may think about them, they have certainly left their mark.
Also, whether or not someone is a good writer or not is an opinion. One can argue that such and such a writer is more skilled in an area of the craft of writing than another and you could probably find evidence from their works to back your argument, but that does not make their work better than the other writer’s, other than in your opinion.
In a similar way, how entertaining or not a piece of work is, is very much an opinion. So, I haven’t a problem with Shakespeare, so much as I have a problem with the fact that I’m looked upon as somehow a lesser knowledgeable or lesser cultured reader, just because I personally do not like Shakespeare’s work.
It’s not like I’d totally dismissed classics. As I’ve said before, there are some classics I really enjoyed, but I’ve always quite enjoyed modern books and have never paid too much attention to people who think that the only good books were written hundreds of years ago. So, I’d just been absorbed in reading other things.
What interested me in the idea of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, is that I’m quite in to fantasy so zombie killing sounded like fun. Additionally, I do love a strong female lead, so the Elizabeth of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a professional zombie slayer with a fearsome reputation was right up my ally. As I also quite like historical fiction, the historical setting iced the cake.
On top of this, one thing that came up quite a bit in all the talk about the movie, was about how witty Jane Austen was as a writer and about her tendency to say things that for hg time were daring for a woman. Of course, people say that about most of the really famous classic authors, as boldness was often something that made an author’s work endure for centuries. But even so, it had me curious about Jane Austen, as like I said I’d never read her before.
So, I embarked on the quest of reading the book. I said earlier that Seth Grahame Smith had very literally edited Jane Austen’s text. You may wonder how someone who’s never read Jane Austen would be able to make that comment, however, in addition to the book being written in old English, there was a clear difference in voice between the parts of the book written by Jane Austen and the parts added by Seth Grahame Smith. The book used all the old English of Austen’s time and while Seth Grahame Smith’s additions did maintain that same style, they seemed noticeably different somehow.
And in case you still don’t believe me about this fact, I clarified it by having a look through what some other book reviewers who had previously read the original Pride and Prejudice had made of the book. They all held the same opinion that it was noticeable that Seth Grahame Smith had edited the original text.
You can roll your eyes at me all you want, but I do genuinely think that adaptations like this provide a gateway in to classics for modern readers. As someone who takes a great interest in books, I have had a multitude of conversations with a wide variety of people about reading, and time and time again, I have heard people say that being encouraged to only read classics at school put them off reading for pleasure altogether. As someone obsessed with reading, hearing people say that makes me sad.
But when I think about it, there is very limited coverage of modern novels in English literature at school, so unless someone went to the trouble of finding books they liked, they would never know. But for those people who do manage to engage themselves in to other forms of literature, taking an element from something they know and love and mixing it with a classic, may inspire them to engage in reading it.
Additionally, considering how changing a certain element of a story would change the dynamic of the whole plot, is quite an interesting discussion to have, particularly from a writing perspective. For those people who are extremely keen on discussion of the classics, that can be an interesting way to lead people in to it.
On a personal level, reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I thoroughly enjoyed and most of that was not much to do with the zombies, has made me want to try reading another Jane Austen book. I liked Elizabeth and Jane as characters, I admired their relationship. I liked the way the relationship with Darcey was built up. I felt that her warrior status did enhance Elizabeth’s value as a woman. Similarly, I also felt that the warrior respect for one another also made the respect they had for one another very clear.
I suppose the other issue this raises, is if people are okay with the idea of adapting classics, who is qualified to do that and to what extent have they done it justice? As a writer, I genuinely believe that we are also qualified to take an idea and experiment with it. As writers generally, we are all very much experimenting with using the written word in different ways. And actually, two writers can tell exactly the same story, but what makes the story interesting, is how they tell it and what adaptations they make to it.
As for how well Seth Graham Smith does with Jane Austen’s text, to a certain degree that’s not something I am that qualified to comment on. Though, it has been interesting hearing about how the original was different and coming at it from the perspective of only having read the zombie adaptation has been quite an interesting experience. For example, I thought the zombie killing warriors was quite a good dynamic, however I was quite surprised when I found out that in the original the girls are ladies of leisure.
However, there are some factors that even as someone who has not read the original I can tell are not right. When I found out that Seth Graham Smith had written a prequel and sequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and heard the synopsis for the prequel, I did feel that it was not a realistic prequel for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and what I know of Pride and Prejudice.
The reason for this is because it talks of Elizabeth falling in love prior to Pride and Prejudice. Now, to me, if there is one established fact about Elizabeth, as a character, it is that she is not that sort of girl. So, to have her fall in love prior to Pride and Prejudice would be untrue to her character. I do feel, that if you’re going to take someone else’s character, you can change their status in the world and you can change them somewhat to fit in to whatever new world you’ve put them in, but it needs to seem true to them. Needless to say, Elizabeth having a prior love life does not seem true to her.
So, make what you will of it, but I personally think I’d like to read more adaptations of classics or any other well known modern stories, where a particular element has been changed.
If you start thinking about it, you could come up with all sorts of unusual ideas. What about Little Women set an underwater kingdom? How would so change the relationships and the story at large? Or, what about sending aliens to Narnia? How would that go down?
People talk a lot about originality, but ultimately, many stories follow the same pattern. Yes, it’s good to have an idea that seems fresh to you, but ultimately, if you could look through every book that has ever been written and every story every told, you would probably find someone had done some variation of it before.
In fact, when we as writers have ideas, they usually originate from something we’ve seen or experienced, regardless of whether that process is something that happens that consciously gives us an idea or whether it’s not something that we consciously know gives us the idea, it will have come from somewhere in our lives. So truly, there is no such thing as an original idea.
So, I suppose what I’m trying to say is, personally, I think it’s a great idea to experiment with stories and secondly adapting older works may inspire audiences who wouldn’t normally be interesting in them to try them.