Us VS Them – Zombies and Literary Pop Culture

             It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains is in want of more brains[i]. There is no truer statement to describe the world of pop culture today. Zombies have invaded our world like candy-they are the new It Monster. There are literary classics that have been transformed by them and an entirely new literary genre now exists because of them.

The question we as a society must ask ourselves is: why? Why are we fascinated by what are essentially walking cannibals? Some would argue that we are fascinated by death, or that in death we crave a hive mentality. However, part of what makes zombies trendy in today’s popular culture is their literary appeal.

Zombies have existed in our culture since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which was published in 1818. They gained a cult following with George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, but they have existed within the pages of books for much longer-for what was Frankenstein but a walking corpse?

The literary world got a jolt in 2009 when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austin and Seth Grahame-Smith was released by Quirk Books. It created a literary sensation when the publishers released the first ever zombie mash up novel: for the first time, a classic and zombies would exist together. Not only is this a brilliant marketing ploy that capitalized on three different markets (cult, geek and the curious), it was a huge gamble-one that paid off big time[ii].

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies not only went on to become a New York Times best seller, it also spawned and entire genre of books. Quirk Books launched the successful Quirk Classics line which has grown into an empire and a whole new literary genre: the monster mash up. The zombies still reign supreme, however and Quirk later released an heirloom edition, a prequel (Dawn of the Dredfuls, 2010) and sequel (Dredfully Ever After, 2011) to the novel as well as a graphic novel by Del Ray Books. The books have inspired a whole host of copy cats including Queen Victoria Demon Hunter by A. E. Moorat (Hodder, 2009), Abraham Lincon – Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith (Grand Central Publishing, 2012), and  even The Undead World of Oz (Coscom, 2009), some arguably better than others.

Suddenly, people that had never read a classic novel in their lives were picking up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, engaging themselves in the world of Jane Austin. Though Pride and Prejudice and Zombies continues to be popular, there is large public outcry from literary purists. Those that love Jane Austen’s work are horrified at the very thought of tampering with such a classic novel.

However, instead of doing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a disservice, the zombie plague seeks to make a classic novel more interesting and engaging by highlighting the bizarre social protocols of London in the 1800’s. For example, in one memorable scene during chapter eleven: “…Mr. Darcy cut the two zombies with 
savage yet dignified movements. He then made quick work of beheading the slaughtered staff, upon which Mr. Bingley politely vomited into his hands.”[iii] There are scenes in this vein all through out the novel. The zombies don’t take away from the classic of Pride and Prejudice; instead, they highlight a society that was worried about social status and proper behaviour. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies also created a literary genre that, instead of dwindling like most literary gimmicks, continues to gain in popularity.

Zombies themselves have also experienced a boom because of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The monster mash up continues to grow and change; there are even zombie poetry anthologies[iv]. The Centre for Disease Control has also gotten on the zombie bandwagon and published a graphic novel aimed at adolescents in order to prepare them for the zombie apocalypse[v].

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies not only launched a new literary genre, it helped to pull zombies from horror movies right into our pop culture mindset and brought zombies to the masses.

One thing is clear, however: Zombies have changed the literary landscape forever.


[i] Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, Quirk Books, 2009

[ii] “Zombies” — billed as 85% Austen’s original text and 15% brand-new blood and guts — has become a bestseller since it was published earlier this year, with 750,000 copies in print. There’s a movie in the works. And it has spawned a monster — or, more accurately, a slew of literary monster mash-ups.”

This was published in the Los Angeles Times in August of 2009, just four months after the novel’s initial publication.* See: http://articles.latimes.com/2009/aug/17/entertainment/et-austen17

[iii] Chapter 11 (PAGE), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, Quirk Books, 2009

[iv] Aim for the Head: An Anthology of Zombie Poetry, Write Bloody Publishing, 2011

See: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/14/books/zombie-poetry-takes-on-a-life-of-its-own.html?_r=3&ref=books

[v] Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic, Centre for Disease Control, December, 2011

http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies_novella.htm

One Comment on “Us VS Them – Zombies and Literary Pop Culture

  1. I think one thing that’s interesting about zombies is that they are starting to show up as the good guys occasionally (in the movie “Paranorman” for example) I think that’s because people are still enjoying stories that combine paranormal danger and fear with excitement and fun and yet most of us are sick of vampires and werewolves. Having some real life zombie stories like the drug crazed guy in Florida makes it all the more exciting, I guess.
    I never read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but I did get the audiobook of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. I thought it was pretty lame. They seemed to just take Austen’s text and insert random instances of sea monster attacks.

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