It is a common practice these days for publishers to put a series of questions at the end of their more ‘literate’ offerings. The purpose of the questions is to help drive book club discussions, and therefore book club sales. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame Smith is no exception. The last of these study questions reads thus:
Some scholars believe that the zombies were a last-minute addition to the novel, requested by the publisher in a shameless attempt to boost sales. Others argue that the hordes of living dead are integral to Jane Austen’s plot and social commentary. What do you think? Can you imagine what this novel would be like without the violent zombie mayhem?
This was a question I had asked myself many times while reading the book. If our protagonist, Elizabeth, were not a superlative zombie slayer, trained in the ways of Shaolin and other deadly Eastern arts, what would she do instead? Skimming Project Gutenberg’s archive of an earlier draft of the story, it seems Elizabeth was originally an accomplished musician. That’s not bad, but the motivation of this pursuit seems mainly to attract the best mate possible.
And what of Mr. Darcy, her foil in this early example of the I-hate-you-so-much-I-must-love-you story? Even as a highly refined killing machine he doesn’t bring that much to the table except a generous nature (it turns out – sorry for the spoiler) and a lot of money. Take away his skill with blade and musket and there’s not much left.
So bring on the zombies, I say. Let Elizabeth kill several of Lady Catherine’s ninja bodyguards. Let the final confrontation between Catherine and Elizabeth take place in a dojo, with swords and grievous wounds. Let Mr. Bennett spend an amiable morning with Mr. Bingley trapping, decapitating, and incinerating the undead. Let Mr. Wickham — oh, but there I go spoiling things again. Anyway, let’s give these people some teeth!
As an afterthought, I would be curious to know how well a student would do on a typical exam for the abridged Austen-only version, having read and Zombies instead. Would some teachers decide that reading the expanded version was better than not reading it at all? Would some teachers say quietly to unmotivated students, “If you read the zombie version you can still pull a B”?
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