A 200-year-old drawing-room satirist brought Seth Grahame-Smith’s career back from the dead—or at least from the brink of obscurity. Last year, the author of The Spider-man Handbook collaborated with Jason Rekulak at Quirk Books to create Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (319 pages, $12.95), a wry mashup of Jane Austen’s Regency-era masterwork that pits the comely Bennet sisters’ advanced ninja skills against hordes of brains-hungry “unmentionables” roaming the Hertfordshire countryside. When word got out about the gory, gimmicky tome all hell broke loose and the book quickly reached No. 3 on the New York Times Best-Seller List. Grahame-Smith keeps around 85 percent of PP’s original text, which means Mr. Darcy’s and Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s decorous speeches now bristle with a loony sense of life-and-death urgency. Don’t worry—Lady Catherine de Bourgh is still a bitch. These days she’s just challenging Elizabeth to a fight to the death in the family dojo instead of forcing her to play the pianoforte. KELLY CLARKE.
WW: How’ve Austen fans reacted to the zombie invasion?
Seth Grahame-Smith: I was worried [they] were going to burn me in effigy. And [some] do—I call them the “How dare you, sir” crowd—they dismiss this as sacrilege.... But what’s strange is that so many of these “Jane-ites” have embraced [the book].
I think zombies actuallyimprove Austen’s original book.
People who are much smarter than me have pointed out that the characters in Jane Austen’s original book are kind of like zombies in a way. They go about their daily lives worrying about gossip and which ball is when…and you get a sense the countryside could have been burning around them and they would have just carried on mindlessly in their bubble of immense wealth and privilege. The only thing I have really changed, thematically, is that the countryside is burning down around them....
I love the term “the unmentionables”—the idea that in polite society you don’t talk about those kind of…things.
No one ever says what they actually mean in mixed company [in Austen’s books]. I just wanted that to be the same thing in terms of the zombies. Here they are...ripping out your entrails and yet it’s still sort of frowned upon to use the “z” word.
To be honest, nobody expected your book to be any good.
Yeah, I know. All [I did] is give its themes and characters an injection of steroids so they are more accessible. The fact that this book is...a tool for introducing people to the world of Jane Austen, that is a ridiculous but pretty awesome side effect.
Any other classic mashups on the way?
I’m writing a book called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
If you were a zombie, who would you have eaten in PP?
Definitely Mrs. Bennet. She is insufferable.