I finally picked up Seth Grahame-Smith’s oft-talked about Jane Austen pastiche Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, because I need some airplane reading. And it really makes me wonder what is the big obsession with Jane Austen right now? In the last several years, we’ve had movies like Becoming Jane and The Jane Austen Book Club. Now there are a dozen books out either dealing with Austen herself or playing fast and loose with her canon. Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Mr. Darcy, Vampyre (WTF? I don’t even know). Now there’s Mansfield Park and Mummies. What’s next…? Emma Meets the Wolfman? A Haunting at Northanger Abbey?
I guess my big question is…why Austen? Why not the Brontes? Where’s Jane Eyre re-imagined with Rochester as a steampunk-ish cyborg? Or Wuthering Heights Cathy and Heathcliff as a soul-sucking succubus and incubus? Why not male authors like Charles Dickens or Mark Twain? God knows, some zombies would’ve made Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury more interesting. Why are works based on Jane Austen’s books “hot” right now?
Pardon me while I commit blasphemy, but I’ve never been a huge fan of her works. I distinctly remember skiving off reading Northanger Abbey for a class and bullshitting my way through the related course work. But I still find the “fandom” for her work fascinating…and the fact that it has basically spawned published fan fiction is an interesting glimpse into the future of both fanworks and the publishing industry.
Obviously, this isn’t new. Alexandra Ripley wrote Scarlett, the sequel to Gone With The Wind. Plenty of authors pick up where someone else left off and create new stories in the canon. But I feel like the Austenpalooza is the first time we’re seeing it in bulk. It’s like someone behind the scenes issued a fan fiction challenge and said, “Go!”
And since zombies move at a rather lumbering pace (unless we’re talking the ones from 28 Days Later), I think we’ll continue to see this amalgamation of classic literature and fan fiction plod along for the next few years. But I’ll be interested to see what happens after that — if works based on more current books, existing TV shows and such, will be allowed to bloom as marketable pieces instead of just existing within the confines of Internet-based archives and fanzines.