06 October 2009

Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Philadelphia: 2009, Quirk Books.

Jane Austen, know for her light comedies of manners, saw her literary oeuvre cut short, with only a handful of published titles. While this may have saved her from becoming an early Victoria Holt, rumors had long persisted that something--something else was being hidden. Finally, thanks to the efforts of Grahame-Smith, we know what that is.

Austen's abbreviated output reflects her tragically truncated time, as she was struck down at forty-one by a here-to-fore unknown illness. Grahame-Smith, however, has uncovered the truth. Austen, having been bitten by a manky dreadful during one of her contemplative garden walks, soon became undead. Between frenzied feasts on baronial brains, she did what she had always done: she wrote.

Austen's literary executors knew this, of course, and had successfully suppressed her "later work" for years, because it may as well have been gibberish. It was, in fact, regarded as nothing else until Grahame-Smith, a Zombie researcher working on an entirely different project, stumbled onto a few pages in an American archives. Recognizing the tortured sounds as Zombie and the style as distinctly Austen, he immediately made queries after more. Finally receiving permission to sit down with the originals led to a multi-year translation project, of which Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is the first volume.

Like all of Austen's prior work, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies deals with the romantic travails of British girls. The plot is largely lifted from her earlier Pride and Prejudice, but this version gives much more attention to the hordes of Zombies roaming England during warmer seasons--understandable, given Austen's new perspective. The story is full of memorable scenes, such as Elizabeth's visits with Lady Catherine, Lady Catherine's visit to the Bennett's, or the tender moment Elizabeth shares with Mr. Darcy at the Zombie pyre.

Like all works by the undead, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies does have its slow moments. Much time is devoted to dances and chasing after husbands, not so much to Zombie ethnography; one would have hoped that Austen's keen social observation might have survived to provide insight into the Zombie mind. But overall, and thanks largely to Grahame-Smith's able, dedicated translation efforts, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a worthy contribution to Austen's canon and the literature of the undead.


02 October 2009

Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

Who is Nobody Owens, and why does The Man Jack want to kill him?

Nobody Owens is the child who lives in the graveyard. He is not a ghost, but his adopted parents and most of his friends are--and they have taught him many of their tricks for escaping human detection.

Nobody came to the graveyard as a toddler, having left his home via the door The Man Jack forgot to close when entering. The Man Jack murdered Nobody's family and was after him as well, but after when the child snuck into the graveyard, his newly-dead mother availed upon the ghosts to protect him. So Nobody grows up in the graveyard, learning his letters from former teachers. He makes a human friend and eventually even goes to school, growing with the adventures of each chapter.

Why The Man Jack wants him dead in the first place, however, isn't clear until nearly the end, when The Man Jack finally gets another chance at Nobody.

Gaiman, who has also given us The Sandman and Coraline, won the Newbery Medal for this delightful book, which he says took him twenty years to translate from idea to text. In spite of the supernatural setting and somewhat disturbing plot, there is really nothing either scary or objectionable about the book, which is enjoyable for children of all ages.