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What We Read When We Don’t Read the Internet PRESENTS! HARD WORK and HARD WORK and RIPOFFS

[Yes, it is that time again. Theme Post Party Time, that is! This week, we address Tiger Beatdown's REALLY STUNNING TOTAL LACK of lit coverage with an extended series of posts on the Ladies and Lit Thing. Today, a visit from Garland Grey! Oh, yes, there will be some yelling.]

In a world where every franchise is just one or two bad movies away from being the thing you HATE MOST IN THE WORLD (Right, GEORGE LUCAS???) it was an idea that was long overdue: take an author’s work in the public domain, insert an element of popular culture (NINJAS! CHUCK NORRIS! YO’ MAMMA JOKES!) that people love, and hang your new prose on the author’s prefabricated style and structure. For instance, under this artistic model I could take clips of The Godfather and splice in footage of cakes falling over and me crying and call it The Godfather and Birthday Parties I have Successfully Ruined. I have done next to no work, I have a wonderful narrative structure to work with, and I can make money! Yay!

This trend started with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and for a while there, it was the funniest thing any of us had ever heard of. Then Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters – every time we heard it, it got funnier.

Then I started thinking to myself:

Self,

Isn’t it ironic (no, ironic is never the word) or maybe just shitty (THAT’S the one) that Jane Austen fought against a rigid male social structure to write books that are clever and well-written and about FEMALE CHARACTERS, just to have her work co-opted by not only every two-bit writer who wants a bestseller (I’m calling my first novel The Jane Austen Annual Bake Sale Massacre) but also, in this specific instance, by a DUDE. A dude named Seth Grahame-Smith, a dude who is well-meaning enough to be certain, but a dude nonetheless, a dude who successfully rips her book off and then has the stones to go on NPR’s Fresh Air and tell Terry that writing his own book was harder than re-writing Austen.

NO SHIT, SHERLOCK. I can imagine that writing a book from scratch and doing what amounts to tracing the whole thing have varying levels of difficulty! I bet Ms. Austen had to work very hard to hammer out a structure and a flow and a rhythm to the story, and you pull up next to that process in your giant SUV of male privilege and start plugging your electricity and water into it, taking all the work that Austen did to get the thing published, all of the work that made her writing world famous, and you make YOURSELF world famous. And then you talk about how easy it was on NPR, a necessary addendum to the telling of the story of this book. Austen would probably prefer the story of this book to be about HER in some way. But let’s just talk about you and your rip-off.

Then I started thinking about doing this same thing with a man’s book, a modern one, one that a lot of men enjoy and care about:

  • The Naked and the Dead and a Hastily Assembled Collage of Christopher Walken Candids
  • Catch 22 and 1/2: Jersey Shore
  • A Hitchhiker’s Guide to That Tiny Sliver of the Earth the Assholes from Sex and the City Inhabit
  • Dune: The William Shatner EXPERIENCE
  • I Can Haz Catcher in the Rye?

NOT SO FUCKING FUNNY ANYMORE IS IT?

These books aren’t just empty shells for you to pump your clever ideas into – these stories and characters MEAN THINGS to people. Some people read these books in hard or confusing parts of their lives, and these words evoke the memory of their own resilience and their ability to transcend the painful or fucked up parts of their own lives. This may be the only part of their reading life that is any way hopeful or joyous, the section of their mental and emotional field that is planted with sweet pea and thyme and baby’s breath instead of the thistle that has been creeping across the gardens since they developed breasts and discovered that this could be the crowning accomplishment of their lives, that nothing they ever did would be more important than that in the minds of some men and that these men would make decisions about their lives that they COULD DO NOTHING ABOUT. These books might allow them to explore their dreams of the possibility of an enduring love in a safe space, because they know that when they finally go steady it will be a more complicated process than the love narratives put forth in Valentine’s Day or Twilight or How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (YOU ARE GOLDIE HAWN’S DAUGHTER GAWWWWD), that their relationships will involve a lot of neurotic conversations and idiotic fights and OH GOD WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME???

I work in the creative arts (-ISH). I understand collaboration. I understand recombination and recontextualiztion. But it seems that when a woman works with a man’s material, they are given a more restrictive license to do so; their work is always assumed to be “less than” than a man’s work. And HEAVEN FORFEND that a BLACK WOMAN recombine the work of a white woman such as Margaret Mitchell, like Alice Randall did in The Wind Done Gone. Remember what a pointless shitstorm all that was? When a minority recombines the work of the majority it is a commentary on the tension between the privileges and abuses of the majority. Like the way Tony Kushner co-opts the life of Roy Cohn in Angels in America, to show deep and ugly levels of culpability for the AIDS crisis, including the purveyors of a moral panic which consumed the lives and deaths of those affected (FUCK YOU RONALD REAGAN). But when the majority lifts elements from a minority work, it is a way of colonizing and subduing it to their own ends.

If we let this shit be co-opted without comment, then the majority will think nothing of doing this same thing to other writers, other artists, until we are being spoon fed the work of minorities reimagined in the context of straight white male privilege — work that allows those straight white males to think that they can be as creative as the people whose work they’re building on, without going through a lifetime of pain and tension over their own right to exist, or experiencing all of the nausea that comes with living on borrowed time in someone else’s house. Fuck that.

52 Comments

  1. Sady wrote:

    Yay, this post. I hate that Austen is so easily reduced by so many dudes to “fussy British tea service primrose romance bullshit,” which is really just a coded way of saying “girl stuff,” which is IN TURN a way of saying “not worth your time, no respect necessary.” Even though this woman basically changed the face of English literature in a lot of ways, nobody gets shot in the face, so you don’t have to care. And it’s funny to put zombies in it. Because those aren’t girly AT ALL!

    I will note, however, that they are doing a male author next. Tolstoy, at that! But they’re doing “Android Karenina,” based on yet another novel that many stupid people have never tried to read and think of as a “romance,” meaning “girly,” meaning “bad.”

    War and Peace would fit their title structure better, too: War and Peace and Werewolves! These things just write themselves! But it’s such a macho title that I guess it’s not funny to fuck with it.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Permalink
  2. Vee wrote:

    Ahahaha YES. Really, you’re saying it was easy to work with a novel that has excellent pacing and lively characters and humor and good dialogue–I am astounded. Absolutely astonished. *nods*

    Also, I would like to note that I would totally read War and Peace and Werewolves. The funny thing about War and Peace, too, is that it’s TOTALLY about love, just as much as Anna Karenina. Tolstoy just added “love of one’s country” to the list.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  3. Wow, Garland, this is such a good point.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Permalink
  4. I guess this explains why “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” was fucking terrible. I couldn’t get through more than a few pages. Everyone I know who read it seemed to say that there is probably a funny book to be written about Elizabeth Bennett killing zombies, but this wasn’t it, because Elizabeth Bennett wasn’t in it.

    …Coincidentally, I haven’t checked out “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” yet, but I’ve heard it holds together much better, and it was adapted by a woman. (I guess it would have to be, since no self-respecting Dudely Dude would know that Austen wrote more than one book!)

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  5. Shinobi wrote:

    Plus, Jane Austen wrote her book without spell check.

    It makes me sad that our culture rewards people for their ability to co opt other peoples work and add very little to it. I blame the internet.

    I do have a couple of friends who read P&P&Z and they said they were constantly skipping ahead through the zombie bits to get back to the story. So I think I’ll just stick to my penguin classic for now.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink
  6. Regina wrote:

    The greatest offense was that Seth Grahame-Smith didn’t even really rework the story. It’s 97% Austen’s text with the occasional zombie-killing sequence and I was bored with the joke basically five seconds after chuckling at the front cover art and reading the back cover summary. So it’s not even like “I admire you, Jane Austen and I shall pay tribute to your timeless characters and story with a rip-roaring adaptation!” If it took him more than two weeks to write, I’d be very surprised.

    Haven’t read Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters but the trailer managed to fuck up a major piece of characterization within, I don’t know, 90 seconds of dialogue? Also the book had a two-month turnaround from announcement to release, which is really, really rare and screams “we slapped this together in a month!”

    It’s annoying and insulting for all the reasons Garland points out.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  7. Jenny North wrote:

    “Where this is going,” courtesy of Kate Beaton: http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=263

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  8. jenny wrote:

    “And HEAVEN FORFEND that a BLACK WOMAN recombine the work of a white woman”

    I immediately thought of /Wide Sargasso Sea/, and how critically accepted that book is (it is a wonderful book, don’t get me wrong) as compared to /The Wind Done Gone/. Is it because /Jane Eyre/ had passed into the public domain? Is it because Jean Rhys is Creole and Dominican but also, by modern USA standards, white?

    Great article. Jane Austin novels and horror movies are two of my top five favorite things ever, and I tire of having to constantly explain to people that, contrary to their assumptions, I have absolutely no use for /Pride and Prejudice and Zombies/ precisely because because Jane Austin is one of my favorite authors of all time.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink
  9. Ophelia wrote:

    I’ve never been a fan of Austen (I think there is just something I don’t get about her books), and I’ve never read PPandZ (which sounds like an adaptation of a sandwich classic moreso than literature). That said, I have a hard time seeing it as threatening. It’s bssically published fanfiction. Most of the allure seems to be in the title, and I simply can’t fathom it making a significant criticism or even edging Austen’s place within the culture. Partly because it’s just bad and partly because it has nothing to say. Wide Sargasso Sea it is not.

    Your last paragraph just seems very slippery-slopeish. If it’s a widespread trend that actually makes significant cultural headway instead of just a stupid fad, maybe the rage is merited. And, yeah, I’m probably not sympathetic since I’m not an Austen fan, but if someone butchered one of my favorite books, say, “The Awakening Nazi Threat” where Edna becomes a proto-Nazi, I’d laugh if it was funny, throw it away if it wasn’t, and scoff at anyone who liked it better than the original. I guess I just don’t understand the fear.

    Also, (# Catch 22 and 1/2: Jersey Shore = Terrifying, but would probably only add to the book’s satire.
    # Dune: The William Shatner EXPERIENCE = Hilarious!
    # I Can Haz Catcher in the Rye? = O plz, plz plz!)

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink
  10. Sarah TX wrote:

    Yes, lets stop worrying our pretty little heads about marginalization and colonization of minority voices.

    FFS.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Permalink
  11. curmudgeonly wrote:

    Hmm, yes. Very well said. I think that if you’re going to write satire, you should think of your own premises. And if you’re going to parody, you should parodize (not a word, I think!) well. Which means, in this case, writing well. Which I’m pretty sure the Pride/Prejudice/Zombies guy can’t do, if the pages I read were any standard that I can judge. And I definitely agree that the majority parodying the works of the minority smells of cultural imperialism. Even more than that though, I think that anyone writing this nonsense is not doing it intelligibly, i.e., they’re not thinking of the POINT of the original work and applying that point to their own lives and thinking, “ha, great point, but what else do I have to say about it?” Which is exactly what “The Wind done Gone” was. I didn’t think THAT book was good exactly, but i understood why it was written and that the author was trying to say something. Which is all to say, this is annoying lazy hipster psuedo-ironic, too cool for school shit, it’s reflected in billions of movies spawned by the Judd Apatows and the Jason Segals and it’s really, really boring, at it’s heart.
    tl;dr version: This guy sort of sucks, I agree.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Permalink
  12. Ophelia wrote:

    “Yes, lets stop worrying our pretty little heads about marginalization and colonization of minority voices.”

    I honestly don’t understand how something as inane and stupid as “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” can marginalize one of the most beloved and heralded authors in Western literature simply because it was mostly plagiarized and written by a dude. It’s just such a meritless book, I guess I’m not taking a book called “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” seriously enough, but can you blame me? The title is its only selling point, and it’s not even good enough to be remembered in a smattering of years. I really, really don’t know why this is a threat.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink
  13. Ella wrote:

    I agree that the colonization of minority books by the majority is problematic, but… I am, personally, a huge fan a transformative works. I love fanfic and fanvids (both frequently female endeavours), Wicked, and Wild Sargasso Sea. I think they are awesome and creative and cool precisely because they engage in dialogue with an already existing text, because they work within an already established framework of characters and circumstance. And I don’t think that it’s inherently appropriative for a dude to think “Zombies make EVERYTHING better” and write a book. It sucks that this author’s thought process apparently stopped at that point, and P&P&Z is in and of itself not a very good book, but Elizabeth Bennet fights zombies and bickers with Mr. Darcy could have been really excellent, and it’s not like most artists aren’t inspired by and responding to other artists in some way. Privileged people treating the works off less privileged people like thoughtless children at a playground in someone else’s neighbourhood is shitty behaviour, but I don’t think that is an inherent property of transformative works, and neither do you, judging by your second last paragraph.
    I suppose I’m confused by what your overall point is. Do you think that a privileged person writing in response to/being inspired by/adding zombies to a less privileged person is an act of colonization in and of itself? That it can become that, if the privileged person isn’t careful and aware? That the difference in recognition and respect given to a privileged person who does this kind of remixing and a less privileged person doing the same thing is problematic and also gross? That transformative works are only acceptable in the context of “a commentary on the tension between the privileges and abuses of the majority”, not “zombies are fun” or “I want to see what would happen if this went down IN SPACE”? Are you suggesting that retelling stories can’t be a way of expressing your love or affection for the source material, or that doing so in a way that isn’t Serious Business is disrespectful to the source and the people that love it? That P&P&Z lessens Austen’s accomplishment in some way? Or that Grahame-Smith is an asshole and a hack who doesn’t deserve the recognition he’s received?

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Permalink
  14. Ella wrote:

    Wide Sargasso Sea, Arg.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Permalink
  15. jenny wrote:

    To clarify: I was comparing the response to Wide Sargasso Sea w/ the response to The Wind Done Gone. Definitely NOT comparing Wide Sargasso Sea to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which would be beyond absurd.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Permalink
  16. Amber wrote:

    OMG. I kind of oozed “FUCK YES” all over this even though I’m not at all an Austen fan. And thank you millions for pointing out the totally unnecessary bullshit that got poured all over Alice Randall. Apparently it is only okay to remake the work of a while male if you are another male using it to exponentially increase the population’s belief in stereotypes pointed at your culture. (i give you: The Wiz)

    (I have to say though, your Man-Book Remakes *are* funny, if only in title.)

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Permalink
  17. HB wrote:

    Thanks for helping me identify what annoyed me so much about these books. My partner played the audiobook for me a few months ago. He was enjoying the book while I had been fastidiously avoiding it. I was shocked to hear the exact dialogue of Pride and Prejudice, one of my favorite reads. My partner went on to describe that only asides here and there were dedicated to zombies. How did this dude even get away with publishing the same exact book under his own name? He’s not even putting in a Weird-Al level of effort.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Permalink
  18. Erin wrote:

    @ Ophelia

    I think maybe some people are just pissed that this guy has been able to make so much money off of it. I personally am not a fan of people with lots of money who did something really stupid to earn it.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  19. Erin wrote:

    Ahem, *not* earn it.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  20. Alexa D wrote:

    @1 – I wonder if they consider Anna Karenina spoof-able because it was an Oprah’s Book Club pick. In which case, I will have to call for an “East of Eden with Igor”

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink
  21. Andy wrote:

    Personally I agree with Ophelia, these books are basically gimmicky jokes that shouldn’t be taken seriously. But then I love gimmicky jokes! They definitely should play fair and joke about everyone though, that part was right on the money. It’s not cool for the majority to appropriate and make fun of the minority, especially in such a lazy way as this Seth guy seems to have done it.

    The titles are funny though. It would be a fun party game, thinking of joke titles like that. Some suggestions:

    Madame Bovary’s Butterfly Knives
    A Tale of Two Cities of Sewer Mutants
    On the Space Road
    A Farewell to Arms and Legs
    Robot Heart of Darkness
    100 Lightyears of Solitude
    Oedipus T. Rex
    Les Baguettes Miserables
    The Sound and the Fury and the Swarm of Killer Bees
    Portrait of the Artist as a Young Velociraptor
    Lazer Crime and Punishment
    Nuclear Hamlet

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink
  22. Victoria wrote:

    O God. Android Karenina? Of fucking course when they turn to a male author, it’s a novel largely about and titled after a female character.

    I hope it strips them of their will to live, trying to remake Anna Karenina. It ought to, considering the effort required to simply read the whole thing.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Permalink
  23. Okay, I am not an Austen fan (I read her too young; who knows what I’d find if I went back?), but this was a really thought-provoking piece. I never connected the dots- probably because I didn’t realize the revisionist authors were male, but that makes perfect sense.

    Also: I would soooooo read A Hitchhiker’s Guide to That Tiny Sliver of the Earth the Idiots from Sex and the City Inhabit.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Permalink
  24. Lee Brimmicombe-Wood wrote:

    Wouldn’t the reverse be to feminize a MANLY title? Emasculate some Tom Clancy shit?

    ‘Are You There, Red October? It’s me, Margaret’

    ‘The Sum of All Fears of Fourth Grade Nothings’, etc.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Permalink
  25. ladysquires wrote:

    I think, just to reiterate what Sady said earlier, the reason why this reeks of marginalization/appropriation is that there is this “EWWWWWW, Chick stuff!!” attitude that men (and many women!) tend to have about Jane Austen, which has everything to do with the way she has been packaged for modern Western culture. The first biography of Austen, for example, was written by a male relative, who went out of his way to portray the authoress as a shrinking violet who wrote these stories discreetly in between embroidering delicate samplers. Modern adaptations of her books as gushy, romantic chick flicks and fictional spin-offs haven’t helped. Plus, you know, EWWWW, Chick stuff.

    So I guess the point is that this Male Hipster Parodist comes along and says, “Wow, these books aren’t that interesting, cuz they’re all about chicks! You know what would totes make them better? A few scenes with monsters in them.”

    So, the frustration isn’t about the spotlight being stolen. It’s the way the parodies suggest that the original books weren’t worthy on their own merits, that we need some B-movie gore in there in order to make them interesting and relevant again, which is an argument you are unlikely to hear about the works of Jack Kerouac or Philip Roth.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Permalink
  26. Nikki wrote:

    @lee brimmicombe-wood: if you really wanted to gross guys out it would be The Hunt for Clean Pants After Red October.

    …yeah, it hadn’t occured to me how icky the whole P&P&Z thing was until I read this artcle. If the guy had been about expanding the novel’s demographic and getting people who wouldn’t normally appreciate Jane Austen to read and love Jane Austen, that would be one thing, but he just took a big dump on her work and called it reappropriation. Awesome.

    Also, remember that scene in Catch 22 where the guy is cut in half by a helicopter on the beach? Yeah. Let’s do that to The Situation.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Permalink
  27. Sady wrote:

    @Ella: Actually (I say, preparing to get crucified by the Internet) I think “adaptations” or unofficial sequels or whatever ARE hack-work. They’re a good way to go if you don’t have the time or inclination to construct original characters, an original plot, and a compelling reality for your readers; you can just be like, “oh, but also, what if the Wicked Witch of the West were secretly good? And had sex?” And you can guarantee yourself a readership, because everyone knows who the Wicked Witch of the West is, and everyone knows what Oz is, and you actually save yourself the effort of having to come up with a mystical land of magical wonderment all on your own. Very few things along these lines — I can think of one thing, actually, and it’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” — avoid being boring, derivative cash-ins. And a ton of Austen “fan fiction” is published: Look at the bookshelves of a Borders, and you’ll see a ton of things that are like Mr. and Mrs. Darcy or Marianne Dashwood’s Daughter or Mansfield Park: But Also Everyone’s Older Now, and There’s More Screwing.It’s just that most of this stuff is by women, and attempts to cater to Austen fans, and so it wasn’t as noteworthy as a butch-up of P&P. This series of re-writes is all about de-feminizing works that we think of as feminine. Don’t think it’s anything else. Shit, they’re apparently the original books, in large part, but with different covers and titles and a few added scenes. It’s another chapter in the story of Girl Stuff Sucks and Should Be Made Into Boy Stuff Or Else Ignored. Because we can’t trust men to engage with women like they’re actual fucking people, God knows.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Permalink
  28. Sady, I agree about Rosencrantz & Guildernstern are Dead, because it’s amazing. But (I say, not at all crucifyingly), I think that you perhaps give Wicked short shrift? I say this because from what I remember of it, there’s a whole very intense socio-political aspect to the book that (admittedly, having never read the series, it may be there) I don’t think was present in the former series. But perhaps I am either wrong (about the old series), or misremembering (about Wicked, having read it probably whenever it came out and not since), or into hackwork?

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 8:43 pm | Permalink
  29. Victoria wrote:

    The original Baum Oz series was deeply political and freaky. Even so, I have less of a problem with Wicked than I do with other works of this type because Wicked undermines and cashes in on a film that undermined and cashed in on the original Oz books. But everything Maguire has written since Wicked has been awful, derivative dreck.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 9:08 pm | Permalink
  30. ladysquires wrote:

    Thirded (?) on Wicked being pretty good for an adaptation. The musical really doesn’t do it justice. Maguire actually does quite a bit of original world-building and character stuff, but like Victoria said, everything after that has been absolute trash.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 9:32 pm | Permalink
  31. I can’t find my copy to look up the story’s title, but the zombie anthology History is Dead has a vastly superior Austen pastiche. Unlike Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which completely erases early 19th c. gender dynamics by making Elizabeth a zombie-fighting ninja, this story is true to the social world of Austen’s work–when the heroine manages to fend off the zombies, her parents are more concerned about what the neighbors will think of her behavior.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 10:39 pm | Permalink
  32. Maggie wrote:

    Actually I would totally read the shit out of Catcher In the Rye: Lolcat version. Just saying.

    Also, an addendum and also synechdoche type thing to your point about PP&Z: what is with THE TESTICLE HUMOUR, OH MY GOD. I had never read the book proper, just not an Austen fan, but someone gave me the zombified version and I spent a great deal of time raising my eyebrows at the random balls jokes, because… okay, PRETTY SURE that is not a thing Jane Austen does, right? BUT: totally irrelevant to zombies. So what the fuck were they doing there?

    TL;DR: LOL BALLZ

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 1:22 am | Permalink
  33. Caite wrote:

    As a fan of both Austen and Zombies I really wanted to enjoy P&P&Z, and yet it sucked big time because most of the additions were of the form “all this country manners stuff sucks, quick, add violence!” (and balls, as Maggie noticed.)

    I wish the book had been written by a woman, or at least a man who enjoyed the original material, because I think the core idea wasn’t terrible. The prequel (published fanfiction of published fanfiction, now things are getting murky) was much improved because it did go into some of the interesting ideas about how society in that era would cope with ladies who take on zombie-fighting roles while trying to be polite and all that society expects of them, but it was still P&P fanfiction written with something of a male gaze on the original.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 4:27 am | Permalink
  34. Sarah TX wrote:

    Re: Fanfic.

    GOOD fanfic – TRANSFORMATIVE fanfic – is all about taking a mainstream world and subverting the normative subtext. Transformative fanfic is smarter than the source material. It asks tough questions like “Why do House and Wilson have to be ‘gay for each other’ instead of simply gay?” or outside of slashfic, “Why does the Ugly Stepsister necessarily have to be the Evil Stepsister? Why do we have to have Evil Characters at all?”

    A smart zombie fanfic based on a comedy of manners would recognize the social restrictions on women in the late 1700s and work a zombie-fighting narrative into that structure in such a way that reveals the weaknesses of rigid social manners.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 10:29 am | Permalink
  35. Meaghan wrote:

    This is exactly how I felt, but I couldn’t put it into words. THANK YOU.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink
  36. Sophie wrote:

    I have read both the original and the ripoff, and so, after much internal analysis, this was my problem with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: it could have been really cool. However, Seth Grahame-whats-his-face obviously didn’t think about HOW it could be cool except for on a very shallow ZOMBIES! level. Like Regina said, he didn’t really rework much of the plot, nor think about the world it was living in. For example: *SPOILER ALERT*

    The Bennett girls live in an England that has been overtaken by zombies (has the rest of the world overtaken? If not, why the hell are you still in England? This question is never answered!) They have been trained in the ninja arts in China, and Mr. Darcy and his fancier cohorts have trained in Japan. Lady Catherine has a league of disposable Japanese ninjas at her beck and call. Note that: DISPOSABLE ASIAN PEOPLE. This pretty much classifies all the Asian people brought up in the book. This was a classic grand opportunity to do an Austen book wherein the rich folk with no purpose are exposed to and interact with other “exotic” cultures, and a chance to really place them in context with British colonization and imperialism. Upon reading the book, I bemoaned the missed opportunity! I personally don’t see anything wrong with using Austen as a base for such an exploration because her books are such an portrait of British people of a certain class with a certain set of worries in a certain time period. I think it’s possible to use art and literature of certain time periods to talk about certain sociological and cultural things of those time periods, and hopefully, ultimately, relate these things to what is happening in our world today. At any rate, my main concern was that he obviously didn’t think about it enough, which is pretty insulting actually because for her time period, Austen was being pretty bold with her characterization of her corner of society.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink
  37. Yes, and:

    http://www.periscopedepth.com/2010/03/11/abraham-lincoln-vampire-hunter/

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
  38. Lee Brimmicombe-Wood wrote:

    @Nikki, good one!

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Permalink
  39. theKP wrote:

    @Sady

    I definitely agree with you about the Jane Austen sequels out there being bad (except for Stephanie Barron’s mystery novels, which really are pretty clever, even if they aren’t masterpieces), but I’m a little hesitant to dismiss them entirely. Most of them are essentially regency romance novels (even if their association with Austen gets them stocked in the literature and fiction section of bookstores). I think they’re a symptom of the way that our culture tends to read Austen as a romance writer rather than a writer of novels of manners, and that really annoys me. But although it’s important to critique the way romance as a genre constructs gender roles, I feel like there’s often a kind of gendered dismissal of the genre. Romance novels are girl stuff, therefore they’re not real literature. I worry that my own dismissal of them is about an internalized sense that what counts as good literature are forms pioneered by and dominated by men. Most of the books you’re describing are totally what you say–hack jobs designed to tap into a market. But Clueless was brilliant.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink
  40. defiantcreatrix wrote:

    I would like to say one thing for P&P&Z: it got me to read Pride and Prejudice.

    In fact,I waited for months to get the zombie version from the library, then could read only about three pages. I borrowed the original (available for immediate checkout!) and stayed up all night. The zombie version? Almost impossible to read in any engaging-with-the-text kind of way; what’s-his-name is not a good writer or even a good parodist.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Permalink
  41. ElectraSteph wrote:

    Thessa – I’d urge you go back and re-read them. They’re wonderful.

    I was okay (not thrilled) with P&P and S&S being sent up, but god help them if they touch Persuasion.

    So far they’ve gone off in other directions, but I’ll be flying to England with a ball bat if they return to the Austen well.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Permalink
  42. ozymandias wrote:

    I loved Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

    I mean, it’s complete hackwork, of course. And I’m pretty sure that you’ll only actually like it if you like (a) Austen and (b) mindless action movies that run on the Rule of Cool. Its in-story sexism and racism (while very problematic) falls within that tradition. I don’t think that P&P&Z’s creation /itself/ is sexist; I personally got a lot more of a “man, I have to read this classic book for class, it would be way more interesting if it had zombies” vibe than a “ewww girl cooties I need to add Manliness” vibe.

    Also, I don’t know about most Hitchhiker’s fans, but I would read the fuck out of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to That Tiny Sliver of the Earth the Idiots from Sex and the City Inhabit.” And then run around quoting it to all my friends.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 6:15 pm | Permalink
  43. Clary wrote:

    What has always irked me about the whole Jane Austen spinoff industry is that it perpetuates the complete misconception that Jane Austen is this rare and exceptional female author amidst a Sea Of Great Men and if you like Jane Austen and want more female-centered comedies of manners, you’ll just have to read some modern Jane Austen spinoffs because it’s not like any OTHER ladies wrote anything like that back in the eighteenth century!
    In fact, women were enormously important as readers and authors of fiction in the eighteenth-century Anglophone world; we just tend not to know about them because they were systematically erased from the literary canon (of course!) and have only in recent decades been put back into print and onto syllabi due to the efforts of feminist literary critics.
    SO. If you like Jane Austen but you’ve read all her novels, here is your PSA: there are SO MANY MORE eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century female authors who write romances and comedies of manners, primarily about women: Eliza Haywood, Delarivier Manley, Jane Barker, Charlotte Lennox, Sarah Scott, Fanny Burney, Hannah Webster Foster, Susanna Rowson, Maria Edgeworth, Ann Radcliffe, Mary Wollstonecraft (yes, she also wrote novels), Elizabeth Inchbald…
    And what’s especially interesting is that a lot of these authors have much more overtly critical takes on the patriarchal marriage market than Austen does. I like Austen a lot, but I adore Fanny Burney’s dark humor and I love that Eliza Haywood wrote a novel (The British Recluse) about two women who decide that men suck and they should just run off together. Hmm, I wonder why THAT’S not famous enough to generate zombie fanfic?

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Permalink
  44. Katie wrote:

    Awwwww man, P&P&Z are like my too most favoritest things put together! I really liked it…it had ninjas too…

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Permalink
  45. Lee Brimmicombe-Wood wrote:

    If only ninjas really existed and weren’t entirely the product of ’50s and ’60s pulp fiction…

    Thursday, June 3, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Permalink
  46. EB wrote:

    I really really want to read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Velociraptor

    How about the “Three Musketeers in the City,” the book and its sequels do focus on the sexual affairs of the heroes (and later one of their sons) so all you would have to do is ramp up the focus on fashion…err…but now that I think about the plot, the book and its sequels focus a lot on what people in the court of the sun king are wearing and their fashion accessories as they parade around.

    The stuff that makes it into the movie is the sword fights, not descriptions of what lace cuffs the duke of buckingham was wearing.

    Thursday, June 3, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  47. Shoshana wrote:

    So I am really enjoying this conversation, and I think it’s fair to talk about co-option vs inspiration vs whatever and about who gets credit for creativity and who doesn’t. I haven’t read P&P&Z, but it has been bugging me when I see it around, and it makes sense that it has something to do with the way a man has profited from manlying up “girly” literature.

    However, I think it’s really unfair, Sady, to carry that critique into being so dismissive of fanfic and related endeavors. Calling working with someone else’s characters “hack work” and implying that writers who do this are too lazy to write their own characters and are deliberately profiting off of that shows a lack of familiarity with the huge (and often mostly female) fanfiction communities out there and is an awfully hasty dismissal of their creative endeavors. Most people who write fanfic etc. never make a profit off of it and never receive any recognition; also, many of them spend hours developing their thinking and practicing their writing and are in fact very talented. Fanfic can be an homage to the original creators of the characters; it can be a really interesting thought experiment; it can even tell stories that are more fun or better written or more interesting than the original stories. It shows investment in a story; it shows a lot of what-if type thinking, which is integral to good writing. And it doesn’t have a guaranteed audience – as with any writing, if it’s not good, no one’s going to read it! (Also, have you read “Wicked”? Because it goes way beyond just fiddling with the Oz characters.) In fact, I think it is telling that a kind of writing that is so heavily female is so often so rudely and summarily dismissed as derivative and unimportant.

    Anyway, I am not actually involved in fanfic, although I have friends and relations who are, but FeministSF has some great posts and links on the topic, which I highly recommend you check out. http://blogs.feministsf.net/

    All that said, I am loving this whole lit week theme, and I hope it goes on for a while!

    Thursday, June 3, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Permalink
  48. JMS wrote:

    Some points of fact:

    - Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters was written by a man (the same man who wrote Android Karenina, actually).

    - Jean Rhys self-identified as white, specifically Scottish and Welsh. Her self-identification as “Creole” did not mean, in the context of English-speaking Dominica of that time, that she self-identified as a person of mixed race; the word “Creole” has meant different things in different places throughout history.

    Thursday, June 3, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Permalink
  49. Sara wrote:

    Aww, I loved P&P&Z! Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors and I love the zombie genre of movies, so it was like a perfect fit for me. One of the things I liked best in the book was how much more bloodthirsty Elizabeth was. I too, wanted to take Mr. Darcy’s head in the original. I actually even wrote a review of it once on my website because I liked it so much.

    I don’t usually read articles of authors, so don’t really know the motivations of the author when he wrote it, but I liked that he kept in so much Austen. If indeed it was because he found her unreadable, well, I find that incomprehensible, because I find her so readable.

    Saturday, June 5, 2010 at 10:27 am | Permalink
  50. Lasciel wrote:

    I don’t get the hating on fanfic either.

    P&P&Z is not like most fanfic, or even like “Wicked”. Fanfic and Wicked pretty much NEVER include the original author’s actual writing. As I understand, PPZ is the original novel with insertions of zombie-fighting scenes. That would be like publishing and selling Romeo & Juliet, only with a sex scene. Just writing the sex scene is fanfic.

    If all the original novel was chopped out of PPZ, would it be enough for a novel? Would it make most people pick it up and pay full cover price?

    Probably not. Which is what I find immoral about it.

    “They’re a good way to go if you don’t have the time or inclination to construct original characters, an original plot, and a compelling reality for your readers”

    Other than using the characters though, I don’t see why a sequal couldn’t have an original plot and compelling reality. Those are symptoms of a bad writer, not necessarily of a spin-off or sequal.

    Saturday, June 5, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Permalink
  51. Avendya wrote:

    @Sady: it makes me raise my eyebrows a bit (read: a lot) when a feminist writer, on a feminist blog, describes a type of writing mostly practiced by women (derivative fiction) as hack work. While I think most published Austen fanfic is cringeworthy, I do not think that you can or should dismiss all adaptations. (I would highly suggest looking at this list of transformative works.

    I could rebut each of your points (easy to write? tell me that when I am not in the middle of in depth research on the social mores of male homosexuality in the early Byzantine empire – and yes, that’s for fanfiction), but honestly, I find the statement:

    “It’s another chapter in the story of Girl Stuff Sucks and Should Be Made Into Boy Stuff Or Else Ignored.”

    ironic in the middle of comment that dismisses a decidedly female-dominated type of writing for another type, with less women.

    Sunday, June 6, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Permalink
  52. margaret wrote:

    I think the points Graland and Sady have made here are excellent. This is definitely another chapter in the story of “Girl Stuff Sucks and Should Be Made Into Boy Stuff Or Else Ignored,” as Sady put it.

    That said, I think to play fair with your argument, you can’t compare Pride and Prejudice to MODERN male books. You need to imagine the reaction to contemporary male authors’ works being treated like this, and honestly, I don’t think there would be that much outcry at, say, David Copperfield and Chupacabras. Or Robot Heart of Darkness. But, to some degree, I think the costume dramatization of 19th century novels has tarred them all with a girly brush. You know, they are wordy and sentimental and moralistic and often about True Love unironically and stuff– even when they’re written by dudes.

    That said, despite my hypothetical assertion, you’re both quite right to note that none of those books have been tampered with yet. So, while I don’t think the Catcher in the Rye is an appropriate parallel, necessarily, your argument is still irrefutable.

    Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] started a new series on literature this week – conveniently coinciding with my sudden immersion in the Book Review [...]

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by pegkerr, Mike Aguilar, kerrikins, Lacey Wilson, D Drapeau and others. D Drapeau said: Hard work, and Hard Work and Ripoffs http://bit.ly/cSuKuh What Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a sympton of, dissected. [...]

  3. [...] Revolucion, she continues: Alert Janeite Peg sent a link to a lovely if profane rant by one Garland Grey, who has a few things to say about Austen monster mashups. We noted a while [...]