Thursday, July 16, 2009

I Take It Back, You Suck.

Not too long ago while I was writing about the legal dispute surrounding J.D. California's rip-off novel of The Catcher in the Rye, 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, I mentioned that I admired what Seth Grahame-Smith did in writing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. However, slowly I've begun to find out more about the writer and the project, and with each new piece of information my admiration suffers a heavy blow. What I admired about Grahame-Smith's work (and to some extent still do admire) is that it seemed to me that he commenting on how sentimentalized Jane Austin has become. It's my great regret to admit I haven't ever read Austin, but I have some understanding of what her work is like. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but Austin writes romances that are often barbed, targeting mannered society-- where in the end it is more of a social commentary than a romance.

At least this is how I envisioned Austin's work. Seth Grahame-Smith's work seems nothing short of genius in this regard because it builds onto the mockery of manners, and helps to dismantle the made-for-TV-type adaptation that has painted the wrong idea of Austin's work in the public mind. To me it seemed absolutely appropriate to "revise" Austin so that her work was better understood. As I've said, it seemed flat out admirable.

The first piece of information I came across that tarnished my original opinion was that Seth Grahame-Smith's next novel would feature Abraham Lincoln fighting off werewolves. It didn't sound like the kind of project a respectable author would take on, but quotes from Grahame-Smith eased my fears a bit. He said something to the effect that Abraham Lincoln was a tough, woodsman type man and that often gets forgotten when we imagine him as a statesman. I thought to myself, "Oh! I get it. He's working with similar intentions, trying to get people to revise their preconceived ideas through exaggeration." The project didn't sound quite as strong as Zombies, but It didn't cause me too much worry.

The next thing I stumbled upon was a quote from the editorial director of Quirk-- the company that published Zombies. Three books are being published by different companies by the end of the year-- Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, Darcy's Hunger, and Jane Bites Back. The first two reimagine Mr. Darcy as a vampire, and the last imagines Jane Austin herself as a vampire. My guess is that these blood-sucker publishers are trying to hop on board the Twilight express, and hoping to pick up the Austin fans along the way. In any case, In response to these "copy-cats" editorial director Jason Rekulak told Entertainment Weekly:

"I just thought it would be funny to desecrate a classic work of literature. For the longest time, Seth and I were the only two people who thought it was a really good idea."
My beliefs about respecting classic works aside, I feel like this quote paints the picture that it didn't matter what work of literature was revised, and that makes all of the difference in the world. Huckleberry Finn or Pip from Great Expectations dealing with Zombies likely would have offended me from the get-go. Deconstructionist literature is to reform people's opinions, not to just have fun with, especially if you're going to revise a classic work of literature like Pride and Prejudice. If you have no real reason to do it other than because you want to, you might as well be slapping the author in the face. Honestly, how is it any different than drawing a mustache and blacking out teeth on a portrait? It's likely everyone has authors or artists they'd like to "take the piss out of" but in the end, you have your opinion for that. You don't need to deface their work.

The final straw for me came with this weeks Entertainment Weekly, which details the release of a new novel published by Quirk due out in September entitled Sense and Sensibility and Seas Monsters. This novel is being authored by Ben H. Winters, rather than Grahame-Smith. Judging by the publishing date, I think it's fair to assume that the book was well underway before the success of Zombies, and because it's not penned by Grahame-Smith, I can only assume that Jason Rekulak at Quirk likes to deface classic literature. In fact Winters says of the novel:

"[Quirk] gave me the title [of the book], a copy of Sense and Sensibility, and told me to go to town."
I think a few things can be gleaned from the quote, the first of which is that Quirk doesn't care about literary merit if they're giving authors their titles [and thereby their subject]. The second thing that could be taken from this is that Winters may very well have never even read Sense and Sensibility before revising it. Thirdly, it's quite obvious they don't even really care how Austin is revised so long as there are some monsters running around.

Everyone is out there to make a buck, I'm not going to deny that, All I ask is that you have some artistic integrity. Grahame-Smith might well be in the clear, maybe Quirk latched to what he intended to do with Zombies and ran with it. In which case, Quirk's sin is tarnishing what Grahame-Smith accomplished, rather than Austin. Even as a commentary on the over-sentimentalised idea of Jane Austin, Zombies would have been something admirable but it seems we don't even get that. Be it Grahame-Smith, Jason Rekulak, or all of Quirk, someone is an idiot.

1 comment:

CC44 said...

I intend to read both Pride and Prejudice and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in the (relatively) near future... give me six months or so. I don't know much about the situation surrounding the book, to be honest, but I wouldn't be surprised if the publisher ran with an idea that the author had created. Like spinning a franchise out of one legitimately great movie or comic or, well, anything. That's what happens. I personally can't wait for Northanger Abbey and Bats In Its Belfry.