I’ve always said the problem with Jane Austen’s novels is that there simply aren’t enough zombies. But — finally! — that situation has been resolved. On April 1, Quirk Books will publish Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an updated, and much buzzed-about, version of Austen’s classic novel, which injects her tale of mannered aristocratic Brits with great gory gobbets of undead mayhem. We spoke to PaPaZ author Seth Grahame-Smith — well, technically, PaPaZ coauthor, along with Ms. Austen — about why Pride and Prejudice is perfect for the zombie treatment.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did the book come about?
SETH GRAHAME-SMITH: I’m an aspiring screenwriter living in L.A. At the moment, I’m executive producing a pilot for MTV that I wrote which is a sort of updated Wonder Years-meets-Superbad. But I also wrote a book called How to Survive a Horror Movie and another called Pardon My President, which was letters of apology from George Bush to all the people that he had wronged. My editor at Quirk had wanted to do a mash-up of some type for a long time. He had all these lists of public domain titles and lists of modern literary devices. The robot phenomenon. The vampire phenomenon. And zombies. And we arrived at Pride and Prejudice and Zombies because, when you take a look at the original book, it’s almost as if, subconsciously, Jane Austen is laying out the perfect groundwork for an ultraviolent bone-crushing zombie massacre to take place. For instance, there’s a regiment of soldiers camped out near the Bennett household. In the book, they’re just there for characters to flirt with. But it’s not that big a leap to say, Okay, they’re there because the countryside has been overrun with what they call the “unmentionable menace.”
The what, now?
“The unmentionable menace.” They call zombies “unmentionables” because it’s a very polite society and the word “zombie” is kind of like a curse word. These aristocrats are trying to get on with their lives as best they can, despite the fact that the country is being devoured around them. They still have their balls and their teas and their manners. It was terrific fun to write, in the style of Jane Austen, describing horrific deaths and entire villages being slaughtered and burned to the ground.
Just this week it was announced that that Elton John is executive producing a movie called Pride and Predator in which an alien butchers an Austen-esque bunch of characters. Were you aware of that?
I’m very aware of Pride and Predator. After I had turned in the book, I was having a meeting with someone and described Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and he said, “You know, I think there’s a script out there called Pride and Predator.” It had been languishing in development for years or something. And then, of course, we’re all excited about the heat and the Internet buzz about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and, lo and behold, Sir Elton swoops in. But I don’t feel it lessens our chances. For every Dante’s Peak there’s a Volcano. For every Step Up there’s a Stomp the Yard. I say the more mangling of literary classics the merrier. And it does sound very different. In theirs an alien crash lands and starts picking people off. In ours, there’s this zombie onslaught that’s been going on for years and Elizabeth Bennett has spent her whole life training to become a highly efficient killer of the undead, as has Darcy. It’s more about a love story between two headstrong independent zombie slayers.
It couldn’t be more different!
[Laughs] Well, on paper, it may not sound different. But it really is!