For his latest project, humor writer Seth Grahame-Smith—author of How to Survive a Horror Movie—took on an unusual co-writer: Jane Austen. He’s responsible for the third element in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk Books, $13). It involved taking Austen’s original masterpiece and adding the undead. “It is kind of the [literary] equivalent of the mash-up or the YouTube remix,” Grahame-Smith says. Not surprisingly, it’s gotten a lot of attention, and will reportedly appear on the New York Times best-seller list. Grahame-Smith recently answered his phone when we called.
How did this come about?
This title was presented to me by my editor at Quirk Books. He had been wanting to do some kind of literary mash-up for a long time. He made lists of books like Wuthering Heights and Crime and Punishment. On the other side of the page he had things like werewolves, vampires, pirates, robots. One day he called me up, about a year ago, and he told me the title, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and for whatever reason, I thought it was the most brilliant thing I ever heard. I just saw instantly how much fun it would be to read these gratuitous, bloody, gory themes in the Regency style of Jane Austen. And it was; it was amazing fun to write.
Was there a moment when you thought, hey, I’m messing with Jane Austen here?
Definitely. I mean, all the time. You have to approach this with some kind of reverence. You are messing with one of the most beloved novels in the English language by one of the greatest writers in the English language. So you sort of take a deep breath and know that it’s all being done in fun and with respect.
How did you decide where to insert the zombie scenes?
I read it once through to refamiliarize myself, then I read it again, taking very careful notes on every page, working out the logistics—if I change something in Chapter 7, how does it resonate in Chapter 57? And I looked for places where I could put sequences of entirely new stuff—big zombie battles and stuff like that.
Sounds like it involved more than just sticking in some zombies.
Well, I’m fine if people think it’s just sticking in zombies. But the truth is I did take a lot of time to make sure the new stuff and the original stuff blended as seamlessly as it could. I was very careful to make sure that what I added was in keeping with the spirit of what Jane Austen was trying to accomplish.
The original book weirdly lends itself to this treatment. You have this witty, sharp-tongued, independent heroine, so it’s not a big leap to make her into this independent young woman with a sword. There were a lot of places to start in the original book that made it surprisingly easy to add this subplot.
Have you been approached by people who think of you as a literary vandal?
Oh, yeah. I’ve had some really nasty things said about me by some of the more hardcore Jane-ites. In defense of Jane Austen fans, 95 percent of them have been positive about this and see the humor in it. Maybe like 5 percent of the people—I call them the “how dare you, sir” crowd. But I think they’re kind of missing the point of just doing this for fun. Look, no matter how many books I sell, it’s not going to make a dent in the greatness of Jane Austen. If anything, it’s only going to get more people to read her, at least in some form.