Friday, May 28, 2010

History of the Liteary Undead

Have you noticed all the historically undead on the bookshelves lately? Is it all just a response to the surprise success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or is there something else afoot that has so many writers (and publishing houses) going in for remaking history with zombies, werewolves, vampires and monster hunters?

Jane SlayreI should preface by saying that I've not read any of these books, but I've heard that the latest one to make a splash, Jane Slayer by Sherri Browning Erwin, is well done. Or, more precisely, my Source said it's well done if you're into that sort of thing -- I don't know if that sort of thing meant paranormal  fiction (which I'm a fan of) or if it meant the reworking of classics with modern twists of fantasy (which I don't really have an opinion on) -- one can never tell with Source what Source is really getting at.

Although, to be honest, the novel's tag line has me thinking I might get it the next time I'm in the store:
Reader, I buried him.

Queen Victoria: Demon HunterPublisher's Weekly calls it the "growing genre of horror mashups."   Including Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter, and the soon to be published Shakespeare Undead (chapters 1-5 available to read online until the book's release on June 8), or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith (the guy who did P&P&Zombies).

You can now take your pick of literary figures turned slayers or historical figures turned slayers.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterSome seem quite amusing and well done. From the Amazon review of Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter:
While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.
Sense and Sensibility and Sea MonstersMany are jumping on the bandwagon without much worry about how well they're done. Two that I doubt I'll ever read include Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Boleyn: Tudor Vampire (in which Anne Boleyn is conveniently not beheaded and can therefore return as the undead), but the mere presence of these two novels does make me smile -- if perhaps only weakly.

But why the sudden popularity?  Is it the logical outcome of two simultaneous pop culture crazes (Austen and Zombies)? Is it an ability to both enjoy the classics and laugh at them -- Publisher's Weekly claims that if you're a horror fan but not familiar with Jane Eyre you'll like the novel but miss much of the comic nuance -- or is it a sign that the contemporary urban fantasy market is saturated? 

Shakespeare UndeadOf course, people have been predicting the death of vampires as a genre for years now.  And -- like any good undead being -- vampires just keep coming back (with or without the use of Shakespeare).  So I hesitate to say the historical undead are a sign of saturation.  Which I'm just fine with; I like a good vampire from time to time so long as he doesn't go all sparkly in the sun.

I was about to make a guess that Wuthering Heights would be the next to receive a makeover from Gothic to Horror/Urban Fantasy, and then realized that Heathcliff is already scarier and more menacing than any werewolf could ever be. You wouldn't have to change anything about the novel except for adding a single line that said he'd been bitten as a boy and you'd still have a believable novel on your hands. Maybe that's why I always liked Wuthering Heights more than Jane Eyre.

Edit: Wuthering Bites hmm. I have to say the Bronte titles are much more creative than the others.


JES said...

I don't know what's going on. It all seems pretty artificial to me, but maybe Artifice is the new Voice.

Here's an idea, and you can have it yourself for free (just a nod in the Acknowledgments will be fine, really!): turn the trend on its head. Take a classic horror story(line), and import literary characters into it. But don't tell it from the latter's POV -- the idea is to put them into an alien environment or situation, rather than making the zombies/vampires/werewolves dance to the literary tune.

You're welcome. :)

Sherri Browning Erwin said...

Wuthering Bites is coming out in August. It's not one of mine, but I'm looking forward to seeing what the author did with it.

PW said readers unfamiliar with Jane Eyre might miss "some" of the comic nuance of Jane Slayre, by the way. Not "much" of the comic nuance, as you said. But I'm picking. Library Journal gave Jane Slayre a starred review, and the PW review was pretty darn good. I'm proud of Jane Slayre.

I think some of the reason for that is I respect the original and took great pains to maintain the emotional pull of jane Eyre. I wasn't just interested in inserting paranormal creatures in comic scenes, but in exploring Jane as a heroine with more strength and control over her circumstances.

It's no more artificial than Jean Rhys examining/inventing Bertha's background for Wide Sargasso Sea. And the trend is really not so new. Classics have been inventively adapted for movies for years. Shakespeare was retelling much of his tales from other sources. Fairy tales have been retold time and again with twists. Wicked is a big smash on Broadway. I could go on. But I would advise not to assume all mash-ups are the same. They're not. And they can be a lot of fun. I hope readers give some a chance before dismissing them all as a lark. Try Jane Slayre, for instance. :)

Eileen Wiedbrauk said...

Did I come across as snarky? Because I wasn't going for snarky.

Undead characters make up a substantial part of what I read every year; I just haven't read this new bred of mash up.

No, mash ups aren't new, but I feel like mash ups that include the paranormal are new(er) ... or at least they're getting promotion at the moment that goes above what other novels are getting. (bravo!)

The fairy-tale-retold often feels dry and falls flat (I should know, I've tried to retell a few). These paranormal+pre-1900 narratives give off a different -- livelier, more entertaining -- feeling than the fairy-tale-retellings.

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