Title: Pride & Prejudice & Zombies
Authors: Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Publisher: Quirk Books (2009)
Genres: Horror, Humor, Literature, Romance
Sub-Genres: Jane Austen Adapation, Classics, Comedy of Errors, Mash-Ups, Regency Romance
Character Speaking: Unnamed Narrator
Analysis: Now, this line is of course a twist on one of the most quoted opening lines of any book, ever (today's First Line Analysis was actually a toss up between the original and Kafka's Metamorphosis but I decided I couldn't handle all that thinking this morning).
Austen's original line read, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." It is considered one of the finest forms of irony ever written, for in fact, it is, of course, a truth universally acknowledged that a single, wealthy man wants nothing more than to screw his brains out. And this is compounded by the fact that when the original line was written, you couldn't ever actually talk about this sort of thing. Thus, Austen's original line is taking a swing straight at her entire society.
In Grahame-Smith's line, we get an entirely similiar but different set-up. Grahame-Smith sets up the book's humor by inverting the classic line with something that is instantly recognizable on two fronts: Austen's quote and the popular belief in zombies screaming "Brains!" and slowly shambling towards their chosen victims. By doing this, he's providing the book's entire tone - which is violent, a bit gross, with tones of humor (mostly ironic), and a cute play off of Austen's original work.
In a way, this is why this book is so smart. Grahame-Smith is twisting the same conventions that Austen used, the sense of funny irony that still delivers a gut punch. Austen wasn't funny without purpose, though, and provided a lot more insight into her culture than Grahame-Smith's zombies can. I do not, however, blame the zombies, as science fiction and fantasy can provide some great insights into the human condition that more literary work cannot (prejudice, especially racism, is actually amazingly covered by fantasy and sci-fi). Instead, I think it's more a facet of Grahame-Smith being a 21st century man, and Austen being a woman of her time.
Austen's job was to take apart her own world, which she seemed to do with zealous glee. Grahame-Smith's job was to entertain, plain and simple. And both succeeded. It is a testament to Grahame-Smith's skill, though, that I bought the book on the first line alone. I read it and knew it was going to be a fun adventure.
As a writer, it's that sort of first line that every book needs and so rarely gets: one that delivers the entire premise and theme of the book, wrapped in a moment that captures the readers' imagination. Insanely difficult to do, but Austen did it here with a line that still speaks to us generations later. All Grahame-Smith had to do was inject his own humor into the line to make a great parody. If that doesn't show the genius of the original line, I don't know what does.