I finally got around to reading and blogging about Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and it was a great big pile of meh. At first I thought it was because the co-author (not Jane Austen, the other guy, Ben Winters) was different. Then I thought that maybe, heaven help me, I liked Pride and Prejudice more than Sense and Sensibility. Finally I read Ben Winter’s Slate.com essay How I wrote Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and realized that the problem was I didn’t like HIS portion of the book! That’s right, I liked Jane Austen better!
Okay, that’s not really true.
Winters explains that his job was to “introduce a B-movie action/adventure plot while preserving Austen’s original story and most of her text.” That’s similar to what Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies did, but where Grahame-Smith knocked it out of the park and made you feel like the Zombies really were just something edited out of Austen’s works, Winters made me feel like I was reading two different books.
The major flaw is that Winters decided that rather than fit the monsters to the scene (when the Dashwoods are kicked out, they move into the guest house of a rich relative), he moved the scene to fit the story (now they were on an island, part of an archipelago ‘controlled’ by the same man, no longer clearly understood to be a relative). As I read that first change, early Saturday morning, I stopped reading and went ‘What the hell? That’s not in the book!’ That was a phrase I never uttered while reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
This methodology continues as he moves London to a city under the ocean, Sub-Marine Station Beta, claiming that “I needed to transfer that big hunk of story to a location that could represent all that London represented for the Dashwoods and also be beset on all sides by hideous sea monsters.” I can immediately envision the Thames, beset upon by monsters who are digging tunnels (flooding the underground, perhaps?) through London. But the royals would never abandon the seat of their nation and call the populace to arms!
While Winters acknowledges that the Austen book Persuasion does take place on the water, and has a naval theme, but argues that it’s not as ripe for the level of parody he desires. Furthermore, he points out that Persuasion and Sea Monsters isn’t as catchy a title. I feel this hangs him for the flock, by shoving his plot around Austen’s. Zombies was a much more integrated plot, where you suddenly had explanations for the discord between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet past the idea that Mr. Bennet just didn’t worry about if his daughters might marry. Now we understood that he wanted them to fight the unmentionables!
If I read just Winters’ plot alone, it’s a nice Verne-esque, gothic/steampunk story and, on it’s own, is actually an interesting read. So clearly I don’t dislike his work, and when I read just his parts, I enjoyed the book more than I liked Austen’s. Also clearly, if it’s not Winters’ writing I dislike, then it must be the combination there-in. He failed to make me feel like the Sea Monsters portions were edited out. The best part about Zombies were the moments where Austen was left half-unadulterated. Where Lydia went on, prattling about marriage and how her standing was above her sisters now that she was, indeed, a married woman. Counterpoint to that ran Elizabeth thinking about beheading her sister with her katana.
In sharp contrast, the scenes where Margaret is the only one who hears the chanting on the island and her later transformation feel tacked on with the thinnest of veneers. You can skip over them and even Winters’ portion of the plot is barely disturbed. The orangutan batman is a completely wasted addition, put in only to make one raise an eyebrow, rather than to serve as any sort of period parody, such as was done with the ninjas in Zombies.
Again, in fairness to Winters, his writing, as it stands alone, was more than acceptable. Should he right his own period piece, I would greatly enjoy reading it. But with his work, I couldn’t help but feel the genre jumped the shark (pun intended).
Thus it was with great trepidation I picked up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith, and was cheered to learn that it was still alive and well. Or perhaps, un-alive. Dawn of the Dreadfuls was a riot, a quick read, and a fun few hours. The plot moves along at a brisk pace, and serves as a perfect prequel for both the zombification portion of the book as well as Austen’s own works, giving us reasons why Elizabeth and Jane act as they do in Zombies, and what’s really the matter with their parents.
Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter has been requested from my library.