Literature Mashups and Rewriting History

Seth Grahame-Smith just might be the Godfather of a new trend: rewriting classic literature and reframing famous lives by adding ghouls and goblins to the stories.

Much like most of the other literate apes in the country I plunked down 12 hard-earned dollars and roughly 10 or so hours of my time (twice) to slough through a retooled version of a Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Would have to say that the former was not nearly as good as the latter. Perhaps it is a testament to Grahame-Smith’s sharpening quality as a writer, or my complete lack of understanding of the content of Abraham Lincoln’s life but I enjoyed the second book much more than the first.

The joke around this premise, the real tongue-in-cheek, goes to those who have already read the originals and understand just what is being manipulated in order to include a zombie attack or a vampire reference. Not that they cannot be enjoyed without previous readings, but I think understanding the original source augments the humor of the current version.

What was much improved from Grahame-Smith’s first novel is that he managed to make his supernatural elements integral to the story of Abe’s life. I have an elementary school students understanding of what Lincoln accomplished, as most history lessons in public education tend to gloss neatly over slavery and the Civil War. Unless you take a great interest (or a college course) you know he was poor and uneducated, rose to the rank of President and abolished slavery. He was a lawyer and amazing orator. He was an important enough leader to have over 15,000 biographies penned about him and a giant freaking monument in our nation’s capital.

So if I were to read one book about a past president (which I never exactly intended on doing) it would be this one. Something with a delightful narrative featuring elements of horror and tragedy. Something to color a relentless power-hungry politician and lawyer as something other than he was.

Check out the book trailer here:

VAMPIRES AND SLAVERY

Not so sure how to feel about the mingling of vampires and slavery. In some ways it cheapens and glamorizes the struggles of slaves by making them the victims of supernatural demise. It perverts and almost excuses the actions of real men and women by ascribing them to mystical beings. I’m not REALLY feeling that. It was all sorts of uncomfortable, and while seemingly pivotal to the plotline, Grahame-Smith skirted much of the implications of slavery as nimbly as most historical books tend to do.

The book also further distorts the motivations behind Lincoln’s decision to free the slaves, making them more suspect than they already are. Though it does mention that freeing the slaves was a war-time manuever to bolster the ranks of the North and create chaos in the South. I think that’s the popular theory these days. Either way – the slaves are freed and the long road towards Civil Rights begins based on this tale.

I suppose any work of popular literature that’s willing to acknowledge slavery and the horrible conditions it forced human beings to live in should be recognized. It’s no Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Roots: The Saga of an American Family though. If you are looking to understand some of the reality and experience of slavery in a fictional context, those aren’t bad places to start.

In any case, I remain fairly ambivalent about the portrayal of slavery in this book.

THERE’S ALWAYS A MOVIE…

Of course there’s already a film in production starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Benjamin Walker and Alan Tudyk, directed by Timur Bekmambetov and produced by Tim Burton. There was a movie in the works before the book even hit shelves. It’s funny that Hollywood is only NOW capitalizing on the vampire trend, when it’s already glutted the entertainment market and is on a down-swing.

Unfortunately for them – TV, Books and Comics move so much faster.

I’ll probably see the film version of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but I am more so looking forward to The Conspirator, which apparently came out in theatres in April but didn’t get a wide release. Bummer. The previews looked good. Why did this film die such a quiet death? It’s got a kick-ass cast.

Steven Spielberg also has a Lincoln related film in the works starring Daniel Day Lewis and titled quite succinctly Lincoln. With no specific release date in 2012 targeted yet, it could very well get lost in the melee. Major studios are finally releasing films that would have made sense back in 2008 when everyone was comparing tall, gangly, well-spoken Obama to Lincoln. Now all the fervor just seems odd.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” was rumored to have it’s own debut on the big screen, but the narrow window in which that production should have been rolling seems to have passed. Natalie Portman is probably far too old to play Elizabeth Bennet. And who would want to see a big budget Hollywood movies where women interact with one another about something besides men?

That Lincoln picture though, it gets the greenlight and production budget IMMEDIATELY after publication.

So yeah, I’m not bitter. The P&P&Z book kinda sucked anyways. 😛

MORE ALTERED LITERATURE?

There’s apparently been another altered Austen book: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters which marries paranormal and normal in a squee-filled way guaranteed to titillate audiences. The Austen book which would should have been altered is Persuasion because one of the main characters is a sea-captain and portions of the book take place by the sea. But if you are only going by alliteration, Sense and Sensibility probably works better. Hmph.

A highly touted mashup book released  in 2010 was Android Karenina scribed by Ben H. Winters. The same author of the Sea Monsters mashup mentioned above. He claims that Tolstoy would hate the retooled Karenina because he was humorless, while Austen would have loved Sea Monsters because of her extensive use of humor in her books. Meh. Read the article here.

Strangely I am lacking the strong desire to read Anna Karenina again, even if it features robots. Mostly because I am not a huge fan of robots, and secondly because I am not entirely on this mashup band wagon as applied to classic literature. The meat of a story is the story itself and because the mashups do not alter the story, and only augment – why would I want to reread it? Especially something as painful as “Anna Karenina?”

Clearly I am more intrigued by the application of mashups to content I have never read before. Or perhaps the idea in itself is far more clever than the execution. All the Austen altering seems to me less about appreciating the text in a new light and more about making it tolerable consumption for dudes. Which is lame. Austen doesn’t need your help, thanks very much. Especially when it’s being altered in a male perspective. How fresh and exciting! We’ve never seen the male perspective applied to female text before!

I understand I’m operating under an extreme bias here when I say: Austen isn’t better with zombies, but Lincoln goes down just fine with a side of vampires.

IN CONCLUSION

It’s great that mashups for a short while got people excited about the idea of reading classic literature. Especially Jane Austen, who is a great author that is often overlooked for writing “chick literature.”

Perhaps I’m just damn tired of zombies, vampires and werewolves in popular culture. Be that as it may, this is a trend I am fairly excited to see dying out in the next year, once every last dollar has been sucked from its vein and the final Twilight movies fade into the background of our collective subconscious.

Though I wouldn’t mind seeing more boring ass biographies of famous men turned entertaining with supernatural elements or mashuped with a female perspective. 

LINK LOVE:

New York Times first look at  the film version of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

There’s a lot of fact in this fiction

How academics use classic literature mashups in the classroom

This writer likens mashups to criticism and encourages an open embrace of this medium

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About tinyheroes

Mindy Crouchley is a 33 year old woman with a degree in English and Technical Writing from Portland State University. She has accumulated three+ years experience in the Marketing and Communications field - with an emphasis on creating digital media content. She has been reading comic books since she was 10 years old. She currently lives in outer southeast Portland with her spouse Dan Robertson, her baby girl, and their dog - Jabba the pug. She spends her free time devouring books, crafting cosplay, video gaming, attending comic cons, writing stories/screenplays, attending book to film adaptation club meetings, volunteering, and watching copious amounts of TV and movies.

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