It’s difficult to tell if critics’ reactions to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies should be characterized as praise or astonishment. Some reviewers treated the book as a delightful gimmick. Others found that, beneath the surface, the book actually constituted an interesting way of looking at Austen’s novel. Zombies answer certain puzzling questions: Why were those troops stationed near Hertfordshire? Why did Charlotte Lucas actually marry Mr. Collins? (She had recently been bitten by zombies and wanted a husband who could be counted on to behead her—of course!) But critics also pointed out that this parody shows that Austen’s novel has remained so powerful over time that even the undead can’t spoil it.
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This may be the most wacky by-product of the busy Jane Austen fan-fiction industry—at least among the spin-offs and pastiches that have made it into print. In what’s described as an “expanded edition” of Pride and Prejudice, 85 percent of the original text has been preserved but fused with “ultraviolent zombie mayhem.” For more than 50 years, we learn, England has been overrun by zombies, prompting people like the Bennets to send their daughters away to China for training in the art of deadly combat, and prompting others, like Lady Catherine de Bourgh, to employ armies of ninjas. Added to the familiar plot turns that bring Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy together is the fact that both are highly skilled killers, gleefully slaying zombies on the way to their happy ending. Is nothing sacred? Well, no, and mash-ups using literary classics that are freely available on the Web may become a whole new genre. What’s next? Wuthering Heights and Werewolves? --Mary Ellen Quinn