JACKI LYDEN, host:
Beware on your next trip to the bookstore. Zombies have invaded a classic. Yes, the living dead have come to Longbourn, all of England in fact, the land of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice."
On the cover, a stately portrait of Elizabeth Bennet has been infected by the zombie plague. Her eyes are bloodshot red, and half of her face has been gruesomely torn away.
Inside, Jane Austen's original text has been altered ever so slightly to accommodate brand new scenes of the Bennet girls forming the pentagram of death and taking on hordes of the undead, along with a ninja or two.
It's called "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. We have one of the authors with us now. Seth Grahame-Smith joins us from NPR West. Welcome to the show.
Mr. SETH GRAHAME-SMITH (Author, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"): Thanks for having me.
LYDEN: So what was it like to work with the late Jane Austen?
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: Well, she was difficult. She was quite full of herself, actually, and I don't know that I would do it again.
(Soundbite of laughter)
LYDEN: Could you just introduce us to the zombies in the world of Elizabeth Bennet, please?
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: Sure. I'll read you a passage from early on in the book. It takes place during the first ball where Elizabeth first meets Mr. Darcy and is less than impressed with his personality.
(Reading) As Mr. Darcy walked off, Elizabeth felt her blood turn cold. She had never in her life been so insulted. The warrior code demanded she avenge her honor.
Elizabeth reached down to her ankle, taking care not to draw attention. There, her hand met the dagger concealed beneath her dress. She meant to follow this proud Mr. Darcy outside and open his throat.
But no sooner had she grabbed the handle of her weapon than a chorus of screams filled the assembly hall, immediately joined by the shattering of windowpanes.
Unmentionables poured in, their movements clumsy yet swift, their burial clothing in a range of untidiness. When Elizabeth stood, she saw Mrs. Long struggle to free herself as two female dreadfuls bit into her head, cracking her skull like a walnut and sending a shower of dark blood spouting as high as the chandeliers.
LYDEN: Now, you've tried to put this into period language, and you refer to the undead as unmentionables.
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: Correct.
LYDEN: Why's that?
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: Well, some of these people go on with their lives as if nothing is happening, as if England isn't beset by the strange plague and overrun by hordes of brain-devouring zombies.
LYDEN: Which makes them so very much more English to ignore it all.
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: Well, they're quite English, and as a result, they tend to euphemize things. And one of the things that they euphemize is the name zombie itself. So they call them anything from unmentionables to the sorry stricken to the manky dreadful.
(Soundbite of laughter)
LYDEN: Now, regarding your credit, you once took a class in English literature.
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: That's correct.
LYDEN: You could've chosen "Wuthering Heights" or George Eliot's "The Mill on the Floss." Why did you pick "Pride and Prejudice"?
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: Every page seemed to have something that was subconsciously put there by Jane Austen to be, you know, twisted into a gory zombie fest. The fact that Elizabeth Bennet is such an independently minded, well-spoken, heroic figure in the book, the fact that there is an encampment nearby Meryton of soldiers, who are seemingly there for no reason.
You know, I always say why weren't they off fighting Napoleon in 1813 if - but in Jane Austen's original book, there are soldiers camped out there for no reason. So it's not much of a leap to say, well, of course, they're there, you know, digging up bodies and burning them before they have a chance to turn.
LYDEN: Elton John's production company, Rocket Pictures, has announced that it's working on a movie called "Pride and Predator" in which Longbourn is under attack by aliens. So I'm wondering which came first, your book or the film project?
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: It's funny. I wrote the book, and then - I am a screenwriter in Los Angeles and was having a meeting with someone about a different project and mentioned that I had written this book.
And he said, well, do you know that there is a script that's sort of been sitting around for five years or so called "Pride and Predator"? And that was the first I'd ever heard of it.
And then when we were enjoying some of our early Internet buzz, all of a sudden, you know, there was Sir Elton announcing that he was going forward with this project. And I wish him all the best. I say the more twists on literary classics, the better.
LYDEN: I have to say when I think of Jane Austen, "Mansfield Park," "Sense and Sensibility" - and your oeuvre includes such classics as "The Spiderman Handbook" and "The Big Book of Porn."
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: That's correct.
LYDEN: Did you feel any trepidations about hearing from those of us who are former English literature majors calling you and saying, Seth, how dare you?
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: I was afraid of the reaction from the Janeites, but much to my delight and surprise, they by and large have embraced this and told me that they're excited about it, and they think it's a wonderful way to sort of draw people into the world of Jane Austen who, you know, otherwise never would've picked up one of her books.
LYDEN: Seth Grahame-Smith is one of the authors of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," and it should appear in bookstores just in time for April Fool's Day. It's been great fun to talk to you. Thanks so much for joining us.
Mr. GRAHAME-SMITH: Thanks for having me.
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