Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Zombies, and Vampires, and Werewolves Oh My!

The New York Times has a piece today which is right up the alley of monster lovers like me. Check it out:

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” — which bills itself as “The Classic Regency Romance, Now With Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!” — has rocketed to the Top 10 on Amazon’s best-seller list by grabbing on to two hot trends.

The first, obviously, is zombies, which have been on the rise in recent years, and — perhaps as a result of the anxious times we are living in — seem to be more popular than ever.

“Zombieland,” starring Woody Harrelson, is scheduled for release in October. The screenwriter of the moment, Diablo Cody, fresh off her “Juno” success, is producing a romantic comedy entitled “Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament.” Left4Dead, a zombie-hunting video game, has sold more than 2.5 million copies since last fall.

Mashups are also big. The idea of combining two data sources into a new product began in the tech world (also think music remixes) and is spreading — including to book publishing.

The cover of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” features a primly dressed young woman with a decomposing face. As in Jane Austen’s original, a main setting is Netherfield Park, the estate of the wealthy bachelor Mr. Bingley. In this story, Netherfield Park is recovering from attacks in which a “household of eighteen was slaughtered and consumed by a horde of the living dead.”

The protagonists are Mr. Darcy, a dashing aristocrat who has killed more than 1,000 zombies since Cambridge fell to the undead, and the beautiful and quick-witted Elizabeth Bennet, who is skilled in wielding a dagger.

They are drawn to each other, but there are complications. Darcy is proud. Elizabeth Bennet is prejudiced, which leads her to misjudge him. The ball where they meet is attacked by zombies, and the Bennet sisters are forced to form a “Pentagram of Death” in the middle of the dance floor, swinging knives and beheading the intruders. (Read the whole thing here)

My interest in all things monstrous comes from my mother who is an avid collector and reader of horror books. Some of the first books I read that were not for kids were books by Stephen King and Dean Koontz. For people who are puzzled by my fascination with such things I've always told them that tales of monsters and things going bump in the night are really about human nature with these creatures representing the dark and terrible side of ourselves and fighting them representing the our spiritual struggle to overcome our egos. The Baha'i Writings put it nicely:

"Regarding the questions you asked: Self has really two meanings, or is used in two senses, in the Bahá'í writings; one is self, the identity of the individual created by God. This is the self mentioned in such passages as 'he hath known God who hath known himself etc.'. The other self is the ego, the dark, animalistic heritage each one of us has, the lower nature that can develop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on. It is this self we must struggle against, or this side of our natures, in order to strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection."

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, December 10, 1947)

There is nothing more monstrous or frightening than a human being whose ego has seized control of his or her life. No zombie, vampire, or werewolf can compare. Witness the horrors human beings visit upon one another on a daily basis all over the world. To paraphrase a famous statement, I have seen the monster and it is us.