By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“I have friends who say they’ve been to every Barnes & Noble and it’s sold out. There are no books. It’s crazy.” He saw one copy on eBay going for $85. “I don’t recommend anyone getting them for 85 dollars. You can wait a week.”
It would be very easy for him to do Sense and Sensibility and Vampires after this, he says, and there’s a temptation to just be the guy that does that. But he feels like that’s a narrow writing career. Instead he’s doing Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
“I’m hoping we’re gonna do a special edition,” he says of the Austen book. “I’m gonna get to go back and write a few scenes that I think can still be squeezed in there, some audacious fights that I’ve thought about since the book’s come out.”
WAS JESUS A ZOMBIE? AND OTHER HISTORICAL NIGHTMARES CONSIDERED
The grandmotherly woman grimaces when she spots the cover painting on the copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies I have come to deliver to the UCLA English department mailbox of Professor Robert Maniquis, a 19th-century literature specialist. An elegant lady in a white gown looks out from the cover, her face half-decomposed, bony jaw protruding. Blood drips down her bosom.
“The funniest thing is the satirical discussion questions at the end,” says Professor Maniquis three days later as he ushers me into his cozy, book-lined office. “The way they’re satirical of literary studies. The vocabulary can seem absurd. Some conventions in literature classes have become fuddy-duddy and are easily mocked.”
For example, question number six asks: “Some critics have suggested that the zombies represent the authors’ views towards marriage — an endless curse that sucks the life out of you and just won’t die. Do you agree, or do you have another opinion about the symbolism of the unmentionables?” Characters in the novel are so obsessed with decorum, they won’t even say the word “zombie,” preferring instead “unmentionables,” or “manky dreadfuls,” or “sorry stricken.”
Maniquis takes a seat. “If you really begin to know something about English literature from this period,” he says, “in which Jane Austen is to be found smack in the middle, one of the most common themes in high and low literature is the theme of death in life, or life in death.” The Wandering Jew, who spit on Christ, and was condemned to eternal wandering, dates from this period. The Wandering Jew gives rise to Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer, who in turn influences Balzac in France. The wandering ideas spread like a virus across the land.
“What are these themes about but someone who can’t die?” Maniquis says, in his calm, collected way. “These figures are worse than zombies. They can never be killed, they can never die.” The most famous was the Mariner in Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. “Talk about death in life! The Ancient Mariner, when he comes upon someone who needs to hear his story, he hypnotizes them and gives them the heebie jeebies and they have to listen. The Mariner also cannot die. He must forever tell his story of crime and punishment. And who is the Ancient Mariner? According to Coleridge, he’s Cain, the first murderer.”
Death-in-life figures were enormously popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. They became interesting to people at a time when Christianity was losing its hold on the mind. They are, Maniquis says, iconic projections of a transformation that cannot be made.
“You know about doubting Thomas?” he asks.
Sure, I say, the guy who poked his finger into Jesus’ palm to feel the wounds from the crucifixion. Professor Maniquis chuckles a bit. “I don’t mean to offend the Christians,” he says, “but who is this guy risen out of the grave?” He’s a zombie.
People doubling, the werewolf, the vampire they all represent what Maniquis calls a “blockage” in Christian transformation. They’re the guys who can’t die and get to heaven. “What’s grotesque in zombies is that it comes too close to the idea of resurrection. Jane Austen knows about that world, even as she’s writing about a much more ordinary world of power and society.”
As I’m picking my jaw up off the floor, Professor Maniquis asks: Did I know that cannibalism was one of the dominant political metaphors of the period? “As for the half-dead eating the living, how about the living eating the recently killed? There is many a story at the time of aristocrats’ hearts being ripped out, cooked and eaten. Or spectators at the guillotine soaking up the beheaded victim’s blood in handkerchiefs that they would then suck on.” And here he makes a motion as if to dunk an imaginary piece of cloth into a pool of blood and brings it up to his lips. For the masses, the implication was, the aristocrats have been sucking on our blood for years, and now it’s our turn.
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