Vampires, Jane Austen, and a Trend that Just Won’t Die

pride_prejudice_zombiesWe see lots of weird things in fiction.  I don’t love it all, but who cares?  Authors write what they want, publishers publish what they choose, and readers bloody well read whatever piques their fancy.

So this reader is going to exercise her constitutionally mandated right to express her unhappiness over a certain literary trend.  Actually, it’s more than a trend, it’s a flea infestation, pervading all corners of the house once that single step released the pupae from the egg.  The pupa was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (PPaZ), the very deliberate footfall was Quirk Classics, and the spawn is the new paranormal-literary-historical mash-up that, frankly, could not die a moment too soon for me.

Human nature is partly to blame, I suppose.  Our consumer society is built around crazes; unknown forces decide, merchandisers provide, and consumers gorge, until the next hot thing comes around six months later.  The problem is when there’s a gap between what publishers think we want, and what we actually want; hence many (many many many) complaints about the fact that they  just don’t listen.

Normally, I’d say that holds true in this case, that the new (okay, not-so-new anymore) mash-up is just a fad that’s long overdue to retire.  But I go to the library, and I’m confronted by Android Karenina.  I turn around from romance, and see Jane Slayre.  I am so unbelievably sick of seeing these mash-ups everywhere I go, and you know what?  The whole phenomenon reeks of nothing so much as exploitation – of literary classics, historical figures, and of course, the wallets of the general reading public.

Look, I’m not a purist.  I like paranormals, I like alternate histories, and I don’t mind liberties taken with historical figures or classic stories, as long as they serve a purpose.  Rationally, I know these mash-ups are no worse than other trends that have long outstayed their welcome; you might even claim that the mash-up is better.  Some are irreverent and funny; they even provide the occasional insight.

I question all those points, especially the latter; I haven’t read a single mash-up that I thought was worth the mutilation.  (And let me get this out of the way: I am so over Jane Austen as a vampire.)  But okay, let’s say I take these books on their own terms, and chuck my snob side out the window.  Well, I still have five problems with the sub-genre:

  1. Repetition.  The jokes get very old, very quick. 
  2. Hybridization as unflattering imitation.  What, they couldn’t make up their own plot?  Or characters?  Or for that matter (and I’m looking at the genius who titles Katie MacAlister’s books), they couldn’t think of a more original title? 
  3. The prose.  Sometimes, in the case of a literary mash-up, the difference between the source and the “co-author” is painfully, regrettably obvious.  Which, combined with the other two complaints, inevitably leads to…
  4. Boredom.
  5. See #1.

And there you go.  Five reasons mash-ups don’t work for me.

What’s your take on this sub-genre?  Is it seriously annoying, seriously misunderstood, or somewhere in between?

- Jean AAR

21 thoughts on “Vampires, Jane Austen, and a Trend that Just Won’t Die

  1. There have been some interesting titles in romance listings that piqued my interest. However once I read that any of the characters are vampires, I have no desire to purchase the book.

    Mash ups sound horrible to me.

  2. I don’t have an informed opionion, as I have completely steered clear of this sub-genre. No interest in reading someone else’s hack up of a classic. I do enjoy original paranormal, SF, etc. Zombies are a personal creep-out for me, so I wouldn’t even touch the P & P Zombie books.

  3. For the most part, I stay away from mashups. This is not hard to do because generally I don’t like books about zombies or vampires. However as a cat lover and someone who read Kafka in my leisure time in high school, I’m very interested in The Meowmorphosis.

  4. If publishers could somehow limit their appetite for this hot no-longer-quite-so-new thing to manuscripts from writers who 1)get every level of the story they’re exploiting, and 2)can actually write well with or without the crutch of someone else’s story to lean on, I’d have a lot more patience with it. But as with so many crazes in the past, editors are snapping up concepts without bothering to worry about the actual books behind them, overloading the market with so much poo writing, the whole sub-genre turns to poison for readers. There may well be some good material left to be mined in this kind of writing, but I’ll never read it. The chances of finding a good one amongst the bad have gotten too slim.

  5. What a timely post! I just posted my review for Jane Slayre today! I read Jane Eyre for the first time recently, and I loved it. Then I decided to try one of the new mash-ups, and I read Sherri Erwin’s Jane Slayre. Although there were things I did not love about it, I did appreciate the infusion of humor and the empowerment of Jane as a slayer. Jane’s powerlessness and hopelessness at the beginning of the original classic were difficult to endure as a reader. I loved how Erwin transformed her into a butt-kicking zombie/vampire slayer, and boosted her confidence about having some control in her life. I wished the book had shown less restraint and gone a bit heavier on the humor. I think mixing horror, comedy and a literary classic is a fun idea if executed well. It’s also quite a challenge for the modern-day author attempting to do this. I really don’t see this as exploitation at all. I see it as a challenging creative exercise….taking a well-beloved classic and putting a fun and unexpected twist on it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

  6. I’ve been wondering how many romance readers are reading the mashups. Or are the mashups really just the hip new Cliff Notes versions for people who only want to watch the movie(s) and pass the test?

  7. Funny that this should come up; just yesterday I was reading some excerpts from ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.’ Since I have no interest in vampires and have totally shunned the entire vampire genre with a mix of revulsion and disinterest, I have no idea what possessed me to peek inside this book. However, the premise was surprisingly intriguing. I’m actually thinking about purchasing it, and this from someone who didn’t bother with glancing even at the ‘Twilight’ series. While checking ALVH out, I discovered that it’s being made into a movie and is due to be released in the summer of 2012. How well the movie does will no doubt have a great deal of influence on how much longer publishers and writers will ride the current wave of undead mash-ups.

  8. I really debated responding to this at all. I understand your arguments against mashups, and I’m not going to try to change your mind. They are not for everyone, but there is a large audience enjoying them. Some romance readers, yes, but also a much larger audience than I reached with my romance novels, which perhaps was part of the appeal for me when I tackled Jane Eyre as Jane Slayre. Spending more time with one of my favorite classics, also appealing. Perhaps bringing Jane Eyre to people who wouldn’t otherwise pick it up, another plus.

    Now, let me add that I am a writer who writes my own books and writes them well (I hope. I try). I’ve earned DIK status at AAR with To Hell with Love, one of my paranormal romances. So, I resent the idea that mashup authors are hacks who can’t write on their own. It’s an unfair accusation. I never saw it as mutilating a classic, but having fun with something we all know and love, an intriguing exercise in “what if…” that was actually more challenging than simply writing on my own. In the end, I developed an even greater love and appreciation for the original. I did not just throw in some jokes and zombie scenes where they seem to fit, but took time to get it right and maybe offer a new way to see what Charlotte Bronte was doing with her characters and ideas, with humor, yes, but also with a careful reexamination of these classic characters with some new twists. Now I have a much larger audience for my future books (including men, young adults, sci-fi and horror fans) and perhaps some of them will stay with me and learn a little more about Romance. But first, Grave Expectations in August 2011, in which I reexamine werewolf Pip and slayer Estella as star-crossed lovers.

    • Sherri Browning Erwin: I really debated responding to this at all.

      I really appreciate you posting. I myself am not a fan of mashups but it is interesting to hear from those that are and why.

      I view them the same as any other book – I am not fond of regency romances or sheik books or secret baby books. That doesn’t make them bad – just not my cuppa. Mashups are the same. With all respect to those who read and write them, I would rather pick up something else. Doesn’t reflect badly on anyone – just means that there are lots of different tastes out there and aren’t we lucky we can each find something?

      maggie b.

  9. Sherri’s post brings up some good points, and it also brought a question to mind for me: are these mashups basically a form of published fanfiction? If not, how are they different? (And please don’t say that the quality of writing is what differentiates the two, because I have read some fanfiction that was far better written than books I’ve purchased from store shelves.)

    Just curious.

  10. Won’t touch them. Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice are two of my most cherished books EVER. So I would not even consider reading these mashups. Plus, I have only met about 2 vampires I ever liked. Zombies are off my list (gross, gross, gross).

    I agree that with a very good author who truly understands the story he/she is trying to mash that the results might be okay. But really, they would need to be almost BETTER than the original author to make the story seamless.

    Just my two cents’ worth.

  11. It’s a fad, plain and simple. And like all fads, it’s a stupid one.

    Just look at how mad we all were for Hypercolor t-shirts a few decades ago. You don’t see anyone extolling their virtues now.

    I shudder to think what the next book fad will be.

  12. I think Sherri makes some very good points. How often have I gotten frustrated with people that make snap judgments about romance novels without even trying them.

    Back in the 90′s I worked in a UBS with music and comic books. I couldn’t believe the number of grown men who came in and spent $40.00 to $50.00 every week on comics. (I realize that many were collectors, but still!) We each like what we like and lucky there is a selection for most of us.

  13. @AARPatH – I often wonder about that as well. Granted, these books introduce the classics to a whole audience that may never have touched them before – but will many of them go to the actual classic itself? Or is their sole impression of P&P going to be forever defined by zombies? And if that’s the case, is that better or worse than total ignorance?

    @Sherri Browning Erwin – Your point is well taken, and I apologize for slighting you and your fellow writers. As you say, there’s nothing wrong with the speculative “what if”. We’ve all done it in various contexts – what is life without imitation? – and we all still do it.

    However, this is my biggest issue: None of the mash-ups I’ve read brought anything more to the story. They read EXACTLY like someone threw in some zombie jokes or gave Jane Austen some fangs, and called it a day.

    I don’t claim to have read every mash-up currently on the market, but I have read enough that I feel I’m not making a snap judgment. I was remarkably uncharmed by the ones I did read, and by the end I was so tired they completely put me off even going near another one. I’ve had moments where I’d go into the library, see four mash-ups staring me in the face, then walk out of the library again.

    Whichever way I look at it, it’s not good.

    @Corinna – Fan-fiction is certainly one way to put it, although I’m not sure authors of mash-ups would like the comparison – I get the feeling fan-fic has derogatory connotations. As far as I can tell, the only difference is that the current authors are getting paid for their efforts.

  14. I have stayed away from the mash-ups as well. I do not want a farce to interfere with my enjoyment of the original work. I’ll be very happy when this trend peters out.

    I go one further and also avoid the slew of Pride and Prejudice sequels and books set with Ms. Austen’s characters, or even Ms. Austen herself.

    I love PNR and much prefer my werewolves and vampires to have a universe of their own to play in rather than butt into Pemberley.

  15. I think that hating it is very mild. It is like seeing mice droppings on your grandmother’s wedding dress.

  16. I read PPaZ. It gave me a chuckle or two. Have no interest in reading another of the type – I got the joke. But, if they’re still publishing them… people are still buying them. When people stop buying them… they’ll stop publishing them. Right?

  17. Here’s the thing – once upon a time an author might take the plot/subplot from for instance Shakespeare (who was known to snag plots and rework them himself), then change the location and mix up the story in other ways, flesh out the characters and the “lessons learned” endings. But what didn’t happen was the joke title that made this overt. The lit folks that would read would get the Shakespeare spin, and the other folk would just enjoy it for the story – and of course it all hinged on whether the writing was any good. They didn’t need a jokey title to sell it if the writing was any good. That’s what makes this a fad – and if an author just did a couple of these titles it’d perhaps not be such a big deal. But continuing on past one or two and not shaking free to try your hand at books with your own plots? Seems a bit of a crutch. When you have to be overt about your source – a title that says “LOL look I’m rewriting this with Zombies!” (insert popular monster of the day instead of zombies) then you’re assuming your readers won’t have read the original and thus won’t get it. I think we’d think a bit more of the authors if they didn’t beat us over the head with the “joke” they’re making on the original.

  18. Oh and if the authors actually are writing their own work and then continue to churn this stuff out too? This must be making more than their more serious efforts with their own plots – and thus it’s all for the money, to cash in on the fad. Again, nothing horrifying, but it’s not something that’s going to last forever. Or that most of us will do more than eyeroll over.

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