Seth Grahame-Smith is a smart man. He took something that millions already love and he widened its appeal. No easy task. Yet that's exactly what he accomplished with "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," cleverly introducing the living dead into Jane Austen's story of a young woman's search for love and independence in early 19th century England. It's a remarkable effort on Grahame-Smith's part and a seamless fusion in its execution. And now it's going to be turned into a movie, produced by and starring Natalie Portman.
I think it's universally agreed that the presence of zombies elevates any work of fiction. The popularity of "Zombies" led to another Austen remix, Ben H. Winters' "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters," but I think it's folly to shift the focus away from the walking dead. So with the Portman/adaptation news hitting the trades today, I got to thinking. What other literary classics might benefit from an infusion of those brain-eating terrors?
Lord of the Flies and Zombies
William Golding's classic novel, "Lord of the Flies," is one of my high school English class favorites. It tells the story of a group of British schoolboys who struggle to survive and create some semblance of orderly life after they are marooned on a tropical island. Rifts form between them, a separation occurs and violence ensues. Now imagine that the boys end up sharing their island with a lone zombie, or perhaps a small group of them. The "Beast" they live in fear of is a shambling brain-eater. Their killing of the pig has disastrous results, when the animal suddenly reanimates and gores Piggy. Poor Piggy... that kid can't catch a break.
The Glass Menagerie and Zombies
Tennessee Williams' highly regarded play, "The Glass Menagerie," doesn't seem at first like an ideal choice for zombification. The four characters we meet never stray beyond the borders of the home in which the story is set. Broaden your horizons a bit. Think "Night of the Living Dead." The story never leaves the house because the occupants are in fact trapped, surrounded by a marauding zombie horde. Jim O'Connor is no mere gentleman caller anymore; he's a potential savior, a heroic figure who fights his way through the horde in the hopes of freeing the trapped Wingfields. Instead of being engaged, he is bitten during his rescue attempt; Jim eventually leaves the family for fear of turning and killing them all. Touching.
Romeo and Juliet and Zombies
William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," that classic story of star-crossed lovers. Can it possibly be improved upon? I daresay that zombies wouldn't just broaden its appeal, they would give it a happier ending. Think about it. Romeo's skulking becomes even more intense when he must slip through shadows to avoid both Capulets and marauding brain-eaters. And let's not forget: Tybalt slew Mercutio and Romeo slew Tybalt... now they're both hungry for flesh! (big ups to Rick Marshall for jogging the old memory) But the capper on it all, the tragic ending, can be seen in a new light when the star-crossed duo off themselves... only to reanimated and shamble off into the night, undead lovers for all eternity.
The Catcher in the Rye and Zombies
J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" at first seems like a problematic literary classic for zombification. Think harder. We're in "Day of the Dead" territory now. Holden Caulfield breaks free of his prep school and makes his way to New York City... only to find himself caught in the midst of a full-scale zombie uprising! Holden transforms from young, ignorant schoolboy to hard, bitter adult during his three days in the Big Bad Apple, his forced maturation the result of seeing -- and in some cases, being responsible for -- death on a grand scale. His allusions to being sick at the close of the book... well... poor Holden is bitten towards the end of his adventure, as he tries to share a last bit of quality time with his little sister. The lesson remains the same: push yourself to grow up too quickly, and the same might happen to you.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Zombies
Look at that title. It fits perfectly. Tom Sawyer's adventures lend themselves perfectly to a zombie uprising. Things seem pretty quiet at first in the sleepy town of St Petersburg, Missouri. Tom bears witness to a few strange occurrences one day when he cuts school -- some dried blood pooled along the roadside, the mysterious disappearance of a few townspeople, mysterious moans heard off in the distance -- but he pays them no mind. Things get really real when Tom and his pal Huck Finn sneak into the local graveyard one night. They bear witness to a murder... which then goes zombie when the victim rises and consumes his killer. The town drunk is blamed for the act and arrested for his apparent act of cannibalism. Here's where the story goes completely off the rails, as St Petersburg is thrown into a bloody conflict pitting living against undead.