Friday, May 22, 2009

The Vampire Sucks Your Blood

“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” This is the captivating opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

If you want to write a bestseller and are too lazy to think of anything original yourself, you are pretty well guaranteed success if you tamper with Jane Austen.  Especially with Pride and Prejudice.  We’ve had at least twenty spin-offs in the last few years, including Mr. Darcy’s Daughters, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and The Bar Sinister, in which Mr. Darcy has fathered an illegitimate child on the Pemberly estate.  Austen believed Darcy to be a moral and ethical person, but what did she know?

I am baffled by the trend of taking other people’s work, or lives, and using it for one’s own fiction.  I think of such books as vampire books, where someone else is sucking the blood of the original creator.  Do people do it because they don’t have confidence in their own creative ideas?  Is it a form of laziness?  Or does it stem from a desperate search for common cultural markers in a world where we’re inundated with Twitters and Faces and Jerry Springer and a host of other shouted comments?

I confess, too, to a dislike of novels based on historic figures.  It feels both like an invasion of privacy, to take over another person’s life, and a limitation on one’s own creativity: the ending, indeed, the trajectory, are already determined.  As my granddaughter, then seven, said when her mother wanted to take her to see Gibson’s movie, The Passion, “I already know how it comes out.”  

A few years ago, I read a book whose author claimed to know the effect of the Manhattan Project on Fermi and his family.  It wasn’t based on Fermi’s life or letters or the memoirs of others who knew him, but on the author’s anger over the development of the bomb, projected back on to Fermi.

Searching around for a book topic? Make up your own physicist. It will allow you to explore the human experience more fully if you’re not constrained by a pre-determined outcome.  Create your own Regency family.  And make up your own damned Zombie!


David J. Montgomery said...

I agree. I think these books are garbage. I can't imagine why anyone would want to read them.

Libby Hellmann said...

I don't get it either. There's been such buzz about the P&P Zombie book... I have a feeling the publisher and author had no idea it would do as well as it has. Maybe someone can explain why?

Btw, friend and fellow crime fiction author Charlaine Harris's new novel is set to debut at #1 on the NYT list this week. How cool is that???

David Heinzmann said...

In principle, I agree complete with you. But I have to confess that I really loved a book called THE WORLD AS I FOUND IT, by Bruce Duffy. If you don't remember the book this will sound ridiculously nerdy--it's a fictional account of the relationship between Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore. There was a lot known and written about their relationships, but an enormous amount of license was taken, as well. I know that sounds sort of unbearable, but it's a really great book.

David Heinzmann said...

I should clarify. I know nothing about these Zombie/Austen rip offs. They sound lousy. I was just commenting on Sarah's dislike of novels about historical figures.

Sara Paretsky said...

I know. And, of course, I have my own favorite knock-offs, like the Wide Sargasso Sea. Or Shakespeare stealing Boccaccio. Or operas based on Shakespeare which wouldn't resonate without the common understanding of Romeo & Juliet or Lady MacBeth...The subject deserves a more nuanced treatment than I gave it.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

TC Boyle has written a number of excellent (according to me) novels based on real people. But I think even he would admit that the better we know a factual character the less interesting he often is as a fictional one. Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the great characters of 20th century American history, but he's just about the least interesting character in THE WOMEN. I think the novel is structured that way deliberately--Wright is an object of the book, not a subject, a guy who is a genius in the professional world but doomed to repeat the same tragedy over and over in his personal life. The real actors in the novel are his wives and lovers, real people but about whom we know far less. I suspect if Boyle really wanted to write about FLW, he'd do just as Sara suggests and make up a character who is similar but who is has the freedom to make choices in the fictional world.