Wednesday, October 20, 2010


In 2009, Quirk Classics exhumed a dark and comic twist on Jane Austen with Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultra-Violent Zombie Mayhem. In the book, Grahame-Smith takes the treasured romantic tale of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy and spikes it with unwanted undead running amok across the English countryside, ruining garden parties and society balls. The Bennet daughters are not only girls to be married off into good families, they are highly valued for their mastery of the ninja arts and their facility with dispatching the walking dead that have become so pesky to the landed gentry.

The instant success of the zombified Pride and Prejudice begat a spate of sequels and spirited massacres of other Austen classics including Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Unmentionables; Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters; Mansfield Park and Mummies; Emma and the Vampires; and Jane Bites Back. Not content to assault Austen, the monster mash-ups started infecting other classics in the canon: Jane Slayre, Android Karenina, Little Women and Werewolves and Wuthering Bites, to name a few.

At The Mark Twain House & Museum, we assumed that it was only going to be a matter of time before Mark Twain’s works were going to be similarly splattered with zombie action. Our patience was rewarded with three traumatic tales that use Twain’s iconic Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. First out of the grave was W. Bill Czolgosz’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn & Zombie Jim: Mark Twain’s Classic with Crazy Zombie Goodness (a limited release in 2009 via Coscom Entertainment, Huck Finn & Zombie Jim will be published nationally by Simon & Schuster in February 2010). In Czolgosz’s twisted tale, a mutant strain of

tuberculosis has swept the South, causing the recently deceased to bebagged to avoid the spread of contagion. If the dead reanimate and are docile, they are used as slaves for the good of society. If they are vicious, they are dispatched. When Pap Finn, the worst of these “baggers” reanimates, Huck sets out for freedom with his friend Bagger Jim.

In August 2010 via Tor Publishing, Don Borchert decided to exhume The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by adding “…and the Undead. Using the skeleton of Twain’s tale of boyhood adventure, Aunt Polly not only tries to keep Tom on the straight and narrow, she must also protect him from the marauding “Zum” that have shambled out of the grave. Instead of painting Aunt Polly’s fence, Tom must trick his friends into sharpening the fence posts that will gore any zombies that attempt to ransack his home. Of course, Tom’s nemesis, a mutant Injun Joe, provides hair-raising and vomit-inducing action that propels the story forward. Much of Borchert’s book utilizes Twain’s original text and piles on the marauding corpses.

IDW Publishing decided to take a different tack in attacking the classics. In their new omnibus Classics Mutilated, they have unleashed genre writers on classic characters and freshly inter them in new stories. Thus, Huck, Tom and Jim have an all-new adventure in the H.P. Lovecraft/Song of the South send-up Dread Island, written by prolific horror and crime novelist Joe R. Lansdale. Lansdale is the “Champion Mojo Storyteller” behind The Hap Collins and Leonard Pine Mysteries, Bubba Ho-Tep and the Jonah Hex graphic novels. In Dread Island, the novella that serves as the centerpiece of Classics Mutilated, Twain’s iconic characters set off for a mysterious island in the Mississippi that is home to Uncle Remus’s friends Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, among others.

On Saturday, October 30th at 4 p.m., The Mark Twain Museum Center will host Mark Twain & The Army of Darkness, a conversation between Borchert, Lansdale and Czolgosz (appearing via Skype from his home in Saskatchewan) about what it took to give Twain’s classics a macabre makeover. The conversation will be moderated by Sam Hatch from WWUH’s Culture Dogs and will include a sneak preview of scenes from the film-in-progress Ninja Zombies, currently being shot in Connecticut. Borchert and Lansdale will be signing their books immediately following the lecture. Admission is $5 and free for museum members. Interested attendees (live or dead) can avoid a grave mistake by calling (860) 280-3130 to reserve their plot. There will be a Steampunk Tea Party before the lecture at 2 p.m. Admission to the tea is $10.

So what would Twain think of this literary massacre? Evidence suggests that he would have been all for assaulting Austen’s work. In a letter to William Dean Howells, Twain writes, “It seems a great pity that they let her die a natural death.” Writing to Rev. Joseph Twichell, he states, “Everytime I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” Twain himself speaks from beyond the grave with the 2010 release of his sprawling autobiography which roams the Earth after being buried for 100 years. As for Twain’s other novels being mutilated, one has to wonder if we can look forward to The Prince and The Putrid, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Crypt and Good’ndead Wilson.

- Jacques Lamarre, Director of Communications


Sherri Browning Erwin said...

Sherri Browning Erwin, Charlotte Bronte's coauthor of Jane Slayre, lives in the Greater Hartford area and is a frequent visitor to Mark Twain House. Cheers! said...

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