Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Janespotting: Sense and Sensibility and Silliness

Now that I've left my Remedial Lit project behind with summer, and managed to survive a busy busy fall filled with football games and marching band and NaNoWriMo and multiple assignments, it's time to get back to exploring Jane Austen and her myriad imitators. After all, how better to curl up and block out the cold, dark winter than with Jane and a cup of tea?

I was going to move onto Northanger Abbey, which is a favorite Austen novel and her funniest, imho, but when this book came into my library, I felt obligated to read it. After all, I found Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a quite entertaining mashup, as strange as it sounds. Zombies have always been a great metaphor for social stagnation, which would make them appropriate to mix with a novel about women who are often forced to choose between love and security. So could Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters) provide a similarly scintillating scenario?

As you might deduce from my excruciatingly excellent example of alliteration, the answer is: not particularly. Now, I could see mashing up Persuasion with sea monsters, as the leading hero is a naval captain and the main characters make a visit to the seaside resort of Lyme, but although Sense and Sensibility takes place in Devonshire, it's not really situated on the coast. So it felt to me like the only reason to add "Sea Monsters" was for the alliteration. Turning Colonel Brandon into a fellow cursed not only by a broken heart but by a sea witch (hence the facial tentacles) is weird, not revealing. Changing the sisters' trip to London to a visit to "Sub Station Beta," an undersea colony headed for disaster? Distracting, not enhancing. Putting Barton Cottage on an island that's really located atop a Lovecraftian leviathan? Just plain strange. The whole thing was quite silly, really, and I finished it just to finish it.

I suppose the publisher thought that after the success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (not only was it a bestseller, it's been optioned for a movie), they could cobble together any Austen novel and any monster, but in this case they ignored what made P&P&Z so much fun: it was still mainly Austen's words, around 85%. The story was just tweaked here and there, enough to amuse but not confuse. S&S&SM goes way over the top, adding too many new things and changing the characters from their essential natures. You change things too much and it's no longer a parody, just a weird pastiche that's neither familiar nor amusing. I would have preferred mixing S&S with vampires—the novel's themes of letting emotions run away with you would seem to be perfect for it—but it turns out there are already a couple of Darcy as vampire novels out there. [rolls eyes] (I'm really going to have to run out of "sequels" before I get to those...) So enough with the weirdness! Next week I'm heading back to original Austen and Northanger Abbey.

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