Monday, June 22, 2009
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s been a national, runaway sensation. There have been news stories, reviews and editorials on the book. It is far and away our bestselling title, whenever we’ve been able to keep it in stock, that is. . It’s truly shaping up to be the book of the summer, against all odds.
Well, I say “against all odds”, but that’s not really true. In fact, the odds were solidly in the book’s favor. For any of you who’ve been living under a rock or who in fact are zombies yourselves, let me present the basic concept: it’s the plot of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with scenes inserted in which the characters try to fight off zombies. There. It’s simple, isn’t it? Simple, and flat-out brilliant. The brainchild behind the project, Seth Grahame-Smith, is lurching & staggering all the way to the bank. His fingers are falling off as he counts his money.
Why? Because monsters are hot right now. Zombies are all over the place, that’s for sure. Max Brooks’ World War Z has been a big seller for us, especially since Arthur had it as a staff pick last month. There’s the Zombie Survival Guide, the Zen of Zombie, Zombie Blondes, and Never Slow Dance With a Zombie. For my money, the best of the lot can be found in Kelly Link’s book Magic for Beginners, in which her story, The Hortlak describes a convenience store at the edge of the world in which zombies shop for things that don’t exist. But then I’m something of a Kelly Link nut.
It’s not just zombies that have overrun the book world. We’ve got yetis, Bigfoot, Werewolves—you name it. And we can’t forget the hottest of all hot monsters, the vampire.
Not since Harry Potter came on the scene has there been such a breakout book for young readers as Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight. That title and Meyer’s subsequent books -New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn- have been huge bestsellers, spawning a hit movie with sequels to come.
The monster-driven riches that authors like Meyer and Grahame-Smith are rolling in have gotten Arthur and me thinking about what the next hot (or hott) monster will be. We want in on this. We had a conversation with one of our Schokenly intelligent customers recently. She agreed with us that werewolves are up and coming, but thought there was probably room for the faerie folk to make a comeback. Arthur and I think that she’s the one to write it, so watch out for that somewhere down the line.
As for Arthur and me, we have slightly diverging opinions (as always) on what will be the next big sexy scary. So we’re doing an installment of Versus today. It’s a scare-off!
You first, Arthur:
Before I roll out my mythical pick for you I thought I might touch on what I feel are some points that make for a great mythical archetype.
1) Must Appear Human: vampires, werewolves, and even zombies to a degree can appear human at times. It would be difficult for a storyteller to weave a compelling tell about a monster who was always monstrous. Humanity is one of the few things that all of an author’s reader will have in common. Humanity also makes for an interesting plot point. The monsters desire to return to mere humanity. It is what drove the television series Angel.
2) Love: You are much more likely to be interested in something if there is a potential for a love story to be told. I would argue that Twilight is a love story, which just happens to include vampires. We are suckers (no pun intended vamps) for a good love story.
3) Mythos: any good mythical monster comes with a mythos, some larger than others. The larger the mythos the harder the job for the writer. Do you lock yourself into the existing mythos or forge ahead a slightly altered mythos at the risk of offending others?
I have decided on a “monster” that can appear human from time to time. This allows him/her to build relationships with humans and even love them. I chose a monster with a limited mythos so a new fresh one could be rolled out without traumatizing too many followers.
Insert drum roll here
My selection is the Djinn, or genie as we call them from time to time. The Djinn for all intents and purposes is a human who has been granted the rights to make wishes happen.
Several questions come about when thinking of this:
1) Why the lamp? First thing I would do would be to ditch the lamp. I would spin this into a different story. Lets say the Djinn’s spirit is contained with a vessel of some sort, not necessarily a lamp. The Djinn would need to be in constant vigilance over the whereabouts of their spirit vessel.
2) What about the wishes? I think a lot can be done here. Imagine a Djinn who has existed for eons. He has done both good and bad things. He is traumatized by the bad and desires only to do the good. He is at his deepest a good person who wishes to improve people’s lives. (See what I did there? He’s a genie that wishes something for himself. The depth of humanity there.)
3) Where’s the love? Through chance or luck our djinn's spirit vessel ends up in the possession of the most thoughtful woman he has ever met. He desires to stay with her forever but he knows there is a limit to what he can do. He is bound by magic older than himself. What if she desires to stay with him too but understands the condition he is in? They could try to unravel the mysteries surrounding what it means to be a Djinn together.
4) Finally, Where’s the plot? The plot is in the discovery. How did djinns come to be? Who are these people who are now djinns? How did their spirits become tied to these vessels? How or can they ever be free again?
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s it for me. I think the idea is fascinating but maybe I’m in the minority here. Either way I can’t wait to see what Bill’s got cooking:
Arthur, that’s a very well thought-out take on the monster novel. I’m totally with you on the Djinn. I wish I could promise the same degree of insight with my pick. I do have a monster in mind, though I have no delusions that my choice is likely to catch on. Out of respect for your thoughtful choice, I’m going to try to get down a few notions of my own regarding what we can call the MLS (Monster Love Story):
1) I’ll take your notion of the monster/human one step further. I agree that a humanoid or even part-time human monster makes for a good story (and especially good film rights- let’s not forget the riches we’re after). But what I think makes a monster appealing is his/her/its reflection of some aspect of the human condition: the vampire is a lonely creature who hides from the light; the werewolf periodically loses control of his animal nature; the yeti… smells bad. It’s what we see in monsters and recognize in ourselves (or wish we did) that makes them alive and enticing to us.
2) Monster love is, ultimately, impossible love. You referred to the TV series Angel earlier (and I will bring you those DVD’s back, honest). I’ll also invoke Twilight here. Both stories feature love that cannot and must not be consummated. The most successful monster/human love stories bring the reader into contact with something dangerous without asking that he (or, more likely, she) commit to something dangerous.
3) The monster must be mortal. This is crucial. And not only mortal, but flawed in some way that makes him more vulnerable than even a human. The vampire is killed by a wooden stake; the werewolf is killed by a silver bullet; the yeti… I don’t know, the yeti dies from breathing his own stench. This of course introduces a measure of fragility to our monster, but more importantly it brings the threat of death. Let’s not forget that these MLS’s are ultimately about temptation and transgression. Nothing like almost certain death to give characters the permission to go walking on the wild side.
So, without further ado, here’s my pick for next year’s hot monster:
It’s The Blob.
You heard me, The Blob. The Blob is the next great heartthrob. Or heartblob, as it were. Just bear with me. I can back it up using my own three rules:
1. The Blob embodies (sort of –he’s got no body) many aspects of the human condition, especially the adolescent condition: he’s an outsider, picked on because of his size; he’s an out-of-towner (well, an out-of-spacer) who doesn’t know anybody in his new school; he’s afflicted by that social disease that so many adolescents suffer from: mindless, endless consumption.
2. Is there any love more impossible than human/blob love? Beyond the inter-species difficulty, it’s clear that The Blob, in the rush of emotion and/or hunger of new romance, would absolutely smother a girlfriend.
3. Despite poor Blob’s massive size and unquenchable appetite, he’s just so fragile. He’s in terrible health—one hard winter will absolutely kill him.
So there you have it, Gothic Shoppers. Arthur and I have each set forth our picks for the hot monster to come. Feel free to leave a comment endorsing one or the other of the two plans (I’ll go ahead and concede victory to Arthur right now), or let us know what sexy beast you see slouching across the horizon.