Thursday, May 28, 2009

Crossing Genre Lines

The new RWR (magazine of Romance Writers of America) contains an article on cross-genre fiction, or, as the author puts it, mixing subgenres. I was surprised, by the way, to see mystery and romance mentioned as a “mix.” Love story subplots are so common in detective novels that the further step of raising the romance to equal importance with the mystery hardly counts as genre-bending. In fact, back in the 1930s Dorothy Sayers wrote a fully developed romance-mystery crossover, GAUDY NIGHT, with the two plotlines sharing a common theme, integrity in one’s work. Anyway, “Mixed Marriages: Blending Subgenres,” by Christie Craig, is a useful article that makes several good points, such as the need for balance between the two elements of a novel so that readers don’t lose track of one subgenre thread or perceive it as unimportant compared to the other. Craig also mentions the importance of a consistent tone to ensure that the book doesn’t come across as two separate stories forcibly spliced together. She doesn’t say much if anything, however, about the question of whether there exist any pairs of genres that resist being blended because their conventions and expectations are just too different. Do you think there are any such completely incompatible pairs?

We know Regency romance can be effectively combined with vampire-slaying, because Colleen Gleason does it in her series about a Regency-era female vampire hunter. How about Regencies and zombies? If you haven’t read Seth Grahame-Smith’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, check it out. Here’s my mini-review that will appear in my June newsletter. (The page to subscribe is: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/margaretlcartersnewsfromthecrypt.)

[Grahame-Smith takes the text of Austen's classic novel and, by altering some passages and inserting a few new ones, converts Elizabeth and her sisters into mistresses of the "deadly arts," trained by a Chinese master to slay the undead victims of the "strange plague" that has overrun the British Isles. The word "zombie" is seldom used; the euphemistically termed "stricken ones" are usually called "unmentionables" or "dreadfuls." The violence besieging civilized Regency society extends to social relationships as well. Ladies seem as likely as gentlemen to challenge each other to deadly duels. One of the most amusing scenes involves Elizabeth's rejection of Darcy's first proposal while using her martial arts skills to throw him around the room. His aunt, Lady Catherine, scorns Elizabeth not only for her low family connections but out of disdain for her Chinese fighting background as opposed to Lady Catherine's allegedly superior Japanese training. On the whole, I enjoyed it. I thought the author (co-author?) did an excellent job of smoothly integrating the zombie interpolations with the original text. My only reservation is that the tone seems to wobble a bit. There are passages of genuine horror and pathos, and then there are moments when the zombie element is clearly being played for sheer silliness. And I do dislike the frequent vomiting and the repeated emphasis on bedridden Wickham's "soiling," both of which seem to me incompatible with Regency style. (And if he's that disabled, how can he function as a working clergyman? That was before handicapped-accessible architecture and technology!) Otherwise, I think the tour de force is pulled off very well. The alternate-universe Regency England infested with zombies comes across as quite believable. To appreciate the story completely, of course, the reader needs familiarity (or at least acquaintance) with the original novel.]

Interestingly, a crossover of Jane Austen and Mary Shelley has also been published—a novella called “Pride and Prometheus” in a past issue of THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, in which Victor Frankenstein visits England and becomes involved with Mary Bennett, Elizabeth’s bookish sister.

Speaking of the undead, I’ve come across the claim that even if all other classic monsters become romantic heroes, zombies will never achieve that status. They’re shambling, mindless, cannibalistic animated corpses. Could a zombie star as the hero of a romance? Piers Anthony’s Xanth series features zombies falling in love. He’s altered the template to serve his narrative purpose, though. His zombies aren’t mindless; they retain their personalities. But, then, the wonderful thing about fantasy fiction is that we can shift the creatures and traditions of myth and legend in new directions limited only by our imaginations. One more question arises from that freedom: How far can a familiar monster be transmuted before it’s no longer recognizable and resembles the original template in name only?

Margaret L. Carter (www.margaretlcarter.com)

3 comments:

  1. Hi Margaret,
    Your posts are very interesting, as usual.

    Here's a link for a free audio book about a ghoul and a librarian who fall in love. The book is titled Discovered Country by Nora Fleischer. I've listened to it all and thought it a light 'read' that I enjoyed. It's the only romance book I've ever 'read' about a flesh-eating undead.

    http://www.podiobooks.com/title/discovered-country

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  2. Interesting premise. I must say I've never read a story with a ghoul as a romantic hero, either!

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  3. Thanks for the mention-- I hope you enjoy the audiobook!

    Nora Fleischer

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