Pet peeves: Monster Mash-ups

I’m going to put this under Pet Peeves, although this is more like.. an internal debate.

What do people think of monster mash-ups? What I mean by a monster mash-up is taking a famous piece of literature and splicing and dicing it and inserting things like vampires, werewolves or zombies to it. I think of a monster mash-up as actually using some dead author’s out-of-copyright words and putting in your own.

My first reaction to this idea was : I do not like it. It bothers me. My gut reaction is sort of like “Is nothing sacred?!” I guess I don’t have a sense of humor about it and kind of darkly eye each new ridiculous book that comes out and hops on the bandwagon. When AnimeJune posted a rant pretty much saying “WRITE YOUR OWN FUCKING BOOKS” I couldn’t agree more. Reading her rant makes me cheer.

But I’ve been thinking about it for a while because while I don’t like the idea of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I am ok with modern day retellings of Pride and Prejudice – taking the basic idea of P&P, putting it in a modern setting with your own characters loosely based on the originals. So I think to myself – ah, your feeling side doesn’t like it, but aiie, logical side is wondering if you you are kind of hypocritical.

Damn you, logical side.

In the past week there’s been a lot of brouhaha online about fanfiction. I think it started with Diana Gabaldon’s post calling it “illegal” (although I think fan fiction falls under fair use). I noticed that Diana Gabaldon was OK with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies because the copyright for the original work had expired:

“Now, it’s possible to do this without being illegal, if you feel you just can’t get noticed on your own merits (and that being noticed is worth whatever it takes): you just do it with characters that are no longer under copyright. I.e., characters whose author is dead, and has been dead for…it was 75 years, last time I looked (copyright exists for the author’s life plus 75 years). So if the author of your characters died before 1935, you’re home free!

And some writers do this to good—or at least profitable—effect. Note PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, for instance, or the many (many, many, many) imitators of Sherlock Holmes.

I think she’s right that the copyright has expired on Pride and Prejudice (and all the other Austen works) and so people can do whatever they want with it. There’s nothing illegal about literary monster mash-ups, despite what I may feel about them. And yet. I do think that it still feels wrong. Perhaps illogically so. It feels wrong seeing authors taking some dead author’s words, and then putting in their own.  I think that it’s too easy.  I wonder what the dead author would think if someone had taking their words and used them? I tell myself – well it’s not illegal, and it’s not plagiarism because they attribute the work to the original author, and it’s all for fun, so what’s the problem? Yeah. I don’t know. IT JUST BUGS ME SO MUCH! It smarts of plagiarism through legal loopholes!

And then I contemplate how much I love a good modern-day retelling of Austen, and isn’t that essentially fanfiction for sale? They may be using their own characters and settings but they are borrowing from Austen’s plot. Isn’t that plagiarism? Well, they’re taking the idea but not the actual words, but I see that there is a thin line and I may be splitting hairs in saying there is a difference.

Sigh. Anyway, I don’t like monster mash-ups. I do like modern day retellings. I do feel conflicted. Honestly – I want to have an open mind and maybe if I think about this more I will accept the existence of monster mash-ups, but the visceral, possibly hypocritical, part of me just wants the fad to die a fiery death.

What makes me even more hypocritical/confused is that I saw Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in graphic novel format, and because I feel like translating P&P into a graphic novel is different from straight taking Jane Austen’s words, I am more ok with it than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies the book. I’m not sure what to do with myself. This is like a crisis of faith.

7 thoughts on “Pet peeves: Monster Mash-ups

  1. Is it because people are running out of original ideas? Is it laziness? I don’t necessarily mind sequels, or even writing characters that appear in classic novels, who I would love to read about, but these paranormal mash-ups irks me.

  2. I read P&P&Zombies but none of the others. I don’t like the idea of taking someone else’s book and putting in your own stuff either. It doesn’t matter that it’s not illegal, but it matters to me that they are leaning so heavily on someone else’s work without being more original. Like they’re taking credit or something. It IS laziness, and lack of artistic creativity. It’s cashing in on someone else’s established success, making money without the hard work, without originality.

    And it’s a gimmick. A really obvious one that got old after the first book!

    But I sometimes like the modern “inspired by” type ones. They may be using the same characters but the story’s original.

    Yet – is this different? doing a film adaptation of Shakespeare or Austen but giving it a modern setting a la Clueless or She’s the Man? Film maybe has different rules…?

    • Nod. This is what I sort of pause on.. is it really different? I feel like it is, but then.. just ganking words vs ganking the idea.. it’s very close isn’t it? Anyway. I dislike one but not the either and am possibly hypocritical in the process.

  3. I know what you mean. It’s a weird feeling. Like looking at something inately wrong. Like a bone protruding from an injured leg. The adaptations, though, are more like wearing a new costume!

  4. Hi Janicu – I enjoyed this post about your conflicted feelings on adaptations and monster mashups. While I support any writers’ right to adapt works that are beyond copyright protection, is it always wise? P&P&Z was pretty damn brilliant when it came out – not because of the execution, but because of the concept behind it – but now the million and one copycats are ruining a good thing. Once was cool, twice was okay, but now it sucks.

    There might be something good to come out of the mashup mess. A lot of these books are being acquired by studios, so we’ll be seeing Lizzy bust some zombie ass up on the big screen, and that just might make them all worthwhile.

  5. Pingback: Book Blogger Appreciation Week « Janicu’s Book Blog

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