Tuesday, August 31, 2010
In Which Trai Reviews 'Emma and the Vampires'
The Book: Emma and the Vampires: A Jane Austen Undead Novel
The Authors: Jane Austen and Wayne Josephson
How I Found It: I was asked to review it for Austenblog.
The Review: I have to say that out of all the mashups I've read, this is the only one that has left me wondering why the mashup part was even necessary. Josephson allegedly wrote this at the request of his teenage daughter. It seemed like not much thought was put into what the vampires could do to the story, and the result is a jumbled mess of a watered-down version of Emma with a sporadic sprinkling of vampires.
Basically, the plot hinges on the general idea for most mashups: it's the same as Emma, with vampires thrown in. In Josephson's version, all the gentlemen of Highbury are vampires. Some are vegans, whose eyes are blue; others feast on human blood, which turns their eyes red. Those in need of sustenance are black-eyed. We get hints that Mr. Weston is a vegan, Frank Churchill feasts on humans, and that Mr. Knightley enjoys a tasty aristocrat every once in a while, but explanation of why each vampire chose that particular path would have been much appreciated.
This was my main problem with the work: Josephson did not appear to care enough to establish a mythology. For convenience's sake, every male is the same age they are in the original Emma, and in this world, vampires can bear children, who inherit the gene from their father. This greatly confused me. Some of the many questions that entered my mind:
Did the adult vampires (Mr. Weston, Mr. Knightley, etc.) inherit this gene or were they turned at that particular age? Who would have turned them, since here we are given the impression that vampires turn their brides upon marrying? The only grown hereditary vampire that we see is Frank Churchill, who is described as perpetually twenty-three. I understand that this was in keeping with his age in the original, but it just led to more questions. Do hereditary vampires simply grow up and stop aging at a particular point? Why, then, are some vampires older than others? Why does Mr. George Knightley have the ability to read minds and Mr. John Knightley have the ability to predict the future, whereas Mr. Weston and Frank, for example, are not possessed of any particular abilities? Mrs. Weston and Mrs. Elton are told that their husbands are vampires, but Emma and the rest of the town, while entirely aware of their male neighbors' strange habits, are completely in the dark about this. Is it some ironclad rule that no one except vampire wives can know the "secret"? If it is a rule, then why did it come into existence?
See what I mean? Josephson added the vampires, but he did not offer one iota of mythology behind his take on it, which was extremely irritating. If you're going to add the monsters, you're going to have to give me some kind of explanation about what they can do, how they came to be, and what they can bring to this particular story.
And in this case, the vampires did not bring anything at all. Every time there was a remark about a beating heart, a vampire would silently reflect on his own heart not beating. From my recollection, there were maybe four or five party scenes. Each party scene ended with the participants emerging into the night and--oh, no, a vampire attack! And oh, look, they're attacking Harriet! Keep in mind, this is done at least three times. Why is Harriet so special? The only explanation we are given is that she is "plump." No freesia-scented extra-special-Twilight blood here. The vampires just like Harriet because she's chubby. In fact, there was no vampire threat to any of the other main characters but Harriet, and combined with the easy defeat of the rogue vampires in all the battle scenes, this makes for one boring vampire book.
Josephson felt the need to water down Austen's prose, cutting where he pleased and simplifying the phrases he felt modern young adult readers wouldn't understand (this is very much meant to be a YA novel). I was rather appalled by the inclusion of the phrases "thunderous thighs" and "Mamma's boy". Really? "Thunderous thighs?" In Clueless, maybe, but not in something that purports to be the actual Emma. Some of the abridgments made sense but then would lead to confusion to a reader not familiar with the original--Mrs. Elton's tireless raving about Maple Grove is cut, but she mentions it twice later on, and nothing is done to explain about where that is or what it means to Mrs. Elton. There isn't much of a context that a reader could place it in, either, given that the context was removed and not restored in this abridgement.
The thing was, I never truly felt that the vampires were necessary to the story. Emma itself was so watered down that it started feeling unnecessary towards the end. By the time we got to Box Hill, I was wondering why he'd even bothered putting the vampires in--they don't effect the pivotal events of the story; Josephson only seemed to throw them in after the characters left a party. He was basically just retelling Emma and adding action for no particular reason. I feel the book should have gone one way or the other--either Josephson should have produced an abridged version of Emma, sans vampires, or he should have written his own Regency-era vampire novel, where he would have had plenty of space to expound upon the mythology of his vampires that was not even hinted at here. But of course, that leaves one without the safety net of a built-in network of readers.
Overall, this is one of the more poorly done mashups I've read, and I feel as though Mr. Josephson would have better served Emma by doing a strict abridgment--he managed to keep the spirit of Emma throughout, and if only there hadn't been vampires, it would have been a perfectly serviceable abridgment about on par with the level of cuts you'd see in a typical movie version. From the ending and the cover touting this as a "Jane Austen Undead" novel, I can only assume more in this series are coming down the pike. If someone in your family is into vampire fiction but not Austen and you would like to introduce her to Jane, I would give this one a weak recommendation, with the caveat emptor that if she can understand this version, she might as well give the original Emma a shot.