Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book Review: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim by Mark Twain and W. Bill Czolgosz

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim by Mark Twain and W. Bill Czolgosz

In the wake of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (hereafter PPZ), the market has been flooded with lots of classic literature either rewritten or "enhanced" by adding horror tropes like vampires, werewolves, or zombies. W. Bill Czolgosz (previous works: Anna Karnivora) has taken on Mark Twain's classic tale of adventure and friendship, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and added in a zombie apocalypse.

The book follows the PPZ format of inserting new text into the classic, though some passages are cut out since the story diverges several times. The added text appears mostly seamless, matching the highly accented style of Huckleberry's narrative. Clearly, the zombie references are added but don't seem anachronistic (except when Huckleberry uses "pan'emic" to describe the outbreak).

In this zombie outbreak, some zombies are "high-functioning," able to talk and do many of the tasks they used to do when alive. Others are vicious carnivores. The dead are put in a bag awaiting their return as a zombie. If they struggle violently to get out, they're assumed to be the later type and are killed (again) on the spot. The others are sold into slavery. Some people come back before they can be "bagged" so there are roaming zombies of both types. Another result of the zombie outbreak is the African American slaves are set free. Docile zombies become the slaves for this society. Czolgosz switchs all the "nigger" references to "bagger," since the docile zombies are called "half-baggers" and the vicious killers are "baggers." It's a nice solution for sensitive modern readers, though it does come at the cost of some zombie gore, which may be unpleasant for sensitive modern readers.

On the other hand, the zombie mythology doesn't add a lot to the story. The interesting thing about PPZ is the whole new layer of action that provides vivid contrast to the interior (both inside people's heads and inside their parlors) conflicts. In this book, slaves switch from Africans to zombies but it doesn't matter since Jim, the main slave is both African-descent and a zombie. The twists don't have enough spin; the humor doesn't have another or a different level. The work winds up as an interesting exercise rather than exciting reading. It's better to read the original, warts and all.

Sample Quote (the book needed more stuff like this to make it more interesting):
I don' know how things was when it was negros people were trading. That woulda been diff'rent, I think. You can look at a negro and know he's a man, so why shouldn't he go free? But a bagger just ain't a man no more. He is property. An' if he's not property he's soon gonna be. It's the natural order of things, seemed to me. [p. 139, not in the original Twain text]

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