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Zombies, Jane Austen and other things that never die

It is true that zombies are not everyone's cup of tea; it is equally true that not everyone cares for Jane Austen. But it is a rare soul who cares neither for zombies nor Jane Austen.

This is the genius of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," a surprise best-seller that has hovered near the top of Amazon's sales list.

Author Seth Grahame-Smith has struck gold by placing the menace of zombies in Austen's idyllic English countryside, where matters of courtship were previously the most pressing concerns. Supposedly, the book retains 85 percent of Jane Austen's original text; the remaining 15 percent is a zombie story woven throughout. The literary mash-up turns Elizabeth Bennet from feisty heroine to feisty heroine and adept zombie slayer:

"He lumbered toward Elizabeth at an impressive pace, and when he was but an arm's length from her, she plunged the dagger into his chest and pulled it skyward."

It's hard to explain the appeal of zombies to anyone who doesn't already share it; similarly, non-Austenites will never understand the hold that cravats and antiquated social mores have had on so many readers. Or, as Austen herself wrote: "One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other."

On the surface of it, fusing Elizabeth, the arrogant Mr. Darcy and their horribly well-mannered ilk with drooling, limb-shedding zombies seems as stark a contrast as you could ask for. But Jane Austen books and zombies share at least one thing in common: an improbably long stay in pop culture and a mysteriously strong connection to their respective fans.

In the works are two movies — one is "Pride and Predator," essentially a similar reworking of the book but with aliens; the other is "Jane Bites Back," in which the author herself is a vampire.

"Vampires are sexy; Frankenstein has pathos," says Wesleyan University's Haitian studies expert, Liza McAlister, who teaches a course on zombie lore. "The zombie is not attractive." Usually, there's not even a back story to give us a better understanding of the zombie. Most monsters are the center of attention. But the zombie is only one of many, just another expressionless creature in a crowd of walking (sometimes running) dead.

The vampire grows out of the gothic, aristocratic tradition, McAlister says. The zombie is the working class monster, which makes crashing into the upper-crust environs of a Jane Austen novel all the more jarring.

But if you ever wondered how the 16th president would handle himself against the undead, you'll soon find out; Grahame-Smith's next book is "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer."