There are a lot of “zombie mash-ups” out there these days. For those that may be unfamiliar, “zombie mash-ups” are a trend that started years back when someone takes a classic or pre-existing archetype and inserts zombies into it. Authors and filmmakers have “mashed” a wide variety of genres and characters with zombies. Some of the genres we’ve seen zombies dropped in include Westerns, Sci-Fi, Romance, Anime, and even Porn (!); zombies have been inserted into superhero comic books and re-written stories about fairy tales, ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘War of the Worlds,’ ‘Robin Hood,’ ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ Even The Beatles have received the “zombie mash” treatment.
When an author mashes-up a story with zombies, though, it’s probably best to make sure that your “source material” hasn’t been used before, or else you’d better have a damn amazing take on the tale that would trump the predecessor mash-up. For example, one version of “Zombeo & Juliet” might be stomach-able, but if another author were to try their hand at the exact same mash-up…you get the idea.
I was intrigued to read “A Christmas Carol of the Living Dead,” Rebecca Brock’s zombified take on the great, classic tale by Charles Dickinson. I would venture a guess to say that almost everyone is at least somewhat familiar with the basic plotline of not only one of the most-loved Christmas stories ever, but one of the most-adapted: many versions of TV shows, movies, comic books, and even video games have been created from the exploits of Ebenezer Scrooge as his transformation from Bah-Humbug to echoing Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, every one.”
Brock’s take on the tale is an interesting one: Scrooge, ever the penny-pincher, had gotten wealthy from being the owner of the London quarry, apparently the only place the entire town could go to in order to get rocks to build an reinforce the city-circling wall that kept the hordes of undead zombies at bay. Evidently not concerned even with his own welfare, he had refused additional stone to the city when it couldn’t meet his high prices, and now the wall is crumbling and London is under threat of being overrun. Oh, and also, it’s Christmas time, a holiday that Scrooge definitely doesn’t understand how people can still celebrate and attempt to be merry about. The ghost-corpse of Scrooge’s former business partner, Jacob Marley, calls on the miser and warns him of his impending visit from three Ghosts of Christmas, and through these visits, we see Scrooge’s past involvement with zombies and the shape of things to possibly come. Just in case the ending of Dickens’ tale, slightly altered here, isn’t familiar to any of you, I won’t spoil anything in this review.
“A Christmas Carol of the Dead” has its ups and downs, but even more polarizing for me than the actual story was another fact: Brock’s story is, incredulously, NOT the first time this classic tale has had zombies infused into it! “I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas” was released prior to this book; I have not had the opportunity to read that story, written by Adam Roberts (and Charles Dickens, of course, even though the book’s listing on Amazon doesn’t seem to credit the original author anywhere), but the book’s description and review blurbs seem to indicate it’s a very tongue-in-cheek approach to the mash-up. Listed as 160 pages long, it appears to be larger and longer than the 46-page “Christmas Carol of the Dead;” other than the facts presented to me by Amazon and their obvious similarities, I can’t give any further in-depth analysis of how these two stories may be related, or if either creator is aware of the other’s existence.
The story is a fun read, even if Dickens’ original prose doesn’t entirely lend itself to the inclusion of the undead; as a result, some sections of the story feel a little forced. On the whole, however, it is definitely fun to see such a classic story imbued with zombies and the carnage that comes with them; the ending may feel a little too “Hollywood” for me, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the story on the whole. Obviously, it’s hard to give a high score for “original content” to a story that borrows characters, settings, and basic plot from another tale, and even more difficult to assign a score to a Dickens-zombie mash-up that appears to not be the first to give readers this combination. I give Brock credit (and points) for the very unique and well-written inclusion of ghosts “tethered” to their zombies; she portends that the souls of the revenants have not left the body, doomed instead to watch helplessly as their bodies attempt to attack and kill all living things. A wonderfully creepy addition to any zombie story that I’ve never seen done before.
While most characters seemed to behave within the confines of the original Dickensian realm, my biggest concern was with the main character himself. Quite simply, Scrooge seems to have a hard time fitting into his own story; in order to make certain elements of the plot work, Ebenezer seems to be extremely forgetful in certain instances, often conveniently unable to remember large chunks of his past until they are presented to him via flashback, but in different sections of the tale he remembers other important things from his past as clear as day. It almost feels as if this re-worked version of the story relies too heavily on Scrooge’s involvement in every facet of the story; without giving too much away to you, Scrooge is directly involved in the zombies’ genesis and is conveniently also the only person who is able to stop them. Like I mentioned above, this makes the ending feel a little too much like a big-budget movie, acting “purposefully climactic” just for the sake of the big finish.
I have to admit: I’m more familiar with modern re-tellings of this tale, like the Bill Murray movie “Scrooged,” than I am with the original Dickens tale – it’s probably been since grade-school since I’ve read the original. That having been said, I don’t have intimate details of how the original story was arranged, but a quick refresher from Wikipedia seems to confirm that Brock did a good job of keeping her version of the tale in the same kind of literary setup. Separated into five “staves,” or verses, just like the original, this tale uses enough of the “Olde English” style of language to make you feel that you’re reading a Dickens-esque tale without simply using the style just to be using the style.
Even if it’s not the first story to insert zombies into “A Christmas Carol,” Brock has created a fun little tale that gives us the undead smack dab in the middle of one of the greatest Christmas stories of all time. How can you go wrong with that? Also, aren’t you impressed that I made it through the entire column without making a single corny Tiny Tim joke like “God brainssssss us, every one?”
DARN! So close!