April 29, 2012


Alice in Zombieland

By Lewis Carroll and Nickolas Cook

Sourcebooks: 2011


1.5 / 5 zedheads

Sometimes I curse Seth Grahame-Smith and his Pride and Prejudice and Zombies mash-up. If not for its runaway success in 2009, I wouldn't have to review dreck like Alice in Zombieland by Nickolas Cook and Lewis Carroll.

But, to be truly fair, Lewis Carroll is off the hook for this stinking mess. After all, he's been dead for 114 years.

Before his death, however, Carroll gave us Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), a masterwork of nonsensical humor and children's literature that has endured and inspired for generations. In 2009, Cook comes along in the wake of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to follow Grahame-Smith's lead: take the full text of a classic book, change some of the details and add some new dialogue to introduce a zombie element, and then attach your name as an author for profit. While that might have worked for Grahame-Smith's rewriting of Pride and Prejudice, Nickolas Cook is on the hook for all the blame in Alice in Zombieland. He's mucked up a classic work of literature and turned it into a stale novelty with pointless and poorly integrated zombie revisions. Modern ideas concerning "the zombie" and passages written in modern English are threaded willy-nilly throughout a book for which Cook demonstrates no apparently stylistic, cultural, or thematic comprehension.

"Change places!" And change your book while you're at it
One does not simply walk into the world of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and start making changes, let alone adding outrageous, contemporary horror elements to an already outlandishly nonsensical fantasy world. Beyond the obvious, is anything of literary merit or enduring entertainment value accomplished by changing the White Rabbit into a Black Rat and throwing Alice down a rat hole into a world of corpse-characters and a Red Queen who controls the undead with collars and a metal box?

The basic problem with Alice in Zombieland is that Cook chose to screw around with the original text of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Carroll's original text is written in a very unique voice and style. Furthermore, the book a tightly constructed and cohesive example of literary nonsense: literature that employs sensical and nonsensical elements to subvert logical understanding and linguistic convention. By incorporating zombie elements borrowed from the contemporary legacy of Night of the Living Dead (i.e. zombies are undead reanimated bodies, are fairly mindless, and can be killed by destroying the head and brain), Cook takes a nugget of fantasy logic rooted in modern North American culture and shoehorns it into the nonsensical world of Wonderland, which was created by Carroll's very peculiar imagination as informed by the culture of England in the 1800's. The two simply do not mesh, especially when the revising author has no grasp on Carroll's style and voice. Inserting the word "zombie" into a work of literature from the 1860's is simply stylistically ignorant. Even Seth Grahame-Smith had the good sense to ditch the zed-word in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in favour of the 1813-friendly term "dreadfuls."

The changes Cook makes to Carroll's words are superficial at best. Meanwhile, Cook's original passages that are inserted into the story -- suggesting that some kind of zombie plague is infecting the inhabitants of Wonderland --- are so different in style from what Carroll would have wrote that they stand out like gangrenous thumbs. Although the Sourcebooks edition of Alice in Zombieland does offer some beautiful cover binding and some amusing illustrations by Brent Cardillo that riff on Sir John Tenniel's iconic imagery, Alice in Zombieland is a tedious and ill-advised mash-up.

Everything has a moral, or so the Duchess says, so what's the lesson we're to take from Alice in Zombieland? Perhaps it's that the zombie mash-up idea is a futile an exercise in diminishing returns. After all, that's the reason they're called lessons; they lessen from day to day.