“I felt like destroying something beautiful,” says Edward Norton’s character in “Fight Club” right before meat-tenderizing Jared Leto. I hadn’t yet heard that line when I was a bratty little kid, but they nevertheless explain my actions in a temper tantrum. The things dearest to me – possessions not easily replaceable – were the target of destruction and as a result, I appreciated them even more in their broken state.

So it is with popular culture. It is only when we break our good stuff that we really come to value it.

Although already beloved, it took the prequel trilogy to show how badly things can go in the “Star Wars” universe. A resurrected “Futurama” series with an all-new voice cast makes me want my original Bender back. Talks of a Joss Whedon-less “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” movie inspires a rare longing for Sarah Michelle Gellar (even if Freddie Frinze Jr. comes as part of the deal). Speaking of vampires, the “Twilight” species of bloodsuckers who sparkle in the sun breeds gratitude for the vamps of “True Blood” susceptible to silver, stakes and sunlight. And most song covers and movie remakes of classics deserve their own “the original was better” section at Best Buy.

This “destruction leads to appreciation” system is ultimately the appeal of the new classic literature-meets-monster mashup genre.

Initially focused on the works of Jane Austen and spearheaded by pop publisher Quirk Books, the trend pits the English class reading list against hordes of the undead.

The first was “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Seth Grahame-Smith (and Austen), followed up by the upcoming “Mr. Darcy, Vampyre,” by Amanda Grange and Ben H. Winters’ “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.” Abraham Lincoln will even get the mashup treatment with “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” also by Grahame-Smith.

With lines that play off the original “Pride and Prejudice” text (“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains”), the result of the new genre is a targeted, intentional and wicked cool desecration of great works of lit. But make no mistake, it’s desecration executed with skill, however. In a gruesome, bloody good way, there is a sense (minus the sensibility) of the original tome’s plot and writing style.

These classic works have needed this treatment for a long time. Far too long have their book covers with tasteful Georgian-era portraits or Ambien-inspired landscapes stared at readers from library stacks with a droll expression and intimidating gaze. And honestly, authors like Austen have been around so long it’s easy to become used to her and not actually read her.

To be sure, the classics have their stalwart fans. But the members of the Jane Austen Society, for example, are already among the faithful.

Meanwhile, the destruction of beautiful literature encourages a re-evaluation of the original.

Keeping with the zombie theme, a parallel can be drawn to the classic George Romero flick, “Dawn of the Dead.” In it, a crew of survivors set up in a shopping mall with enough supplies and creature comforts to live for years. Extended scenes of mundane life in the mall play out where the survivors begin to take it for granted. But just before the audience hits “eject” and gives up on the movie, Romero busts it all open with roving motorcycle gangs and hungry zombies to encroach on the serenity.

Like those movie survivors, something had to shake readers up to value classic authors like Jane Austen. Who knew all it required was a little brain-eating thrown into the mix?

Now if only the trend continues with other authors I need to get around to reading. There are already ghosts in “A Christmas Carol,” but some mummies might be a welcome addition, or how about some “War and Peace and Werewolves?” Whatever it may be, as long as pop culture continues to break it, I’ll buy it and re-appreciate the original.


Entertainment columnist Aaron Sagers writes weekly about all things pop-culture. He can be reached at [email protected]


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