NO ONE will ever produce a film called David Cameron: Vampire Hunter. Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, got a Hollywood blockbuster this week that reinvents his life as a fight to the undeath. Lincoln’s cod-historical battle with soulless, slave-owning bloodsuckers adapts a mash-up biography/monster novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, whose back catalogue of left-field bestsellers includes the wildly successful Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which sold 794,000 copies in 2009 alone.
Purists may be shuddering at the idea, but this new sub-genre is more than just the cynical working out of provocative titles. At its best, all the gore-stained axe-swinging provides a blood-soaked commentary on some of the psychological battles buried in the subtext of classic works and behind the scenes of great lives. Android Karenina or Wuthering Bites will never replace their originals, but that’s not to say they are meritless reads. I can’t speak for the new film, but Grahame-Smith’s book is, in its perverse, postmodern way, a sincere tribute to one of America’s greatest presidents.
The unlikely success of blending classic books with pulp demons also shows us something important about where good ideas come from. While it sounds initially as unappealing as snail porridge, Heston Blumenthal’s recipe for exactly that went on to become an icon of molecular gastronomy, just as this weird blend has created a whole new literary formula. Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, stresses the role of unlikely pairings in driving innovation, calling it “ideas having sex”. Would-be innovators need systems that keep the indiscriminate mixing of ideas going strong – something not always easy for big firms. Even harder, these mongrel books with best-of-breed sales figures would have been impossible without a refusal to be reverent and a willingness to tolerate uncertainty. Before a crazy new crossbreed of an idea can prove itself in action, someone has to stand up and back it. Quirk Books, which commissioned the book, has been justly rewarded, but it takes real courage to break the mould in this way.
What’s hard for business is apparently almost impossible for today’s politicians. That we can say with certainty that neither Cameron nor any of the current heads of the Eurozone nations will ever feature as the hero of a mash-up shows the predicament that we are in. After all, we have monstrous debts to slay and the threat of zombie banks all around – it’s just the slayer we’re missing. George Osborne: Deficit Nibbler won’t cut it. Extraordinary times call for the kind of visionary leadership that earns postmodern tributes a century and a half later. But instead, hard decisions are postponed and no one steps forward to bring the growing crisis under control. It’s time for a new chapter, but where is the party or the politician with the irreverence and courage to turn the page?