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What is All This About Lincoln and Vampires!?

This is a review I wrote last September of 2011.  The movie based on Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is coming out this month on June 22, 2012.  I doubt whether I’ll see the movie in a theater because it is much to violent for me.  I’ll catch it on AMC sometime in the future.  I may not watch the whole thing.

Seth Grahame-Smith.  Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. Grand Central Publishing; 1st edition, March 2, 2010.  Illustrations.  Young Adult.  336pp.  ISBN-13: 978-0446563086.

Reviewed by Karen S. Campbell, Southwest Ohio Research

The Vampire Splitter

Within the first few pages of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter the reader learns from the author that President Lincoln faithfully kept a private journal from his youth on.  The journal had remained hidden from the public until recently when a mysterious stranger, Henry Sturges, gave the author the Lincoln journal to read. Within this collection of ten journal books, to the author’s astonishment, is described the secret life of Abraham Lincoln.  The journal illuminates the reasons for Lincoln’s pronounced and deeply gothic melancholy.   From the age of nine, Lincoln was a hater and hunter of vampires.  At a tender age he learned that his beloved mother did not die from a commonplace illness, “milk sickness”, but from a supernatural concoction, from drops of vampire blood dripped into her mouth; just enough to kill her, not turn her into a vampire.  This tragedy happened because Abraham’s indolent father, Thomas, had a business association with an unscrupulous vampire who killed Nancy because of Thomas’ endless sloth and debt.  The author is encouraged by Henry Sturges, whom we eventually find out is a vampire, to write the true biography of Abraham Lincoln based on the new and startling information found in the Lincoln journal.  The author, Seth Grahame-Smith, takes Sturges’ advice and writes a presidential-style biography including illustrations. The “biography” reveals the machinations of malevolent vampires, and a few benevolent ones, that profoundly influence the development of the early American Republic and events leading up to the Civil War.

Lincolnin his youth becomes a mighty vampire hunter under the tutelage of Henry Sturges, who is a leader of a vampire political party which calls itself “The Union”, dedicated to co-existing with human beings and not to enslaving them.  The truly horrific enemy consists of the majority of vampires who want to make the American continent their own “land of the free” by eventually enslaving not only African-American slaves but all other races too, which they plan to breed and control as a perpetual supply for their blood-lust.  An unholy alliance has been struck between wealthy plantation slave owners and vampires who are supportive of the southern desire to maintain their slave economy and extend it into the western territories.  This is a truly foolish alliance since the vampires, who believe in their natural superiority above the human race, plan to enslave white people also.  They want to become the masters of humanity.

At first Lincoln seeks personal revenge upon vampires, but as he matures he comes to see the larger political issues.  His long coat covers his primary weapon against vampires, the iconic Lincoln axe.  Henry sends Abraham letters detailing the whereabouts of vampires and Lincoln clandestinely hunts them down and kills them with his axe, cutting their heads from their shoulders.  The great “rail-splitter” is also the great “vampire-splitter”.

Seth Grahame-Smith’s second novel Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter is an example of a popular genre of horror/historical novels, often called “mashups”.  Grahame-Smith’s first book is also a “mashup”, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) and it was the trailblazer in this genre.  It tells the tale of the Bennett sisters’ “Pentagram of Death” that fights against a plague of “dreadfuls” (zombies) infecting 1813 England.  “Mashups” merge a traditional genre of literature such as non-fiction biography or classical historical-fiction with fantasy/horror.  It is a smashing together of realism with the absurd.  Some of the antecedents to “mashups” are parallel novels such as The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall which parallels Gone With the Wind and  Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, which parallels The Wizard of Oz.  “Mashups” take the parallel novel one step further by inserting an absurd paranormal or supernatural parallel reality into a famous novel or biography attempting to creating a seamless unity of the two.  A “kissing cousin” genre to this literary phenomenon are meta-fictional books such as Jasper Fforde’s  Thursday Next mystery series about the living reality of famous novels that can be modified by the intrusion of a criminal who  can enter the book and meddle with the plot changing a great piece of literature forever.   All three of these literary styles manipulate our standard understanding of literary genres.  This is done to force the reader to think from a different point of view.  For example, The Wind Done Gone encourages the reader to view the famous  story of the O’Hara’s at Tara from the African-American slave point-of-view.  Jasper Fforde’s books encourage us to not only experience how we can  “get lost in a good book” but how a great book can enter us as a living entity and change us.  So, now we can ask, how is our point of view challenged by the “mashup” novel, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter?

During a presentation at the Atlanta Historic Center sponsored by Public Television of Atlanta on March 17th, 2010, Grahame-Smith was asked about his motivation to write ALVH.   Just before the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth he had walked into a bookstore and on one side were tables of new Abraham Lincoln biographies and on the other side tables full of vampire novels especially the Twilight Saga books by Stephenie Meyer. He was struck with the idea to combine both types of best-selling books.  However, Grahame-Smith assures his readers that his vampires “do not sparkle”.  They are not symbolic of minorities striving to be accepted into mainline society nor are his vampires remotely romantic figures.  Grahame-Smith’s vampires are of the of the Bram Stoker type; violent, vile, vicious, and arrogant endowed with supernatural strength and will.

Grahame-Smith describes his book as “preposterous” and “absurd” and is a little surprised at the popularity of his “mashups”.  Both ALVH and PAPAZ have been on the New York Bestsellers List.  His explanation is that during difficult economic times horror literature and movies become popular because of the “comfort of the bogyman”.  Fictional monsters are much easier to cope with than the real “monsters” challenging humanity.  The real monster of the antebellum and Civil War eras was slavery, not sustained by vampires, but by the evil that dwells in the human heart.

Indeed, we are today living in difficult times and many of our “monsters” appear to be beyond our ability to slay.   For example, extremist politics and endless terrorism are two baffling conundrums. Our modern heroes have become “supersized” as our problems have become more mystifying to us.  This explains the rise of movies based on comic book heroes.  Even Abraham Lincoln has been “supersized” as a comic book character in “Jesus Hates Zombies/Lincoln Hates Werewolves Volume 1” and the President joins with Spiderman and Captain America in a comic book story entitled “Gettysburg Distress”.  Abraham Lincoln is also a distinguished member of “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”.

The message seems to be that the problems of humanity are all beyond our control.  Vampires, or other paranormal creatures,  are in control and our human heroes must transcend beyond the merely normal and be superhuman to rescue us from supernatural exploitation. Superman must come to save the day.  The real Abraham Lincoln is not hero enough!  However, on his acknowledgments page, Seth Grahame-Smith expresses his regard for the realLincoln:

. . . And finally, to Abe ~~ for living a life that hardly needed vampires to make it incredible ~~ and to Henry Sturges ~~ wherever you are. . .

Abraham Lincoln doesn’t need to be a “Lincolnator”, nor the  American democracy for a bungling  and victimized humanity corralled by evil vampires. After examining our feelings of impotence with modern “monsters” vicariously through the pages of ABVH, we should turn to real-life heroes who give us practical and healthy advice:

Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”  ~  John F. Kennedy

Lets have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Let us grapple with our very human generated problems with our own hands and make our lives “incredible” like the real Lincoln’s. That is what the “heroic” truly is.

I do recommend the book.  I have absolutely no interests in the popular vampire phenomenon  but I still found the book an interesting read.  Seth Grahame-Smith is a good writer and he did his homework about the real Lincolnand portrays him with respect and  heroically.  “Mashups” with horror are not my cup of tea although I do like science-fiction and some fantasy.  I prefer, for example, the “Lincoln Out of Time” trilogy by Tony Wolk, which is a time-travelling fantasy which examines what happens to Lincoln, and those he encounters, when he suddenly out-of-the-blue is transported to 1955  Evanston, Illinois.  I don’t have to suspend my disbelief as much with Wolk as I need to do with Grahame-Smith.

When his first book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was published, it was feared that the legions of Jane Austen fans would be terribly upset with the book.  However, the “Janies” have in general embraced PAPAZ.   They see it as a way to introduce people to the world of Jane Austen especially those who would have never dreamed of picking up Pride and Prejudice to read.  The same can be said for Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.  It can help to introduce young people toLincoln.

Both of Grahame-Smith’s books are now in production as movies, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter will be released on June 22nd, 2012 and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies sometime in 2013. ALVH is being produced by Tim Burton.


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