Guest blogger/BookNerdHusband Eric on “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” by Seth Grahame-Smith
When you plan to read a book titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, you’re usually doing it with the full realization that there will be cheese, copious amounts of cheese. Combine the title with the fact that this book only hit my admittedly limited literary radar – I read at a near glacial speed – due to the fact that the author, Seth Grahame-Smith, wrote… or rather co-wrote (sorry about that, Ms. Austen) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I enjoyed immensely. Nothing dissuaded this anticipation of cheese as I began to read the introduction. Starting in the modern day, the introduction is actually a part of the story and culminates in a punchline, that being the author of the introduction, that lends the remainder of the book a level of verisimilitude. All good so far, now bring on the tongue-in-cheek historical references with thinly veiled wedges of Vampiric gore.
Then the book turns completely epistolary. This isn’t a tale told strictly from Mr. Lincoln’s point-of-view, but rather written by an author who has come into possession of the missing journals of our erstwhile President. It is presented as an historical account of the secret life of Abraham Lincoln, a moody depressive – a piece of historical accuracy; many believe that had he lived today Lincoln would have been diagnosed with clinical depression if not as a manic depressive. His vendetta against Vampire-kind is set up pretty early on and does not come as much of a surprise. What does come as a surprise is how seriously the subject is presented. The cheese, quite simply, is not there.
Abraham Lincoln is considered by many to be one of the most researched and documented human beings on the planet. Arguably one of the greatest United States Presidents, Abraham Lincoln’s life has been dissected to such a degree that you would think there was little space left to fit Vampires. However, Mr. Grahame-Smith does have one thing going in his favour. Sadly, Mr. Lincoln’s life was highlighted by a series of tragedies. As was common of the day-and-age in which he lived, there were many deaths around him. From his grandfather and namesake’s ambush and brutal murder 23 years before Lincoln was born, through the deaths of his older sister; his mother; his first recorded romantic interest, Ann Rutledge; and two of his four sons; all becomes fodder for the secret life Lincoln would lead.
There’s also a level of cohesion between the novel and actual history when it comes to the topic of slavery. Historical documentation makes it very clear that Abraham Lincoln was in no way a single-minded champion of the abolishment of slavery for the purpose of establishing equal rights. His personal beliefs were clear on the matter, he wrote in a letter to his friend, Joshua Speed (who plays a prominent role in the novel):
As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.”
However, the Emancipation Proclamation itself was a War Measure meant to cripple the economy of states comprising the Confederacy. There are strong ties between the existence of Vampires in America and slavery, and it is Lincoln’s almost pathological hatred of Vampires that provides further support for his distaste of slavery while simultaneously relegating slavery to the background until its confrontation becomes necessary for victory.
The only real disappointment for me was the somewhat “Deus Ex Machina” nature of the Vampire Henry and his “Union”. It seemed somewhat lazy of Grahame-Smith to not provide Lincoln with more opportunities to control his destiny. There were so many moments in the novel that he could have easily shaped more of a hero out of Lincoln. Instead he depicted him as a tool of some greater, secret struggle Lincoln could never have hoped to have fought and won on his own.
Also, if you’re looking for a book with a bit of scare, this isn’t it. The scariest parts of the book fall somewhere between the vivid, sometimes gory dreams Lincoln has and the real-life recollections of the battlefield conditions of the Civil War. Overall Grahame-Smith did an admirable job of providing an imaginary historical account while retaining probability and Abraham Lincoln’s – probably wildly historically inaccurate – friendship with a certain literary contemporary is a well-played shot of brilliance. Your mileage may vary regarding the ending, you’ll either see it coming a mile away or it will catch you as a surprise. I quite enjoyed the ending, despite myself.