Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
by Seth Grahame-Smith
Four score and seven days ago,1 Seth Grahame-Smith brought forth on this continent a new notion, conceived in literary form, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, although some then become horrible blood-sucking creatures of the night that Abraham Lincoln believed should have their heads emancipated from their bodies.
I hadn’t read Grahame-Smithe’s earlier Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but for some reason Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter intrigued me.2 He handles the material well, weaving vampiric lore and American history together, sometimes in unexpected ways, while maintaining a serious, somber tone. The book contains little horror or gore, and is told in a straight-forward manner with selections from Lincoln’s alleged secret journals inserted throughout.
I’ll admit I was kind of hoping to find something like my first paragraph in there—Lincoln alluding to vampires in one of his seminal speeches, perhaps explained away by newspaper censorship.3 But Grahame-Smith stays pretty true to the established public accounts of both our country’s history and that of our president. Perhaps this is why the book provides little in the way of action once Lincoln assumes political office; indeed, three of the most dramatic situations in the book’s latter half all turn out to be dreams. I can forgive one dream sequence — especially if it provides insight into a character’s motivations or portends future events (these don’t) — but three? That just seems like hack writing.
What hurts the book the most, in my opinion, is its introduction, which is far too long, prattles on about the author rather than his subject, and pretends that this is Grahame-Smith’s first book, which we know it isn’t. But its biggest problem is that it causes more issues later on:
If we are to believe the introduction, Grahame-Smith pieced this manuscript together solely from Lincoln’s secret journals and information culled from historical documents. Yet, at one point we get the thoughts of a vampire who does not survive the encounter. Later on, John Wilkes Booth’s thoughts and plans are on full display. Given the sources Grahame-Smith purportedly used, this should be impossible. Yes, yes, I know it’s fiction, but it’s pretending not to be. Had he simply told the tale as narrative non-fiction, he could have gotten away with such gaffes, but he had to go and name his sources and screw everything up.
Speaking of screwing things up, lets get back to John Wilkes Booth. After the imaginative way in which Grahame-Smith worked vampires into the annals of American history, I was sure he had some great surprise planned to explain how Lincoln’s assassin fit into the whole equation. Unfortunately, the surprise was that there was no surprise: Booth was a vampire. It’s as though Grahame-Smith stopped drinking his creativity juice as soon as he got to the good part. Boo, hiss.
Overall, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was an interesting contradiction: better than expected, yet disappointing at the same time, with an ending that fell flat. Kind of like the series finale of Lost.
1 That’s March 2, 2010, if you’re counting. (It’s almost as if I planned it.)
2 It may have been the title.
3 Which would also help to explain why scholars have never agreed on the exact wording of the Gettysburg address, an absolutely true fact I learned about on Wikipedia.