Mar 22, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Yes, that is the real title of a real book that came out in 2010 and, this June, will be a major Hollywood movie produced by Tim Burton. I recently watched the movie trailer, which got me thinking about the book, which I absolutely hated when I read it immediately upon its publication two years ago.
However, recently I re-read the book and, while I still do not think it a good book in any sense of the word, it was not as bad as I at first thought.
The trouble with “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is that it is so much wasted potential. It could have been a great book in the proper hands. It certainly was a brilliant idea to combine the most popular and written about president with the outrageously popular vampire genre. But let’s not jump ahead.
“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is, quite obviously, the story of Abraham Lincoln’s life from frontier childhood to White House assassination with the added twist that Lincoln secretly is a hunter and killer of the black-eyed, long-fanged monsters against whom he has a personal vendetta.
The author, Seth Grahame-Smith, is the author of the bestselling novel, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” and the originator of the mythic-monster-meets-classic-fiction-and-history book genre which has spawned countless imitators.
In “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” Grahame-Smith has not reworked a classic of literature, but a classic biography of history. It is based on Grahame-Smith’s “discovery” of 10 leather-bound books that turned out to be the journals of Abraham Lincoln. The journals reveal not only the existence of vampires, but the fact that Abraham Lincoln, the civil war president, the Great Emancipator, was, in his youth, a vampire hunter.
History records that Abraham Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died of milk sickness when Abe was only nine years-old. The truth, as the journals reveal, was that she was in fact killed by a vampire.
From that day forward, young Lincoln vows to kill every vampire in America. He trains himself to fight and reads every book he can find on the occult (the true beginning of his lifelong self-education). During his first real fight against a vampire years later, however, he nearly dies. Only the intervention of a vampire named Henry Sturges saves his life.
Henry, it turns out, becomes a friend and mentor to young Abe. He teaches Abe how to really fight and kill vampires and then, for many years afterward, writes Abe and sends him the names of vampires that he can kill. Since Abe wants to kill every vampire, he happily obliges.
Through the years, the reader watches Abe grow up, move to New Salem then Springfield, become a lawyer and politician, get married and have children. He loses his first love Ann Rutledge (to vampires, naturally), he breaks off his engagement to Mary Todd because her father is in league with vampires, and then loses his third son Willie Lincoln, again, to vampires.
It turns out, the crux of the vampire story is political – and this is where the story turns from amusingly interesting to downright ridiculous. There are “good” vampires and “bad” vampires. The bad vampires feed maliciously on slaves – because no one will miss a slave – and have formed an allegiance with the southern slave power in order to perpetuate the institution of slavery.
The southern vampires, in fact, more or less become responsible for the Civil War. Lincoln, in turn, gets hand-picked by the good vampires to run for president, which he does, not out of any real interest in politics, or democracy, or humanity, but rather to destroy slavery solely because it will hurt vampires.
Everyone knows how Lincoln’s story ends, of course, and, unsurprisingly, John Wilkes Booth turns out to be, what else, but a vampire.
This book was so disappointing because it could have been so great. The jumping off point of Nancy Hanks Lincoln’s death by vampire and young Abe’s vendetta against the creatures makes sense. But as the book progresses, the storyline falls into absurdity.
The main problem is that Grahame-Smith is just a bad, inexperienced writer. The book is full of flat characters, clichés, stilted conversations and unrealistic plot lines. The history in the story is outrageously inaccurate – which is fine, since this is clearly a work of fiction – but “Abe” as a character is just unbelievable. He dedicates his entire life to fighting vampires, which makes sense, but he evinces no innate intellectual genius, no love of learning, no passion for politics, no reverence for the country or the Constitution, and no feelings of humanity for slaves.
So as the story moves forward, Lincoln becomes a lawyer without any real knowledge or interest in the law, he runs for Senate and president without having any knowledge or interest in politics and he saves the Union for no better reason than to hurt the vampire-slave power.
I suppose the book could be a good mindless, summer beach-read; but if it had been better written, if the vampire hunter story had been better woven into the fabric of Lincoln’s real life history, this book could have been an amazing experience.
What looks even more absurdly outrageous, however, is the upcoming movie about the book. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that for as ridiculous as it looks, it also looks kind of cool. Abraham Lincoln in his black suit and top hat using an axe to decapitate vampires…that’s pretty awesome.
But the movie is probably as badly over the top as the book, for example, one scene in the preview shows a teenage Abe swinging his axe one-armed at a tree, ostensibly for practice, and the tree…explodes. Yes, it does not fall down. It explodes.
And nearly every shot in the preview is in slow motion (to make the action more dramatic I suppose), which is unsurprising since the movie’s director is the man behind the movie “Wanted” in which a 20-something nerd gets transformed into a world-class assassin in about three days – oh, and every other scene in the movie is in slow motion.
So, if you can suspend your disbelief enough to get through the silliness of the book or the movie, you may enjoy the experience of one or both. I know millions of people bought the book, and Hollywood spent tens of millions of dollars making the movie, so the blend of Honest Abe and vampire popular fiction turned out to be a brilliant idea, regardless of the actual quality of the finished product.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.