BOOK REVIEW! Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
By Jessica Barton on May 21, 2010
There’s an interesting trend happening in literature right now but I don’t know what to call it. Zombiefication of the classics? Discovering the werewolfian tendencies of long dead authors? Monsterfying?
How did retelling the classics with a horror theme actually come to be? Seth Grahame-Smith’s book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies jump started this trend last year by being a very clever satire based on Jane Austen’s original work. Even though most people these days (i.e. non English majors) are of the “Dude, Jane Austen is wicked boring!” school, it’s hard to deny that Grahame-Smith’s retelling is not only hilarious, but also totally engaging. It keeps readers interested, it keeps the pages turning. Regency England romance thwarted by the undead? Rotting corpses? Gory death scenes? Of COURSE it’s engaging! (And WHY didn’t I think of it first?!)
The best part of this is that now people are turning more and more timeless classics into increasingly witty horror stories and they’re doing it WELL. Aside from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a whole list of Austen titles have become monsterfied, along with other works like Little Women (and Werewolves) or the timless classic, Android Karenina, due later this year. (Both of which will obviously be reviewed by yours truly.)
This monsterfying of the classics has sparked another (awesome) trend. Why not take the real lives of historical figures and horrorize them too? A great example so far is Seth Grahame-Smith’s newest novel, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
I hate to admit this, but the book was released at the beginning of March and I could not bring myself to read anything past the title and description. The whole plot sounded ridiculous, even after PPZ. I mean — come on! Abraham Lincoln? Abolisher of slavery? Orator of the Gettysburg Address? The guy whose face is on the side of a freakin’ mountain in… one of the Dakotas? Puh-lease.
While suppressing flashes of Honest Abe dressed like Kristy Swanson in Buffy The Vampire Slayer (and starring Luke Perry as his boyfriend), I finally choked down my pride (and prejudice…) and picked up the book. That was only after careful convincing by a friend and accidentally stumbling across more than one “I thought this was going to suck but I actually enjoyed it!” themed review. I was not disappointed, thank the stars!
The story starts quickly and any reader harboring dreams of being a writer immediately empathizes with the narrator, a man who’s been caught up in life and finds himself stuck working in a little tourist town with a family he’s struggling to support. The would-be writer meets a mysterious stranger named Henry while he’s managing the general store. (“If we don’t have it, you don’t need it!”) Several mundane conversations and a year later, our narrator suddenly finds himself face to face with a vampire and a hell of a secret in the form of very old journals.
This is where the book slips from the narrator’s world into Abraham Lincoln’s, weaving the true events of the former president’s past with the artificially infused vampire slaying memories that Grahame-Smith has conjured up. He does an expert job of making this newly exposed past shockingly believable between journal entries by Abe himself and the narrator’s extra details peppered throughout to set up or explain the entry itself. The amount of research and detail the author infuses in this rewriting of history is thorough but occasionally erring on the side of artistic license. The interesting plot and strong writing style make it easy to forgive his sometimes liberal version of history though. (Um, aside from the whole Abraham Lincoln secretly massacring vampires plot, that is!)
We follow Mr. Lincoln through his early life, where his hatred for vampires begins with the death of his mother, and then through his early days in office and finally to his presidency. Grahame-Smith offers a different explanation for the president-to-be’s actual historical actions at almost every turn. He manages to tie most of Lincoln’s major life accomplishments and tragedies into his secret life as a super vampire hunting fiend. The great part is! The author does it with such tact and talent that, at times, it almost starts to make sense that the president was truly a homicidal vampire hating hunter rather than the a depressed eccentric who felt misunderstood that we’ve learned him to be.
All in all, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was a much better book than I thought it would be. The author makes the issue of slavery even more disgusting, if that’s possible, and cleverly sets the stage for the spark of the Civil War. He also redefines vampires in an interesting way.
So basically? I’m sorry, Mr. Grahame-Smith, to have judged this book by it’s… well…title. I vow to never make that mistake again. I’m looking forward to seeing what other historical figures or masterpieces are manipulated to fit a secret monster agenda next.