Being that I am a lover of history, horror, vampires, and Lincoln,
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
should have been a “gimme” on my list of revered reads.
Sadly, this is not one of my favorite books. I’ve read it once before and found it slow to the point. Last month, after a lively discussion with a group of bookly folks (most, of the fantasy/horror persuasion) and a collective gasp at the fact that I’d yet to see the movie, I decided to give Vampire Hunter another chance. [Side note: I am not above admitting I am, and have always been, a huge vampire
freak admirer, and sparkly dumb-love versions have not changed that.]
Although there is a brief nod to the mania and depression Lincoln was known for, Grahame-Smith’s Lincoln is a humorless, flat-lined grump compared to the witty and wise, larger-than-life Lincoln of “historical reality”. All that is admired of Lincoln’s philosophies, diligence, beliefs, ambitions, intelligence, and humanity, takes a back seat to the immediacy of his cranky self-training and his eventual equally cranky “if-I-feel-like-it” hunt of vampires. The true-life discussions of slavery, and Lincoln’s reasons for desiring its end, are mixed muddily into the pool of fantasy.
Perhaps because I’d previously followed the trajectory of the story, I didn’t offer patience for the scattered
plot plots. The first portion of the tale is deep and textured, but the real meat of the book, the adventures of a vampire hunter, is lacking and disjointed. The idea was good and had such potential, but the author kept grasping for solid creation with, “and I want to add this, and that part of history, and that other part, and this character, and this historical figure, and and and andandand.” There are too many story-lines that veer off and never reconnect; the inconsistencies are numerous. A modern day writer (a la Anne Rice’s Interview With A Vampire) who doesn’t return, an ancient immortal character whose richness is undeveloped, random crashes into historical figures much like 19th century bumper cars, a horrific scene with nod to Robin Cook’s Coma that goes nowhere, the unexplained change from review of Lincoln’s fictional journals to periodic first-person Lincoln narratives.
Though a singular take on revised history has been presented by Grahame-Smith, I felt uncomfortable letting myself enjoy it because the honesty of Lincoln’s role in such a powerful part of America’s history is grossly set secondary. Grahame-Smith’s inability to successfully nail down his Lincoln’s motives is frustrating. Two of easily 100 forked examples:
1. “[Lincoln's] anger of the slavery issue (and by extension, the vampire issue) had nudged him back into the political arena.” pg. 215 – slavery is the contention
2. “…we have spoken a great deal about the true nature of this war, about our true enemy.” pg. 295 – vampires are the contention
I remain uneasy about Lincoln’s fictionally redirected passions. I would have liked to see Lincoln as a vampire hunter in addition to all that he was and stood for, rather than a deconstruction of the genuine-hero to make his actions central to the fictional-hero’s hunting. My fascination of history and Lincoln seems to have trumped my fascination of horror and vampires, and I’m comfortable with that.
There is one part I did, however, enjoy thoroughly. Abraham has befriended a man he briefly mistook for a vampire. The two pass time and tales together in New Orleans bar.
Abraham Lincoln and Edgar Allan Poe were born within weeks of each other. Both lost their mothers as children. Otherwise, their upbringings couldn’t have been more different. [...] But [Ed] and Abe were equally miserable creatures. [...]
“How do they learn to feed?” asked Abe as the barkeep swept the empty tavern around them. “How do they know to keep away from the su⎯”
“How does a calf know to stand? A honeybee to… to build a hive?”
Poe took another drink.
“It is their nature, beautiful and simple. That you would destroy such beings, Mr. Lincoln, such superior creatures, seems madness to me.”
“That you speak of them with such reverence, Mr. Poe, seems madness to me.”
“Can you imagine it? Can you imagine seeing the universe through such eyes? Laughing in the face of time and death — the world your Garden of Eden? Your library? Your harem?” [...]
“You speak of eternal life. You speak of indulging the mind and body,” said Abe. “But what of the soul?”
“And what use is a soul to a creature that shall never die?”
Abe couldn’t help but smile. Here was a strange little man with a strange way of seeing things. [...] He drank to excess and spoke in an irritating, high-pitched voice. It was hard not to like him.
“I begin to suspect,” said Abe, “that you would like to be one of them.”
Poe laughed at the suggestion. “Is not our existence long and miserable enough?” he asked, laughing. “Who in God’s name would seek to prolong it?”
Two of my all-time favorite historical figures, sitting down for a drink, encapsulating my dichotomous view of vampyr in those two sentences. The photos here are of large tattoos on my lower right leg, Poe on the outside calf, Lincoln in the inside. (Both finished in 2009.) Forget that 50 Shades of Gray stuff; this was literary porn for me. Oh,were it all real, and I
a fly on the wall a waiting painted lady in that saloon. (Enough vulgarity – moving on!)
Among my varied editing projects, two have been a twist on something familiar in shared human history, and one of those is a brilliant “mash-up” that could be shelved with AL:VH. (I will say now, the author with whom I worked has a tale far more unique and thrilling.) This trend is exciting and limitless, and something I hope to see much more of. But I’m going to have to stick to my original impression of AL:VH.
As for the movie, I’m told it is better than the book. I’ll wait… until it’s on cable… non-pay-per-view cable… maybe.