Saturday, July 16, 2011

The new old school: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

Seth Grahame-Smith started the whole classics-horror mash-up phenomena with "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." Once that became such a craze ("Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters" and "Android Karenina" are just two examples), Grahame-Smith ventured into slightly more original fare.

One must say "slightly" because we all know Grahame-Smith did not create Abraham Lincoln.
In "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter," Grahame-Smith weaves a tale that pits America's 16th president against a world of vampires and the vast conspiracy networked vamps always seem to bring with them. The story is told through a mix of journal entries and narrative. The narrative is derived from the journals and compiled by a failed writer named ... Seth Grahame-Smith.

According to the journals, Lincoln's life has been affected by vampires even before he was born. His grandfather was slain by a vampire, not a Shawnee war party as is the traditional tale. Later, Lincoln's own mother dies from the actions of a vengeful loan-sharking vampire who becomes young Abraham's first kill.

All facets of Lincoln's life are propelled by his desire to rid the United States of vampires. Even the Civil War is rooted in the vampire conspiracy and Lincoln's war against the bloodsuckers.

I know. it all seems ridiculous. It's historical revisionism just for the hell of it (as opposed to historical revisionism to actually change history).

It's nothing new, really. Bentley Little turned George Washington into a cannibal in "The Washingtonians." The story made for one of the creepier entries in the "Masters of Horror" series. It's noble of Grahame-Smith to make Lincoln into a greater hero than he already was, as opposed to making him a monster.

But make no bones about it. Lincoln the hunter is a brutal killer of bloodsuckers who hones his skill over the years, mastering a throwing axe. The kills are gruesome, sometimes described in Lincoln's journals and sometimes in the narrative.

It's in the journal entries that Grahame-Smith excels. In his two bestselling books, he has mastered the cadences of 19th English. That's why P&P&Z worked so well. The new material was nearly seamless with Jane Austen's perfect prose. In his follow-up, Grahame-Smith captures Lincoln's voice, from his early encounters with darkness right up until John Wilkes Boothe puts a bullet in him. We see how a Kentucky farm boy grows into the man who eventually gives the Gettysburg Address and, for all intents and purposes, saves a nation.

As with most things, the book isn't perfect. Grahame-Smith pulls the disappearance of the Roanoke colonists into his tale. While it makes sense in the long run of the story he is telling, it comes off as a cheap grab, latching onto one of the great mysteries of early settlers in the New World. Lincoln's best friend and confidante is Edgar Allan Poe, which is cool, but also seems like the author is trying to pull anyone he can into the story. Grahame-Smith's own narrative can be clunky, too. It seems he has a bit of Rich Little in him. He's at his best when he's imitating someone else.

Overall, "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter" is a fun read. Lincoln is still the hero. The book takes nothing away from the greatness of a simple man doing what he must do to make his world a better place.

My challenge to any junior high or high school students out there is to read this book and do a report on it for your history class. If you do, let me know how that goes.

Threat level: ORANGE. Mostly because you have to read it before the movie comes out next summer.

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