Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
by Seth Grahame-Smith
Abraham Lincoln Is Batman
No, we're not joking. Sure, he's also the 16th president of the United States, but Abraham Lincoln is also Batman. For real.
Check out the parallels between Abraham Lincoln and Batman/Bruce Wayne from Batman Begins (this might be a little spoilery if you haven't seen that movie):
|Bruce Wayne/Batman||Abraham Lincoln|
|Lost his parents||Lost his mom|
|Swore vengeance on what killed his parents (crime)||Swore vengeance on what killed his mom (vampires)|
|Tried to train himself, didn't do so great (ends up in a prison)||Tried to train himself, didn't do so great (ends up almost killed by a vampire)|
|Found a mentor (Henri Ducard) who turned out to be an enemy (Ra's al-Ghul)||Found a mentor (Henry) who turned out to be an enemy (a vampire)—but not really|
|Loves his gadgets, wears a special suit for fighting||Loves his gadgets, wears a special suit for fighting—his vampire-hunting coat|
And if you need more proof, look no further than this t-shirt.
This might seem silly, but we don't mean this as a joke. Abraham Lincoln in this book follows a pretty standard superhero formula of loss (his mom) and dedication to fighting (where's my ax?). And just like a superhero, Abe's fight goes on and on and on.
Abraham Lincoln's life is pretty superheroic, even without vampires. He was a poor boy who lived on the edge of the country and he fought his way up to the presidency; and then he led the country through one of the biggest, most dangerous wars.
But at the same time, Abe is kind of a regular guy, a fact that comes out especially in the journal where he writes down his feelings and thoughts. That makes him just like us. After all, do you think Superman keeps a journal to record how he's super-feeling?
Abe may be a little extreme in his feelings, of course, but he feels all the things that the rest of us feel. He falls in love, he gets sad when he loses something or someone, he gets happy when things turn out well (like when the Civil War turns out pretty good for him and he starts joking in Chapter Thirteen).
So, thanks to Abe's journaling, we can hear about his first love, which sounds a lot like something someone in love for the first time might write in a journal today: "She is the most fetching... most tender... most brilliant star in the heavens!" (6.73). Cheesy much, Abe?
Or when Abe breaks off his engagement with Mary (for vampire-related reasons), he writes out his melodramatic emotions—the type most of us have felt at one time or another: "I have destroyed her happiness and my own. I am the most miserable creature that ever lived, and I deserve whatever sorrows are in store" (7.88). Oh Abe. We've been there.
Let's put it this way: he's an ordinary guy with ordinary feelings in an extraordinary time.
Not Just a Tall Hat
When we think about Abe Lincoln today, we remember the basics; even if you don't pay attention in history class, you probably remember that he was tall (or was it just the hat?) and he freed the slaves.
Except he didn't free the slaves. When he issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 (its final form came in 1863), he only freed the slaves in the rebel states. There were a couple of slave states that stayed in the Union and they got to keep their slaves just fine (until 1865, that is), like Lincoln's home state of Kentucky.
So while we may look back fondly on Lincoln as a tall-hatted emancipator, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter reminds us of just how much we don't know about the guy. He wasn't all about equality all the time, and this book definitely doesn't shy away from that (for the most part).
Think of it like one of those VH1 Behind the Music specials: sure, we all remember Lincoln's hat and beard, but it's not like he was born with a hat, beard, and holding the Emancipation Proclamation. Before that, he was just a poor, unschooled guy, who was perfectly willing to fly off the handle (see Chapter 5) or fall way down in the dumps (see Chapter 6).
Plus, we may remember him as "Honest Abe," but as the narrator points out, that's not exactly his most notable quality. In fact, the dude would lie a bunch as long as it was for a good cause like, say, vampire killing (3.7). Remember, Shmoopers, no matter what your textbook tells you, the legend of Lincoln doesn't tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but (Introduction.78). The legend, in fact, is much more boring. The truth is juicy, and filled with fiends.
Also, thanks to his constant journaling, we get to see a more personal side of the war and the trials that Abe went through. For instance, most historians rank President Buchanan as a big fat executive failure because he didn't do anything to stop the South from seceding when he was president. Here's Abe's take on the matter:
[Buchanan] continues to rest on his rump as the country comes apart. [..] It seems clear that he has decided to kick this crisis down the road. I, on the other hand, am very much looking forward to kicking him onto Pennsylvania Avenue. (10.164)
That final line about kicking President Buchanan out onto the street makes us feel closer to Abe because he's reacting emotionally and personally to a history that we might usually see as old news. It's a nice reminder, when we look at old black and white photos of that time, keep in mind that these folks were people, too, and lived through some troubling times. Plus, he's clearly a feisty guy. We like that side of him.
Vampire Hunter vs. Family Man
Despite the new side to Abe we get to meet in this novel, at the end of the day, Abe Lincoln the character is still a fairly simple guy. All he wants to do in life is kill vampires. It's what gets him out of bed in the morning. It's his life's purpose, at least, according to Henry.
When one vampire points out to him that it's weird that he kills vampires just because another vampire orders him to (5.126), Abe is all, like, whatever: "So long as the result is fewer vampires, I shall serve happily" (6.7).
It's certainly a little weird that Abe trusts Henry, but he is pretty clear that the only thing he cares about now is killing vampires, and his friendship with Henry helps him do that. At least, until Abe becomes a dad. That's when things start to change.
When Mary Todd gives birth to Robert Todd in 1843, Abe retires his vampire-killing axe, saying, "I cannot risk leaving Mary without a husband, nor Robert without a father. I have this very morning written Henry and told him that he should no longer count on my ax" (7.167).
This may seem like a sudden shift. (Though if you've ever adopted a dog, you'll probably get it—dogs are kind of like babies, right?) But it makes sense if you remember Abe's motivation for killing vampires in the first place. He kills them because they destroyed his family by killing his mom.
So now that he has his own family, he doesn't want that family to be destroyed by vampires if he goes after them and slips up. Good thinking, Abraham.
But, as it turns out, there's another way. He can kill-by-proxy, and send his buddies out to do the deed. Plus, when the Civil War rolls around, it provides him with the ultimate opportunity to de-vamp the States once and for all. So by the end of the book, we've rolled right back around to Abe's purpose all over again. No matter how hard he tries, he just can't keep from killing vampires.
Abe in a Nutshell
Is that all it boils down to, though? That Abe is a regular guy, in extraordinary circumstances, with a penchant for killing vamps? Is it really that simple?
Yes and no. In a weird way, this book shakes up our stereotypical notions of Honest Abe, and replaces them with a much more complex man. But in quite the opposite way it narrows down the motivations of a majorly complex leader to staking the undead. We see another side to our beloved Abraham, but we also don't have to pay much attention to any of the really complicated stuff—the nitty-gritty history, the messy politics, his sideburns.
Oh, and the fact that he's Batman. Just sayin'.
One final note. We would be remiss if we didn't include a brief discussion of Abe and his vampire-fighting buddies—Poe, Armstrong, Speed, and Lamon. While we, of course, go in depth in their own character analyses, we wanted to point out one thing they all have in common in relation to our main man. Every one of them has a weakness that Abe doesn't have.
The romantic Poe doesn't really understand how dangerous vampires are. (If he knew, he would fight them.) The tough Armstrong is so committed to being tough that he doesn't bother looking for other solutions. (Compare Armstrong fighting with a horse and so catching his death [9.19] to Abe figuring out how to easily get a raft out of a troubled spot [5.37].) Speed is well named, because he's too speedy and doesn't think things through, which almost gets him killed by a vampire on his first hunt. And Lamon gets so worried about Abe's assassination that he can't function.
By making these comparisons, we can see why Abe Lincoln is the best vampire hunter of his generation. Or ours, since he could very well still be alive hunting vampires. See any injustice around you? We're betting he's about.Timeline