If Abraham Lincoln is Batman from Batman Begins, then Henry Sturges is Henri Ducard: the mentor with a mysterious secret and Henry/i for a first name. Or you could think of him like you might think of Haymitch Abernathy from The Hunger Games. Only instead of constantly drinking alcohol like Haymitch, Sturges has to constantly drink blood. Yech.
Honestly, we could compare Henry to lots of other mentor characters if we wanted, because the guy is a classic guide figure. Classic. And what lessons does he teach our main man Abe? Two lessons, it turns out. (1) how to kill vampires and (2) not all vampires deserve to be killed.
Henry can teach both of these lessons because he has a totally unmysterious secret: he's a vampire.
That Henry is a vampire isn't really a mystery since the first time we meet him, we get a footnote about how the narrator is using his real name, not the name he went by at that time (Introduction.16). That's an issue that long-lived creatures deal with—your mortal neighbors get suspicious if you stay the same age for a long time. So if you're ever a vampire, move around a bunch and change your name.
Also, he buys old-fashioned products and he's paying cash, which is clearly marked as unusual:
But he wasn't like the other money that came in. The asshole weekenders who liked to gush about our "cute" little town and our "adorable" little store, walking right past our No Food or Drink Please sign with their oversize cups of hazelnut coffee, and never spending a dime. Henry was courteous. Quiet. Best of all, he never left without dropping less than fifty bucks—most of it on the throwbacks you can only pick up in specialty stores these days—bars of Lifebuoy, tins of Angelus Shoe Wax. (Introduction.16)
Clearly, this guy is different from everyone else—which means that he's a vampire. (Or just a nice guy.)
Plus, Henry's vampirism makes for a little comic relief here and there, like how he looks the same when he meets both the narrator and Abe. In 2007, he looks "a little younger than [the narrator]—maybe twenty-seven or so, with messy dark hair […]" (Introduction.16). And when he meets Abe in 1825, he looks "perhaps five-and-twenty—slender, with dark, shoulder-length hair" (3.35).
Henry doesn't change, which isn't so good for an immortal character, if you look at it from an Oprah-esque standpoint. Where's the personal growth and improvement, Henry? There's gotta be more to him, right?
Henry may be Abe's main mentor, but we sure don't see a lot of him. In fact, he spends a great deal of this book offstage, communicating with Abe only in short letters that tell Abe who to kill. To be fair, those letters do tell us that the guy has a penchant for Shakespeare, since he keeps quoting Big Willy, but other than that the letters are less than revealing.
Why does Henry want Abe to kill vampires in the first place? Actually, that's two questions in one: Why kill vampires? And why get Abe to do it?
Henry explains this to Abe and it's not just because he likes old women vampires to call him a traitor (3.33). It's because he remembers what it's like to have his life ruined by vampires, and he dislikes those vampires who kill without thinking about the people they're killing or the lives they're ruining:
It is one thing to feed on the blood of the old and the sick and the treacherous, but quite another to take sleeping children from their beds; quite another to march men and women to their deaths in chains, as you have seen with your own eyes. (6.155)
Turns out Henry's kind of a softie.
Which brings us to Henry's transformation story. Henry came to America with his young wife, Edeva, and the rest of the Roanoke colonists. And that's where she was killed and he was turned into a vampire by the evil Dr. Crowley. Well that's a lovely start to a new life.
So think of it this way: here's a dude who came to America to start fresh with his wife, and all that gets ripped away from him by a bloodthirsty jerk. Instead of living the American dream, Henry winds up living a weird vampire life, wifeless. That's not exactly your average bummer. That's a one-way ticket to trauma city. No wonder he still hates vampires who don't behave nicely.
Okay, so that answers our first question. But we've still got the second.
Henry has the usual vampire superpowers: he's strong, fast, has sharp claws, lots of money, and knows how to dress. So why can't he just go kill all these pesky bloodsuckers and leave Abe alone to, oh, we don't know, run the country? Really, doesn't the poor guy have enough on his plate?
As it turns out, vampire hunting is Abe's Destiny, with a capital D.
Oh so that explains it.
How does Henry know Abe's destiny in the first place? Now there's a question with a very interesting answer. It's all about Henry's other vampire super power. The guy can see the future.
In fact, a lot of vampires can see the future, but not always so clearly. Henry's fortune telling is prone to mistakes like this one, like when he tells his buddy, "you are destined to defeat Jefferson Davis, Abraham" (10.80). The joke here is that, yes, Abe beat Jefferson Davis in the Civil War, so the prophecy is correct. However, since the vampires think this means that Abe should go assassinate Jefferson Davis, they are clearly not seeing this future clearly.
But, to be fair, as Henry points out, "It is a difficult thing to know the future. We see it reflected as in ripples of water—distorted and ever moving. There are moments, however, when the ripples subside and the reflection becomes clear" (10.80).
But he was right about one thing. Henry tells Abe that his personal destiny is to stop vampire tyranny, wherever it may appear. And finally, we arrive at the answer to our second question. Henry uses Abe as a hit man because it's Abe's destiny to kill vampires.
Does that make any sense? Maybe that explains why Abe is so good at vampire hunting, whereas other people aren't as good. For instance, when Armstrong and Speed go off to hunt Dr. Joseph Nash McDowell, they make a hash of it.
In any case, it's a good thing we have Henry around to explain it to Abe, and us. Otherwise we'd spend half the novel wondering why Abe is so stinkin' skilled at staking. In that way, Henry is mentor to both Abe Lincoln and the readers. He guides us on the strange journey of seeing Abe, not just as the sixteenth president, but also as a slayer. Sometimes we need a little help on that road.
Okay, so Henry is one of the rare good vampires in America, one of the vampires who remember what it's like to be human, and wants to protect humans accordingly.
And yet, Henry can be a real jerk. See, we can accept that Henry sends Abe out on these crazy missions. We can accept that Henry can see a person's destiny. But what's really hard to swallow is Henry's weird behavior every time someone Abe loves dies (which is… a lot). Every time someone dies—Ann Rutledge, Edward Lincoln, Willie Lincoln—Henry shows up to say, "I could make that person a vampire for you, eh?"
When Ann dies, it's, "She would live, Abraham... but I warn you—she would be cursed to live forever" (6.136). Now, that doesn't sound great—who wants to be "cursed to live forever"?
But then Eddy dies and Henry sends Abe a note: "However, he saw to it that I received a note before the service. In it were his further condolences... and a reminder that there was another way" (8.120).
And when Willie dies, Henry comes all the way to the White House to make the offer. This time, Abe won't even listen to this temptation because it's too painful, so Henry only gets to say this: "I come to offer my sympathies to an old friend... and to offer you a choi—" (11.107).
But why does Henry keep doing that? Both Henry and Abe dislike vampires (more or less), so the only thing this accomplishes is pissing Abe off. Why keep tempting the poor, grief stricken guy? It's kind of a jerky thing to do.
We think the answer is that Henry is kind of a jerk. Maybe he thinks that if they make Abe's loved ones into vamps, they'll be good vamps—Henry-style—and they'll join the fight against the Baddies. Despite his friendship with Abe, Henry always seems to prioritize the mission over, well, just about everything else.
Think about it. When Abe finally can rest (after he's dead), Henry makes him into a vampire so the two of them can go fight racist vampires. Sure, that's an important quest, but it doesn't really show that Henry is Abe's friend. We think old Abe could really use some rest.