Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
by Seth Grahame-Smith
Evil and Good Vampires?
Vampires are for killing, not kissing in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. (Though Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Kisser sounds like fun, too.) The vampires here have a lot of typical vampire characteristics and some less usual characteristics. For instance, the sun is dangerous to them, but only when they're young. Henry, who is over 200, can walk around in the sun just fine, which is better for his tan lines.
Other important new things: a few drops of vampire blood will cause someone to get sick and die (which comes up when vampires kill people Abe loves and some other people that Abe knows and some other people that Abe has friended on Facebook but barely knows); and an old vampire can turn recently dead people into vampires. Also, vampires look human most of the time but have a scary vampire face with clearly visible veins and black eyes. Lovely.
All vampires share those qualities, but where they differ is, some vamps are good and some vamps are evil. Some vampires eat babies, like Dr. Crowley eating young Virginia Dare (3.148) and the old woman vampire who steals a toddler (3.23). That's evil. And some vampires only eat "the old and the sick and the treacherous" (6.155), which, well… we suppose that's better, if not exactly good.
As Henry tells us, there are some good vampires who "cling to that last piece of themselves that is human. We are content to feed and be forgotten. To go about our cursed existence in relative peace, killing only when our hunger becomes unbearable." But then there are evil vampires who think of themselves as above humans: they "see themselves as lions among sheep. As kings—superior to man in every way" (9.106). So who's who? Which one's which? Let's take a look:
There are several vampires that Abe kills that don't even get a name. Between 1825 and 1828, Henry sends Abe sixteen letters pointing out vampires for Abe to kill and only one of those sixteen gets a name (4.8). So even though vampires are scary and dangerous, most of them don't come into the plot as individual characters. But here's a few interesting vampires that get named or described:
Jack Barts is the one-armed, English vampire who is responsible for Abe's hatred of vampires. Jack lends money to Thomas Lincoln and, when Thomas can't repay, Jack punished Thomas by killing his wife, Nancy Hanks. Unfortunately for Jack, that's Abe's mom, and he loves her so much that he swears vengeance on all vampires in America (2.86). And so Jack Barts is the first vampire that Abe kills.
The Old Woman on the Boat
This is the second vampire that Abe goes for—a woman who hunts from a boat on the Ohio River. This happens four years after Abe kills Jack Barts; and though Abe finds this vampire, he very nearly dies trying to kill her. All of which goes to show us that Abe isn't the best vampire hunter. (To be a good vampire hunter, you need to kill vampires more frequently than leap years.) Luckily, Henry Sturges rescues Abe. So the old woman on the boat (1) shows us that Abe isn't a great vampire hunter and (2) provides the opportunity for Abe to become a better vampire hunter with training. Nice.
Silas Williams is a cobbler (shoe-maker) in the town of Rising Sun. He's the first evil vampire that Henry tells Abe to kill. And Abe kills him incredibly easily: "I cut his head off with my ax and left" (4.13).
What's crazy about that is that Silas Williams is described as just a regular guy: "I entered and found a bearded, bespectacled man hard at work—his walls covered with worn and dismembered shoes. He was a meek creature of some five-and-thirty years" (4.11). Abe may be getting better at killing vampires, since this is so easy. But we get a sense that he's also going to be pretty ruthless about his mission.
Like Silas Williams, Timothy Douglas just seems like a regular guy. (What's the 1830s equivalent of "Joe Sixpack"?) He's a barkeeper in a saloon in Calhoun, Illinois and he seems "inconsequential" to Lincoln (5.114). What's worse is that Abe has Jack Armstrong along on this hunt to show Jack about how dangerous vampires are. Luckily for him (we guess), Timothy does turn out to be very dangerous, nearly killing Jack before Abe can use his special match to blind Tim. Our lesson: vampires can be crafty, but so can Abe Lincoln.
MacNamar is very important to the plot. He's the crummy guy who is engaged to Ann Rutledge. And in this book, he's the vampire who comes back to kill her. Unlike most of the other vampires on this list, he isn't killed by Abe; rather, reversing the usual roles, Abe sends Henry a letter asking him to kill MacNamar. Henry doesn't quite do that. He captures MacNamar and ties him up and Abe lights a fire to burn him alive. (Or, since he's a vampire, "burn him undead.")
It's a pretty gruesome scene; we might want Abe to act all heroic and noble and to say that torturing people is wrong and water is wet. But Abe is so distraught by Ann's death that he's ready for some vengeance. He lets MacNamar suffer for ten or fifteen minutes before finally letting him die (6.148). Which just goes to show how sad and angry Abe is.
Finally, we get some comic relief. Elizabeth Schildhaus is a client of Abe's when he's riding the judicial circuit out to Athens, Illinois. Athens is too small to have its own court, so the court comes to it every once in a while. (Rule of thumb: very few places named Athens are any fun.) So when Abe is out riding through the country, he gets some vampire hunting in.
What's funny about Elizabeth Schildhaus is that she's first Abe's client (they lose because Abe has a fever) and then later, she's Abe's target. She almost kills Abe, too, because of his sickness, but he eventually kills her, leaving us with this joke: "I do not expect I shall ever again have the opportunity of defending and murdering a client in the same day" (7.60).
Dr. Joseph Nash McDowell
McDowell isn't assassinated by Abe—in fact, he's not assassinated at all. He's the paranoid doctor who wears armor to avoid being staked (8.9). And he's also an important man where he lives (St. Louis), since he teaches medicine in a college there. (That is, when a cobbler or a barkeep disappears, oh well, no big deal. But when a doctor disappears, someone might investigate.)
But by the time Henry points out that McDowell needs to die, Abe has retired from vampire hunting, so he sends Armstrong and Speed. Now, if that were a buddy cop film, they would start out hating each other, but by the end they would work together to kill the evil doctor. But since this isn't, Armstrong and Speed almost get killed trying to kill the doctor. Oops. Armstrong loses a hand and Speed breaks his leg badly.
Because of this attack, McDowell loses his blood-collecting morgue, where he kept living bodies to produce blood. (He's the Henry Ford of blood production, factory-style.) But he does escape and founds his own school of medicine: he "founded his own college of medicine at Ninth and Gratiot Streets, outfitting the building with rooftop cannons and keeping a store of muskets on hand to ward off attack" (8.36).
So McDowell is kind of an unusual case, since Abe doesn't try to kill him. And since Abe doesn't go to kill him, this episode doesn't teach us a lot about Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. So what is he doing here besides being creepy?
Well, it turns out the guy really existed. Dr. McDowell was a real person with some real, weird habits. He really did buy a bunch of guns for his medical school. He also was accused of grave robbing (stealing bodies from graves in order to learn about anatomy by dissecting them) and may have tried to preserve the body of his own 14-year old daughter. Perhaps Seth Grahame-Smith saw a creepy character from history and thought it might be fun to toss him in.