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Imagine this one like a movie trailer.
This guy? A slayer? That doesn't sound right.
Oh, but it is. See, that's pretty much the concept of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter—let's take some real history and add vampires. Et voilà. We get the biography of Lincoln we've all been waiting for, the one that finally tells us the truth about how Honest Abe secretly killed toothy tyrants throughout his life, from his boyhood adventures staking creatures of the night all the way to the Civil War, which was, it turns out, actually all about vampires. (Hint: it wasn't.)
Seth Grahame-Smith is something of an expert at these literary mash-ups (take X, add monsters). His first fiction book was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009), which takes Jane Austen's great novel (and we'll fight you if you say it's not) and adds zombies. After that, he wrote Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2010). And his next book, Unholy Night, takes the Three Wise Men from the Bible and asks, "What if they were wise monsters instead of wise men?" (Luckily for him, Seth Grahame-Smith mostly mashes-up things that are out of copyright, so he won't get sued like so many musical mash-up artists have been.)
According to Seth Grahame-Smith, the idea for Slayer Abe came to him in 2009, when every new book in the bookstore was either about vampires (usually sparkly) or about Lincoln (source). Lincoln was born in 1809, so 2009 was the bicentennial of his birth, which is the kind of thing that publishers love to cash in on. So Grahame-Smith thought, hey, why not cash in, doubletime?
Since this book has such a fun premise, it's no surprise that it's been adapted to the big screen. And since Seth Grahame-Smith is also involved in movie and TV production, he wrote the screenplay for it. So you know it's gotta be good.
But just because there's a (cool) movie and the idea of Abe Lincoln fighting vampires is funny, don't think that this book is pure silly. It's only about fifty-percent silly. The other half is all about serious issues that are still relevant today. You know, the Big Ones, like racism and equality.
See, Abe isn't just fighting against vampires. He's fighting injustice. Those pesky bloodsuckers happen to be associated with rich slave-owners, who also happen to be the exact opposite of poor, abolitionist Lincoln. So by vexing vampires, Abe's also battling bigotry. Bonus!
Plus there's politics galore. It turns out political corruption and paralyzing gridlock—or as our Congress calls it, Tuesday—were problems way back in Abe's day, too. Compromise? Shmompromise. And when two political parties couldn't get along in the 1800s, they didn't battle it out in televised attack ads. They duked it out on the battlefield.
Which brings us, finally, to this book's rather interesting take on history. We like to remember our Founding Fathers and great presidents as perfect—as superheroes, even. So we remember Abe Lincoln as the Great Emancipator who freed the slaves and championed equality. But Abe (in reality and in this book) was a lot different from the ideal we have of him.
Sure, he freed the slaves, but at first, only the slaves in the Confederacy; and when he was running for public office, he made clear to people that he wasn't all for racial equality. While that particular character complexity isn't so front and center in this book, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter still asks us to confront the divide between the history we like to tell ourselves ("and then on Wednesday, the Good Side won and everything was fixed") and the real history that's much messier.
This book is so nice to readers that it tells you in the introduction why we should care:
Abraham Lincoln's secret journal on vampire hunting "casts new light on many of the seminal events in American history and adds immeasurable complexity to a man already thought to be unusually complex" (Introduction.76). Oh, and it's also "astonishing, heartbreaking, and revolutionary." But so many vampire-hunting journals are.
What Seth Grahame-Smith is really saying is that when someone says "Abraham Lincoln" to us, we see a tall, sideburned man wearing a stovepipe hat and holding the Emancipation Proclamation. We can't picture him as a baby or as a young man in love—whenever we try to see him that way, we just see that stinkin' hat, which would look pretty freaking cute on a baby.
But now, thanks to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, we can see him a little differently (if a little less accurately). We can picture him pining for his first love, writing mushy notes in his journal; we can see him crushed with depression when his kiddos keep dying on him; we can imagine him fighting against slavery while also maybe believing black people might not be equal to white people (yikes). What can we say? The guy was complicated. And this book stays true to that.
And, of course, we can picture him fighting vampires. Maybe it seems silly to add vampires to Abe's story, but by doing so, Seth Grahame-Smith opens a lot of doors into Abe's life. We get to see the president, the vampire hunter, and most of all the man.
The Bomb Dot Com
When you have yourname.com as your website, you know you're a big deal. (Ahem, Shmoop. Just saying.)
Shmooping the Civil War
Grahame-Smith provides lots of juicy Civil War details in Abraham Lincoln, but for more (and more accurate) info, check out Shmoop's guide to the Civil War.
That's What Friends Are For
As the book shows, Abe's relationships are a pretty important part of his life. This website nicely organizes and describes many of Abe's most important friendships. Kind of adorable, if you ask us.
A Guide to Graves
If you're thinking about taking a themed road-trip to visit the graves of everyone involved in Lincoln's assassination (which you obviously are), take a look at this database first, which gives you the info on where people are buried and how they died.
Ken Burns's The Civil War
We love us some Ken Burns. His Civil War series has everything, including lots of famous actors reading old letters. It's cool to hear olden days people's reactions to what's going on around them. Just imagine a few vampires here and there.
Cartoons from the Civil War
They didn't have the Internet back then, but they still shared lots of cartoons. Here's a collection of a bunch of editorial cartoons, showing the various reactions people had to Lincoln. (Warning: some of these cartoons could be considered super offensive today. But imagine how much worse it would be if the bad guys had won.)
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2011)
Abraham Lincoln: Superhero. 'Nuff said.
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)
What do you think? Does Mr. Lincoln do better with or without the vamps?
Vanity Fair Meets the Man
Want to dig a little deeper into the connections between Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter and our own history? Vanity Fair has you covered. As always.
Trailer for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Look at what this guy can do with that ax.
Seth Grahame-Smith at WonderCon
Hear it all from the horse's mouth, and ask yourself, "Does he think the movie is better than the book?"
In this clip, Grahame-Smith talks all about the process of making a film. Most exciting? His thoughts on playing serious with a funny premise. (See our discussion of "Tone" for how we totally agree.)
Life Before Abraham Lincoln
Check out this interview to learn more about Grahame-Smith's earlier book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. That can only be amazing.
Our Kooky Author
"Um, I don't remember writing this."
Looking stoic, Abe. Just don't forget about the dry cleaners.
Are we sure Johnny Depp isn't in this one?
From the Book
Seth Grahame-Smith had a little fun with some altered and made-up images, which he littered throughout Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.