Study Guide

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Fate and Free Will

By Seth Grahame-Smith

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Fate and Free Will

Somewhere in the middle of getting married, surviving a car accident, having a baby, abandoning my novel, starting and abandoning half a dozen others, having another baby, and trying to stay on top of the bills, something wholly unexpected and depressingly typical happened: I stopped caring about my writing, and started caring about everything else: The kids. The marriage. The mortgage. The store. (Introduction.15)

We really want to hear about Abe fighting vampires , but first the introduction starts off with this guy not living the life he expected. Instead of being a special author, this guy is just a regular guy. Snooze. Yet upon closer look, there's actually some interesting stuff going on here. This regular guy's regular life seems like the result of a number of choices: getting married, having kids, getting into a car accident. (Okay, maybe that last one wasn't a choice.) But after we read the whole book, let's return to the introduction. Could it be possible that these weren't choices at all? That this narrator dude is fated for this life?

Do not construe this letter as an expectation of action. The choice is yours, always. I merely wish to offer the opportunity for continued study, and provide some small measure of relief for the injustices done you, as you will no doubt seek their redress on your own. (4.9)

This is Henry writing his first assassination assignment to Abe and telling his wood chopping buddy that the "choice is yours, always." This is coming from Henry whose later dialogue in this book will almost entirely consist of the word "destiny," so you'll have to forgive us for being a bit skeptical in retrospect. In fact, in two chapters' time, Henry will tell Abe that his destiny was obvious from the first time they met. So why is Henry being all "The choice is yours," here? Is it just to stroke Abe's ego?

"But you... you were born to fight tyranny. It is your purpose, Abraham. To free men from the tyranny of vampires. It has always been your purpose, since you first sprang from your mother's womb. And I have seen it emanating from your every pore since the night we first met. Shining from you as brightly as the sun. Do you think that it was some accident that brought us together?" (6.160)

At the end of Chapter Six, Henry really hits the destiny talk hard; and this is probably the first time we really see how important this theme is to this book. And if Abe is destined to be Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, then everything that came before that has led him to this point has been part of the bigger plan. Losing his mom because of his dad's bad loan, losing his beloved because her previous fiancé was a vampire, almost being killed by that vampire the time he met Henry—all of that sadness and death (and near-death) led to this point. We don't know about you, but if some vampire told us that our loved ones had been killed just so we could chop the heads of some bloodsuckers, we'd be pretty peeved.

I had retreated from politics, but when asked to debate [Douglas] on the issue, I could not refuse. Those ghostly faces would not permit me to. (9.26)

Besides Henry and his talk of destiny, Abe is also driven by his sense of justice; for instance, here, after retiring from politics, he decides to get back on the bully pulpit in order to stop slavery from spreading. (This is around the time of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.) So maybe "destiny" isn't fate, so much as another word for "sense of justice" or duty. Notice how tightly connected justice, duty and destiny are, as in Henry's talk of Abe's fate to fight tyranny.

I had felt this, even as a child—the sense that I had been placed on a long, straight stretch of river from which there could be no deviation. Carried ever faster by the current... surrounded by wilderness on both sides... destined to collide with some unseen object far, far downstream. (9.59)

Though it sounds a bit like a log flume ride at a waterpark, Abe's sense of his destiny also sounds like a terrible time. He's rushing towards something he can't see, he's going to collide with it, and he can't change his direction. So all this talk of destiny makes it sound like his destiny is to be great, which is nice and all, but sure can be painful when he's colliding with history. No wonder he's so sad.

"Sic semper tyrann—"

The last word was cut off by the sound of the shot.

Abe awoke with a start. (10.42-44)

Henry may be crazy or lying when he tells Abe that he's destined to fight tyranny, but Abe himself has a couple of dreams that make it sound like he can tell the future (quick! check his teeth!). At the top of this list is Abe's dream of being assassinated at a theater and his vampire assassin yelling out "Sic semper tyrann—", which will be, uh, exactly what happens to him. The irony here is that Abe's destiny is to fight tyranny (vampire tyranny, to be exact), but his own death comes at the hands of a vampire who saw himself as fighting tyranny. If only Abe had seen that coming. Oh… wait.

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. The Union saw one of those moments in your future that night in New York: you are destined to defeat Jefferson Davis, Abraham. You alone. Further, I do not believe that it is your destiny to die on this errand. (10.80)

Just when we were going to ask Henry and Abe for their stock predictions (since they seem able to see the future), we get this hilarious mistake. The vampires tell Abe that he's destined to defeat Jefferson Davis, so he should go kill Davis now. Well, yes, Abe does defeat Jefferson Davis—or at least, the North beats the South, which is close enough. But the vampires' interpretation that Abe is meant to go kill Davis? That's totally off. Sure, people have destinies, but maybe it's harder to read those destinies than folks are willing to admit.

In the course of a week, I greet a thousand strange faces in the White House. Should I treat each as the face of my assassin? Indeed, any man willing to give his life to take mine would have little trouble doing it. Am I therefore to lock myself in an iron box and wait for this war to end? If God wants my soul, He knows where He may collect it—and He may do so at the hour and in the manner of His choosing. (12.12)

The narrator describes this feeling as "fatalism," which seems accurate to us. Abe is saying that he can't stop his own fate and if his fate is to be assassinated, well, so be it. (Insert sad trombone sound here.)

[John Wilkes Booth had] always been obsessed with fate, particularly his own—due in large part to a story often told by his eccentric mother. "On the night you were born," she'd say, "I asked God for a sign of what awaited my newborn son. And God saw fit to answer." For the rest of her life, Mary Ann Booth would swear that flames had suddenly leapt from the hearth of their fireplace and formed the word "country." Johnny spent countless hours pondering the meaning of it. He knew that something special awaited him. He could feel it. (13.37)

Like Abe, Booth thinks that he's destined for greatness, thanks to something his mom used to tell him (and let that be a lesson: just because your ma thinks you're the cat's meow… ). But we probably don't trust her since the narrator calls her "eccentric" (which is fine if you're rich, but less fine if your son shoots a president). She, like Henry, might have a somewhat shaky grasp of destiny.

The old gypsy was right....

John Wilkes Booth was about to make a bad end. (13.116-7)

As it turns out, Booth has two destinies. If you ask his mom, he's destined for greatness. But if you ask an old gypsy (if you can find one), his fate is that he'll die young, make lots of enemies, and then die badly. Hmm. That sounds about right. Booth did die young (he was just fortunate enough to be made into a vampire), and he does make a whole boatload of enemies. That's bound to happen when you shoot the president. And of course he does die badly, by getting shot in the neck. Ick. So, if you're keeping score at home, put another point in the "destiny is real" column, and maybe also one in the "people aren't good at interpreting destiny" column.

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