Study Guide

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Memory and the Past

By Seth Grahame-Smith

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Memory and the Past

Somewhere that man was still speaking. Colonists... hope... Selma. (Introduction.6)

The character of Seth Grahame-Smith has just learned about vampires, so he's not paying attention to this speech, which is probably Obama's 2007 speech in Selma, Alabama, commemorating the long history of fighting for civil rights in America. It makes sense for vampires to get more attention than a speech (we'd probably ignore the speech too); but it's worth noting that the speech here is a pivotal moment in history that talks about how pivotal moments in history affect our present lives. Talk about meta.

This wholly unremarkable life would have surely escaped the notice of history had Thomas not ventured into Elizabethtown one day when he was twenty-eight and, by chance, laid eyes on the young daughter of a Kentucky farmer. Their marriage, on June 12th, 1806, would change the shape of history in ways neither could have dreamed. (1.26)

Since Thomas Lincoln isn't a wizard (we think), he can't know the future that he is about to change by marrying Nancy Hanks. Interestingly, the narrator emphasizes that this meeting and marriage happened "by chance," which doesn't sound a lot like destiny or fate. Does chance change history more than fate? Maybe.

When I heard a description of the bodies at Jeffersonville, I knew at once that a vampire was responsible, and I had a very good notion of where it was going. I remembered reading about a similar case in Dugre's On the History of the Mississippi River—one that had confounded settlers almost fifty years prior. (3.9)

As Henry will tell Abe later, vampires have a different sense of time since they don't have to worry about death. Funny how that happens. It makes some sense, then, for the same vampire to terrorize a certain location longer than most people could (at that time). But we pulled this quote because it also shows us that Abe is able to hunt a vampire because he has some understanding of history (local, weird history). He reads a lot, we're told, and now we see how it pays off. (Answer: it almost gets him killed.)

History remembers Abe's towering intellect but forgets that, in those days, he was more towering than intellectual. Like his father, he had a natural gift for words. But when it came to writing them down correctly, he remained a victim of his limited schooling. Mentor Graham would help to correct this, and prove a key force in Lincoln's ability to express himself eloquently later in life. (5.48)

Since we know how Abe will go down in history, it's kind of fun to see all the little choices and chances that got him there. He gets storytelling from his dad, and book learning from William Mentor Graham, and he gets vampire hunting from Henry. We can see that—but Abe and the people around him cannot. They don't have a historical sense of who Abe will turn out to be, so they don't see him the way we do. He's just another Joe.

I have given too much of myself already. Henceforth, I shall hunt only when it is convenient for me to do so, and only because it honors the memory of my angel mother... only because it honors Ann's memory. (7.10)

We're mostly interested in history and the past in this book, but there's some role for memory, too, because it's memories that really drive Abe. Sure, he's got some political and ideological motivations—let's get rid of slavery, shall we?—but his personal motivator is the memory of his mother and of Ann. Those memories shape the future (in this book), by galvanizing Abe against the vamps that killed his loved ones. So is it just lucky that killing vamps also aligns with his political and ideological motivations (since those vamps are pro-slavery)?

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. —Abraham Lincoln, in a message to Congress December 1st, 1862 (11.1)

People may not see Abe as a historical figure when he's a boy; but by the time the Civil War has broken out, Abe has probably figured out that this is a Big Moment in history—the kind people will take tests on later. So while it's often difficult to know what will happen, per se, it's not too hard to know that whatever does happen, it'll be a Big Deal.

Now Henry rose to his feet. "I have spent these three hundred years mourning a wife and child, Abraham! Mourning the life that was stolen from me; a thousand loves lost to time!" (11.119)

As Henry makes clear, being a vampire means having a different sense of time and memory. Abe may have lost one beloved almost-wife (Ann), but Henry has outlived many loves. (Although, seriously, "a thousand loves"? He's only been a vampire for 300 years or so, so that would be several loves per year. You might want to cool it, buddy.) And yet, Henry still seems to be driven by his memory of the people that Dr. Crowley killed, the same way that Abe is driven by his memory of vampires murdering his beloved. It was a long time ago, but that doesn't lessen the sting.

Lee and McClellan's armies waited quietly in the predawn hours of that Wednesday, September 17th, unaware that they were about to embark on the bloodiest day in American military history. (12.40)

The people involved in the Civil War may have some sense that they're going to be part of history, but they don't know what specific roles they're going to play, just like these generals. (Also McClellan probably didn't know that we would remember him as kind of a screw-up.)

History knows that Abe flippantly told McClellan: "If you do not want to use the army, I would very much like to borrow it." What history has never known, however, is what happened shortly before that uncomfortable picture was taken. (12.50)

There are a few times in this book where we get this notion: History remembers X, but History doesn't know Y. (History can be kind of an airhead.) It's a way for the book to make good on the promise it made in the introduction—that in this book, we'll finally learn the truth about history.

"Five score years ago," the preacher began, "a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of N**** slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the N**** is still not free." (14.28)

King knows the history that has led to this point, but he also knows that everyone is still living in history. So Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was a good first step—but there's a lot of marching that needs to get done. History may have happened, but it's also going to keep right on happening. We might as well make the best of it.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Memory and the Past Study Group

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