Study Guide

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Strength and Skill

By Seth Grahame-Smith

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Strength and Skill

As I read them, I saw the author's penmanship evolve from the overcautious script of a child to the tightly packed scribbling of a young man. (Introduction.7)

We won't spend a lot of time on the skill of "penmanship" in this book (or, you know, in life). But even here in the introduction, we see that the book is concerned with skill and improvement. Considering the fact that Abe didn't spend much time in school, even this improvement in his handwriting shows his dedication to training.

After a while, the [ax] handle would simply slip through my fingers, and my arms would hang at my sides like a pair of curtains. If Father saw me resting thus, he would cuss up a cyclone, take the ax from the ground, and split a dozen logs in a minute to shame me into working again. I kept at it, though, and with each passing day, my arms grew a little stronger. (1.47)

When we start, Abe isn't a great hero. This isn't some folk story about a Paul Bunyan-like dude who could chop trees as a baby. (What would a baby do with all that lumber anyway?) Abe starts out weak—but he doesn't stay that way for long. Notice that we get "I was weak" and "I grew stronger" in the same paragraph.

At first I had been astonished by his speed and strength—convinced there was no way I would ever be its equal. Over time, however, I noticed that it took him longer and longer to subdue me. I even found myself landing the occasional strike. Soon, it was not uncommon for me to best him three times out of ten. (3.156)

Henry is training Abe to hunt vampires, which is a nice hobby but not a great-paying job. It's a slow process, too. Abe may be improving, but he's not exactly a natural. Sure, he may be destined to ax vamps, but it's not going to be an easy road to that destiny. It just goes to show—just because you're fated for something, doesn't mean you can skip out on all the hard work.

But as mighty as Jack Armstrong was, he was nothing compared to the vampires Abe had grappled with in the past. (5.62)

After all his training, Abe is stronger than the average human. (Of course, Abe can't take his ax out and chop Jack's head off here—that would be bad for business.) If we ever worried about Abe's strength, this probably allays our fears. It's also fun to imagine one grown man lifting another up over his head, as Abe does in this scene. Really, all our presidents should be involved in professional wrestling-style antics.

"People say us Boys stick close on account of our being kin. 'Cause we like raisin' a ruckus. The truth of it is, we stick close 'cause that's the only chance we got at growin' old." (5.80)

There's one form of strength that we haven't talked about yet, which is strength through numbers. Abe may be the strongest human in the book, but notice how quick he is to recruit some other people to help him hunt. First there's Jack, then Speed, then Ward Hill Lamon. (And Poe gives Lincoln some useful vampiric history, if not his fists.) Even vampires know it takes (at least) two. They are often solitary, says Henry, but they join up as the Union to fight a bigger threat (9.99-100).

He traveled the county on horseback and on foot, stopping to speak with anyone he encountered. He shook the hands of farmhands toiling in the scorched fields and won their respect with demonstrations of his own frontier-learned skills and God-given strength. He spoke at churches and taverns, horse races and picnics, peppering his stump speech (undoubtedly written on scraps of paper in his pocket as he traveled) with self-deprecating stories of flatboat mishaps and mosquito battles. (6.47)

More people today should follow Abe's election strategy, which is to demonstrate his strength, often by holding an ax out straight. It's funny how Abe can take some set of strength and skills (and experiences) and apply those to another field. He's not chopping his dad's wood here, he's getting elected. But the ax is just as handy.

My sword has done its part. My pen must take me the rest of the way. (8.41)

We place a lot of emphasis on Abe's strength, but he's really multi-talented, like a singer who can also act. He's the Justin Timberlake of his time. (We're totally kidding. Except we're not.) Over his life, he's trained to be a good speaker and writer. But all of these skills are aimed towards one single goal: eliminating all bad vampires and slavery from America. We're waiting for Justin to do the same.

Doubts flooded my mind as we climbed the steps to the porch. Did I still possess the strength to best a vampire? Had I prepared Lamon to face an opponent of such speed and strength? Was Speed still equal to the task at hand? Indeed, the ax in my hands felt heavier than it had since I was a child. (10.90)

Abe certainly seems like the strongest and best vampire hunter, so its understandable that he's worried for his friends. Even he can get into dicey situations, so how are they supposed to fare well? (But then, remember that having friends you can ask to come hunt vampires is a whole other form of strength.) But notice how Abe's thoughts slip from his friends back to himself, and his growing weakness. It's terrible to get old and we advise you to avoid it.

Mary couldn't bear to be in the room with her dying husband. She remained in the parlor of Petersen's Boarding House all night, weeping. Robert and Tad arrived sometime after midnight and took their place at Abe's bedside, just as Abe had knelt at his dying mother's side almost fifty years earlier. They were joined by Gideon Wells, Edwin Stanton, and an endless parade of Washington's best doctors, all of whom came to offer their advice. But nothing could be done. Dr. Robert King Stone, the Lincolns' family physician, examined the president during the night and concluded that his case was "hopeless." (13.88)

No matter how strong and skilled people may be, there's a certain sense of human helplessness in the face of death in this book. When Abe gets shot, there's not much anyone can do, no matter how good a doctor they might be. Even more strikingly, notice how Mary is really crushed by her experiences of Abe's (and her children's) death. Sure, she's got First Lady skills, but they're no match for her grief.

He was twenty-five again, and strong. He was so strong. All of the sorrows in his life—all of the doubts and deaths and disappointments—all of them had been for this. They were the fires that burned in his chest. They were his strength. (14.5)

In this book, strength seems to come from youth (which is such a bummer that we need to take a nap), and this quote demonstrates that connection once more. But what's really interesting about this passage is how it connects Abe's strengths to "All of the sorrows in his life." Is that crazy? Are Abe's sadnesses really his strengths? How can that be?

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