My reading experience with Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was one of the best I’ve ever had. While reading the book, I went on a guided bus tour of Washington, D.C., and was told facts that confirmed some of the passages from the story.
I also visited an old train museum and read the book while sitting in its café area, which was restored to maintain how it looked back in the late 1800s. Doing so also helped to cement the novel’s worldbuilding in my mind making it easier for me to imagine the setting. I felt as if I was looking out on history while reading a story that called to it.
While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.
Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time-all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation. (Goodreads)
I was eager to pick up this novel after a short bus tour of Washington, D.C., prior to the one I mentioned above. I visited the Lincoln Memorial that day and later rewatched season 1 of The Strain, a TV show that airs on FX about vampires taking over New York City. By the end of the day, I was yearning to read Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
I bought the book two years ago after watching the movie, which I enjoyed, and was curious to see if the book was better. After reading it, I think I’m about 50/50. The story is engrossing and Grahame-Smith’s research of the era and his subject easily shines through in the book, but there were some changes made in the movie that I preferred. But I’ll mention those later. For now, I’ll focus on the book.
At first, I thought the narrative would be dull because the introduction was a touch boring. But once the story got started, I was committed to the novel and could barely tear my eyes away from its pages.
I tend to prefer character-driven novels because characters are what motivate me to keep reading and usually when I’m hooked on a book, it’s because I really like the protagonist or another prominent character. In this case, however, I didn’t care much for Lincoln. I thought he was too arrogant, probably because of how critical he is of his father, who probably deserved it but it didn’t sit well with me. What kept me reading was the plot. I was curious to see what motivated Lincoln to become a vampire hunter and how he managed to do that while running the country and I wanted to see him hunt the suckers.
Though similar, I prefer the book’s plot to the movie’s. It’s a bildungsroman that lets us observe Lincoln’s growth from child to man and see how his childhood influence how he later dictated his life and ran the country. This isn’t surprising since the story is largely excerpted from Lincoln’s journal, which he kept since a boy, and being a novel, it has more freedom to take time showing how Lincoln develops over the years. The movie, however, doesn’t spend much time on Lincoln’s formative years but instead shows enough for the viewer to understand what later motivates him.
His motivations — the deaths in his family because of vampires — made me sympathize with him a bit, especially later in his life when the Southern vampires poison someone he loved dearly because he freed the slaves. His motivation for freeing the slaves was interesting too and I like the twist that slavery was a way of providing easy prey for the vampires so freeing them would deprive the vampires of such a source and stop the inhumane act of treating people like animals.
When I started the novel, I wondered how slavery would be worked into the vampire plot. The way it was included made sense for that time considering that America was the “New World” and vampires are creatures of an older time. In a new place, they can build a country in the way they want it to be. In the movie, Lincoln had a Black friend, William H. Johnson who aided his motivation to free the slaves and helped him hunt vampires. According to Wikipedia, the character was influenced by William Henry Johnson, a free Black man who was Lincoln’s personal valet and sometimes barber and messenger for the Department of Treasury. I think that was a nice touch in the movie.
Another interesting character is Henry Sturges, who trains Lincoln to be a vampire hunter. A vampire himself, it’s at first difficult to discern why Henry wants to kill his own kind. At first I thought it was for personal gain (maybe he wants to be the vampire in charge of affairs in America), but later when Lincoln presses him to answer this question, we realize that Henry is actually quite selfless. I, however, still found it hard to believe because I don’t think he sufficiently answered the question. He started to talk about fate and destiny and I thought it was a bunch of codswallop to get out of answering.
With Henry, I prefer how he is portrayed in the movie rather than the book. In the movie he’s a cool vigilante with a debonair flair and is more laid back than the book’s Henry, who strikes me as stiff and stuffy. He’s easier to trust in the movie, so I quickly understood why Lincoln took to him. (In the movie, I think Lincoln was initially unaware that Henry was a vampire and it seemed silly that he took a while to figure that out.) Though it wasn’t very overt in the book, I’ve always thought of Henry as a potential threat to Lincoln, like a snake waiting to strike, which was probably helped along by the nightmares Lincoln had of him. I guess this is why I didn’t trust his reasons for helping Lincoln free the slaves and remove the hold vampires have on America.
Though, freeing the slaves didn’t entirely remove vampire hold on America. It just transferred it to another set. Henry and his peeps still greatly influenced Lincoln and, from what I read at the end, continued to do so long after Lincoln passed. Spoiler!! –> (highlight to see) Speaking of the end: Was Lincoln raised from the dead and is now a vampire???
I also thought Lincoln took to Henry too quickly in the book. I didn’t mind this in the movie because Henry seems more personable there and I don’t think Lincoln was aware Henry was a vampire, but in the book Lincoln has such a great hatred for the creatures that him being quick to willingly follow Henry’s “suggested” orders for vampire assassinations didn’t make sense, especially since he never questioned Henry’s motivation.
Lincoln’s assassination in the book was interesting and reading about it was made even more awesome because the bus tour took us by the theater where Lincoln was shot and showed us the alley where Booth escaped and the building, across the street from the theater, where Lincoln later died. What I liked about the assassination in the book is that we get the assassin’s perspective of it. We are privy to what motivated him to kill Lincoln, how he prepared to do it, and how he was later caught. Apart from the vampires and such, it seems that it’s exactly as what happened about 152 years ago.
A good read that I would probably have appreciated more if I’d read a biography or knew more facts about Lincoln prior to reading. Grahame-Smith did a great job of melding facts with fiction to write this entertaining alternative biography about one of America’s greatest presidents. But though I enjoyed this book, I’m not sure if I want to read the second novel. I didn’t love it that much.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
My thoughts upon completing the book: Lincoln is a Gryffindor.
Quotes from the book:
“There are but two types of men who desire war: those who haven’t the slightest intention of fighting it themselves, and those who haven’t the slightest idea what it is.”
“Without death…life is meaningless. It is a story that can never be told. A song that can never be sung. For how would one finish it?”
Weird new word:
Sockdologizing (pg. 382)
As in: “Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal; you sockdologizing old man-trap!”
It cued John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Lincoln because the laughter would cover the sound of the gunshot.
Definition from Merriam-Webster
- something that settles a matter
- a decisive blow or answer
- something outstang or exceptional
Odd to me possible fact:
The public could walk about the White House grounds way back when in Lincoln’s day. There were no fences and they could even enter the first floor.
Can’t do that now.
Now peeps trying to jump the fence and shit.