Taking a Bite out of the Lincoln Legacy
by Zach Baliva
Most history books and Lincoln biographies list the Emancipation
Proclamation and preserving the Union as our sixteenth president's
Very few—in fact, just one—claim another paramount Lincoln victory:
elimination of all vampires. The book, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
(Grand Central, March 2), is built on the premise that Lincoln's
mother was not killed by Milk Sickness, but by a blood-thirsty
vampire. This premise sets in motion a never-before-uncovered, behind-
the-scenes battle that offers another explanation of, and motivation
for, all key moments in Abraham Lincoln's life.
The clever and purposefully preposterous book is Seth Grahame-Smith's
widely anticipated follow-up to his 2009 surprise hit, Pride and
Prejudice and Zombies. Grahame-Smith's innovative monster "mash-up" of
Jane Austen's novel climbed all the way to the third spot on the New
York Times Bestseller List. Natalie Portman is attached to produce and
star in the movie adaptation.
The idea of Lincoln as a vampire hunter first hit Grahame-Smith when
he noticed an emerging trend at a local bookstore. "It seemed like
every popular hardcover book was either a vampire novel or a Lincoln
biography, so I thought I might as well combine the two," he says.
Vampire Hunter follows Lincoln as he discovers the sinister work of
the vampires who kill his mother while seeking to collect on his
father's debts. With the book, which is billed as "a sweeping epic of
our greatest president, revealing for the first time his secret
lifelong battle with the undead," Grahame-Smith has attempted to give
a new context to events like slavery, the Civil War, Lincoln's
assassination, and the aftermath.
Although obviously tongue-in-cheek, the author shares that his goal is
for the book to read like a historical fiction/biography. "I want it
to feel very legitimate. I take all real events and give a new
explanation as to what is going on in Lincoln's life," he says.
Grahame-Smith researched the life of Lincoln for over six months,
using newspapers, journals, letters, and transcripts. His single most
valuable resource proved to be The Lincoln Log, a daily chronology of
the life of Abraham Lincoln that is produced by The Illinois Historic
Preservation Agency in partnership with the Abraham Lincoln
Presidential Library and Museum, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, and
The Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of
Grahame-Smith lives and works in Los Angeles, where he is producing
"Hard Times," MTV's first live-action scripted comedy. As a writer, he
was drawn in part to Vampire Hunter by the book's protagonist.
"Lincoln lived an epic, endlessly tragic life that produced a
fascinating man who faced a difficult existence and still managed to
somehow scrape his way to greatness," he says. Despite the admitted
silliness of the book, the author wanted to honor Lincoln without
glossing over Lincoln's grief.
While Grahame-Smith hopes no student uses his book to write a history
paper, he says there is something factually accurate on nearly every
page. "It's presented as a real biography. I wrote of his life and
wove the vampire narrative into that timeline while writing it as if I
were writing a biography," he says. Footnotes accompany the text to
explain facts and items—but Grahame-Smith never distinguishes between
which are real and which are constructed.
Everything is real except for the context. Vampires are there when
Lincoln takes the flatboat to New Orleans and sees the larger world
for the first time. They are there when he moves to New Salem and
strikes out on his own. They are there when he loses Ann Rutledge,
during the death of his sons, during the Civil War, and during the
assassination. "Lincoln's life is surprisingly ripe with opportunities
to add vampires,"Grahame-Smith jokes.
While some may object to Grahame-Smith's handling of Lincoln, he
doesn't expect much backlash. "I was pleasantly surprised that so many
Austen fans embraced Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and saw it for
what it was. You can paint a mustache on a picture of the Mona Lisa,
but it doesn't diminish the greatness of the original work of art," he
says, adding that nothing in his new book is intentionally
disrespectful. In fact, Grahame-Smith took great pains to adhere
closely to the facts of Lincoln's life—he just added some fangs, some
garlic, and maybe a few wooden stakes.
[Editors Note: A small exhibit will be on display in the Museum
showing the influence of the Gothic horror novel upon Lincoln and his
era. Lincoln read the poems and short stories of Edgar Allen Poe, the
creator of the murder-mystery genre. Copies of Lincoln's published
poems show the dark influence of Gothic novels. A handwritten letter
by Abraham Lincoln to Joshua Speed provides the first account of
Lincoln's fascination with the Trailor murder trial. Lincoln published
a lengthy account several years later in the Quincy Whig. Ironically,
it appeared on April 15, 1846, coinciding with Lincoln's death date
nineteen years later. A color facsimile of the first page of Bram
Stoker's lecture on Abraham Lincoln from the Notre Dame Library will
also be displayed. Bram Stoker is best known for his novel, Dracula.]