Sunday, July 30, 2017

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
by Seth Grahame-Smith
Recommended Ages: 12+

Some books require no synopsis. The title says it all. But that doesn't make it any less fun to read. Yes, this book really is a biography of Abraham Lincoln, a literally and metaphorically over-sized figure in U.S. history. It hits all the highlights of his often-told, well-documented life from beginning to end, with the addition of his never-before-revealed career as one of the greatest vampire slayers of his time. That someone would start a book like this doesn't seem strange, these days. The fact that he made it all the way through the book, and successfully published it, merits a lift of the eyebrows, if not a tip of the hat. Nevertheless, I bought this book without any expectation that it would be at all good. It surprised me with hours of enjoyment that, in retrospect, demand thinking about.

The audio-CD version of this book beguiled my recent drive from mid-Missouri to the Twin Cities and part of the way back. It is one of two books by this author that have been on my "haven't gotten around to reading it yet" shelf for several years, so I enjoyed the opportunity to listen to Scott Holst read it aloud. Taking nothing from Holst's considerable skill as a spoken-word recording artist and a thrilling story about slaying vampires, I am especially impressed that Seth Grahame-Smith, a past master of genre mash-ups, actually manages to deliver a fairly respectable biography of America's 16th president. The fact that the slave-holding south wasn't, in reality, driven to secede by the motives of literal bloodsucking fiends, doesn't at all detract from the greatness of Lincoln's achievement in rising from an unschooled frontier farm boy to successful lawyer, state legislator, congressman, and first Republican President of the U.S., to say nothing of abolishing slavery and preserving the union through a devastating civil war. The book does fair justice to his great speeches, his important accomplishments as president, and his often heartbreaking family life. It would be pretty good without all the stuff about vampires.

The second major achievement in this book is that, having added all the stuff about vampires without which it would have been a good book, it is still a good book - and not, as one might expect, merely a good joke. Surprisingly, it isn't particularly funny; but the paranormal fiction part of the book is very entertaining in exactly the way it should be - scary, thrilling, and dramatically well-structured.

The book's third achievement is nothing short of a miracle: fitting these two seemingly disparate, individually complete elements together into a single, seamless whole that, with apologies to the historians and biographers of Lincoln, improves on both. Of course, the improvement on the biography and history takes the form of pure fantasy, so calling it an improvement is merely to register a taste judgment on my part. Going the other way, however, the history/biography piece improves the fantasy piece in a way that can be objectively measured and asserted beyond any doubt. It does this by lending the vampire-slaying plot a depth of character, an emotional truth, and (at the end) a movingly tragic-yet-triumphant beauty that I would like to think surprised the author as much as me.

Grahame-Smith is also the author of the paranormal Jane Austen spoof Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; the paranormal Bible spoof Unholy Night (depicting the three wise men as some kind of monster-slaying ronin); the non-fiction books The Big Book of Porn, The Spiderman Handbook, How to Survive a Horror Movie, and Pardon My President: Ready-to-Mail Apologies for 8 Years of George W. Bush; and most recently, a sequel to this book titled The Last American Vampire.

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