Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
by Seth Grahame-Smith
Grand Central Publishing (2010)
352 pgs
When Seth Grahame-Smith adapted Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009), he was pushed to the front of the mash-up revolution. He had taken an original story, peppered it with zombies, and slapped his name on it. And you know what? In that case, he was successful.

What was before a classic novel, became something even more accessible and hip. Grahame-Smith ignited a trend for paranormal mash-ups, inviting success stories like the sequel to his own book (Steve Hockensmith's ...Dreadfully Ever After) and some not-so-success(ful) stories (Little Women and Werewolves, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim). But what inevitably works (and, in some of those examples, "works" is stretching it, but go with me) is that the authors are basically staying within the framework of the original piece and making it more colorful. Like an Austen paint-by-numbers.
Or something.

There's kind of an unspoken rule that the new work retains the feel of the original narrative while incorporating a paranormal or fantastical element. At the end of the day, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is still Pride and Prejudice...with zombies. Unfortunately for Seth Grahame-Smith, that rule carries over to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which is based on historical fact rather than a literary narrative; the new work reads like a biography or a history book...with vampires. The publishing industry calls it "dark historical revisionism." I call it "lame."

The result of this venture is just downright boring. It reads like a biography with little flourish. It is proposed that Lincoln's thirst for vengeance against vampires is rooted in the death of his mother which, according to his drunken father, was at the hands of a vampire. So he goes in search of vampires to kill, gets saved by one, makes nice, and then kills a bunch of other vampires at his buddy-vamp's behest without question. Honest Abe can be chalked up to being an honest fool who, lacking any self-motivation (he only runs for president because the "good" vampires are using him as a pawn in their war against the "bad" vampires), has so little integrity that I felt offended for the real Abraham Lincoln's memory.

The alternating of third person narrative with the "primary source" of Lincoln's "lost journals" is formulaic and frustrating and, while that might work for a bargain-shelf novel of historical fiction, it does not work for something that's marketed as a horror/thriller/fantasy novel. Even a campy one. And the lack of irony in this book is so remarkably absent that I can't even call it campy. It's just a wreck.

Edit (7/9/12):
For the record, I have now seen the film. A number of changes were made that not only cleaned up the plot for time, but made it more believable as well. My belief was suspended through a good portion of it (that stopped when they screwed up the time frame of Gettysburg...of all things that could have taken me out of it, that was it), and I found the whole thing thoroughly enjoyable. Yes, there are moments of campy ridiculousness--the horse stampede, any part with Harriet Tubman--and the makeup was terrible, but the acting was fine...I mean, Benjamin Walker and Dominic Cooper are pretty, Jimmi Simpson was a nice surprise, but the even better surprise was Alan Tudyk. Will I pay $14 to see it again? Not likely. Will I watch it on Netflix Instant Watch someday? Definitely. Maybe just for that ridiculous horse stampede scene. 


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