Abraham Vampire

You’re joking, right?

Abraham Lincoln, a vampire hunter?

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterWhen I heard about this novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I laughed because I thought it was a joke. The cover shows a very stately President Lincoln looking a little left of the camera, the tip of an ax peeking over his right shoulder.  Flip the book over and you’ll see blood splatters and a vampire’s head held behind Lincoln’s back.

I put the book on hold for myself before seeing the cover because the title was so fantastic. I thought I was in for a humorous 350 pages. And parts of it were funny. Darkly humorous. But as I read on, I began to see how the book could be read as a piece of literature. Vampire hunting aside, the book gives a good history lesson for Civil War and history buffs alike. I began to see how our  16th president  could be this fierce vampire hunter, wielding an ax and flinging stakes like he was born to it. And in fact, according to Grahame-Smith, he was born to be a vampire hunter. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the novel goes into how the future of America—throughout the Civil War and beyond—relies on Lincoln remaining a vampire hunter. 

Older Abraham Lincoln, 1860s

Photo Source: Iowa Digital Library

My vision of Abraham Lincoln had always been from the photographs of him: a long and lean man with a face full of sorrows, sometimes a beard, which a little girl had advised him to grow because the ladies like “whiskers,” see-through eyes so light in color they look like sea glass.  I saw him as a man weighted down by the loss of two sons, bouts of intense melancholy and the looming Civil War.

Told through both third person narrative and journal entries kept by Lincoln from a young age, this book moves quickly. Even though it’s fiction, it could have gone in an entirely different direction. Lincoln as vampire hunter could have been goofy fun. Instead, the story is a serious one. Lincoln comes across as a warrior, one step ahead of the monsters that would overwhelm the country.

Fast-paced and compelling, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is my choice for a few hours escapism.


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Red in Tooth and Claw

It’s out there. Just beyond the dim light of the fire. It waits for the darkness and then roars into camp to carry off yet another member of your party. It’s huge, indescribable and seemingly unstoppable. What is it? Why is it? More importantly, how do you survive? This ancient story and all the primal feelings it inspires lies at the heart of a monumental book I just finished reading: The Terror by Dan Simmons.

The facts are these: In 1845 Sir John Franklin set out with two of the most modern ships of the day, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, across the frozen Canadian Arctic to try to find the famed Northwest Passage. Other than one note and the ruined ships and bodies of the expedition that were found much later, there is no evidence for what exactly happened. The one thing that is known is that no member of the party was seen alive again.

Jumping off from these morbid but intriguing facts, Dan Simmons creates a fictional world that is both dreadful and compelling. His depiction of life aboard the ice-bound ships captures the claustrophobic conditions and the increasingly desperate attempts to avoid freezing to death. Simmons’ attention to detail is amazing, everything from the requisitioning of tinned vegetables to the wearing of cold weather slops is covered, but the real fun starts with the appearance of the thing out on the ice. It would be criminal to reveal too much about this character. Let’s just say it is large, lethal, and not something you would want to meet on a bright sunny day let alone in the continual gloom of an Arctic winter.

While reading The Terror, I couldn’t help being reminded of a beloved book from my adolescence, Grendel by John Gardner. Grendel covers some of the same ground, men vs. monster, but from a distinctly different point of view. It is a retelling of the age-old story of Beowulf but Gardner is more concerned with the motives of the creature than the dashing, and dare I say smug, Beowulf and his Norse henchmen. Not that I am biased or anything…

Whether you like your monsters malicious or sympathetic, there are plenty lurking in the stacks of the Everett Public Library.