Lincoln and vampires: Absurdity or biting satire?

All we have are grainy black and white photos of Mary Todd Lincoln–but I can’t imagine that she really looked like this! Image of actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead: freewallpapers.com

If you accept these two premises—that Vampires exist, and that history only tells us part of the truth—then books like Seth Grahame-Smith’s Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter won’t strike you as too much to swallow.

I read this book over a year ago, shortly after I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies—a book I thoroughly enjoyed. Seth Grahame-Smith had done something for me that no teacher or professor had ever accomplished: he made Jane Austen interesting. I always thought that something truly bizarre needed to happen in her novels in order to overcome the soporific effect of her prose.

Well, after all of the hype surrounding the movie version of Vampire Hunter, I went to see it. And I enjoyed it. I checked out Roger Ebert’s take on the film first, just to see what an intelligent reviewer might think of it (I don’t always agree with his take on movies, but I respect his erudition), and was surprised to learn that he liked it!

I enjoyed the movie. It is perfect summer fare: lots of action from the get-go and quite a few chills and thrills. I actually jumped on more than one occasion as horrific vampires materialized from nowhere to bare their fangs.

If I was at all disappointed, it was because the movie lacked the rich detail of Grahame-Smith’s novel. The novel includes not only the death of Abe’s mother (who died of a vampire bite, not of the milk-sick—duhh), but also of Abe’s beloved Anne Rutledge. Abe’s hatred for slavery in the book stems not from the mistreatment of his childhood friend, but from a trip down to New Orleans he took with his mentor, Sturges, where he witnessed slave auctions. It is likely that this detail may have been fairly historically accurate. The famous poet, Edgar Alan Poe makes an appearance in the novel, as does John Wilkes Booth (Guess what! He is a vampire—go figure)—whom we never encounter in the film. And, in the novel, Lincoln—through the devices of his mentor, Henry Sturges—becomes an immortal who apparently still spends his nights in the White House (probably in his old bedroom, when it isn’t being used by campaign contributors).

There is richness in the novel—never mind its absurd premise—that didn’t make it into the film. The film may be called by the book’s title, but it is a very different work. Nonetheless it is enjoyable on its own terms as summer entertainment. Not great summer entertainment, but not bad. Not bad at all.

If you like the movie, and if you are interested in seeing the rest of the story, you owe it to yourself to pick up the novel.

There is one historical glitch in the film that I couldn’t get over. In the movie, Mary Todd is a knockout (and hell on wheels with a rifle, too). Aly Semigram from Hollywood.com observed that “some artistic liberties were taken with the portrayal of the First Lady, including how she looked (having three names is about as close to resemblance as the two women have) and excluding her oft-speculated bipolar disorder.” Just those two little things. That’s all

In real life, if you believe much of what has been written about Mary, she may have been hell on wheels—but a knockout? Oh well. Abe (played by Ben Walker) wasn’t near as good looking either. So, I guess it balances out.

You have to keep saying to yourself, “It’s only a movie.”

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