By Dr. Robert Taylor, Head of the Department of Humanities and Communication and Professor of History
Why would an historian ever be interested in fictional vampires? Well, if you grew up in the early 1960s (like me) chances were good that you wasted a few Saturday afternoons watching television shows like Chiller Theater, Creature Feature, and Dr. Shock, where vampire flicks were often shown. Bela Lugosi became Dracula to me, and even as a kid I couldn’t fail but notice that vampires had a black-tie dress code. Later I read Richard Matheson’s vampire epic I AM LEGEND and it became my favorite novel to this day. So when I first came upon Seth Grahame-Smith’s ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER it peaked my interest.
Mr. Lincoln has long been fair game for fiction authors willing to put him in unique roles. He has been abducted by space aliens while sitting in Ford’s Theater, and once even joined Captain Kirk on the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE for a STAR TREK episode. Others have him losing the Civil War and going on to become an American Lenin preaching class warfare.
Initially I thought when examining this new book that the author was a true literary entrepreneur by combing two incredibly popular topics in one novel. I began reading it fully intending to hate it, but soon found myself trapped in all the book cover clichés like “a page-turner” and “can’t put it down.” Grahame-Smith managed to grab me by creating a situation where you could almost believe that Lincoln could be a vampire hunter and that it fit his role in the American Civil War perfectly. All the reader has to do is get past the notion that vampires have existed in America since the early 1600s. Honest Abe’s fight with these evil creatures became a struggle over the future of America and the value of human freedom. In the end this fictional Civil War, like the real one, would be fought over ideas that were worth dying, or undying , for. In the end ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER was a fun read that put a new spin on the Great Emancipator.
Unfortunately a film was made based on the book. Historians know so well that when Hollywood and history collide, history usually loses badly. The film version of ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER was a travesty that barely followed the plot of the novel. The Lincoln I saw up on the screen indeed decapitated vampires with an ax, but seemed more like Jackie Chan wearing a stove-pipe hat. The historian in me cringed at the portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln. The actress playing Mrs. Lincoln was too attractive and too sane to be believable in the role, and when she became an action heroine I went for more popcorn and didn’t care how long I was gone from my seat.
If vampires and the Civil War interest you, the Humanities and Communication Department here at Florida Tech offers quality courses on both. But students shouldn’t expect these topics to be covered in the same class. Happy Halloween!
Note: In Spring 2013, you can delve into history in HUM 3333: American Military History and HUM 2332: American History Reconstruction to Present; or explore the wilder side of literature in HUM 3285: Special Topic in Literature: Monsters!