Sunday, June 2, 2013

Review: 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' Book & Film

(Photo Source: Grand Central Publishing)
From book jacket: "While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.

Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time--all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth and near-death of our nation."

Last year, I heard a lot about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith, and that ramped up even more when the movie came out. I wanted to read it anyway, but I became really curious after seeing the trailer for the film. I went into it not knowing fully what to expect, and came away loving it. If you've heard anything about this book, it probably goes something like this: Lincoln, considered one of the greatest presidents in US history, had a secret life, so to speak, where he was, as the title suggests, a vampire hunter. That alone hooks you in. And the story is pretty much what you would expect it to be based on that description. But it's also so much more than that.

Besides the plot, what really sold it for me was how the book was constructed when you're reading through the pages, starting with the writing itself. Grahame-Smith wrote it as if these were real events and this was in fact a non-fiction book. And throughout, he includes fake journal entries from Abe, and when reading it, you start to believe that he actually wrote it.

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Something else that drew me in was the photoshopped images. They're in black and white, and styled as if they were taken back in the days of Lincoln. Here's one example, courtesy of Amazon (you can check out a few more here):

(Photo Source: Amazon/Grand Central Publishing)
Again, going back to the believability factor, of course this is a work of fiction. But all these various elements, like the journal entries, like the photographs, like the fact that the introduction focuses on the author himself who has the Lincoln diaries in his possession, it plays with your mind, in a way. So it's as if Grahame-Smith has come across the diaries and is letting the world know the truth through this book Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. (And in fact, the intro takes place during the 2008 presidential campaign because there's brief mentions of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, a nice touch to bring it all back to reality.) It's all brilliant, and I have to laud him for the way in which he crafted everything.

"That, gentlemen....that is why they thrive. That belief--that we live beyond the reach of darkness--is one that vampires have worked tirelessly to instill through the centuries. I submit to you that it is nothing less than the greatest lie ever sold to mankind." -- from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (page 270)

(Photo Source: 20th Century Fox)
The same can't be said for the film adaptation, unfortunately. It had a rushed opening. There were a lot of adaptation changes from book to screen that bugged me to no end. The guy playing the president didn't even look like Lincoln at all. His wife, Mary Todd, finds out about vampires, which I don't remember happening in the book. The connection between vampires and slavery wasn't expressed strongly enough in the movie--it was a big part of the story and they wasted that opportunity. And the end scene took place in modern times with Henry Sturges--I didn't get the point of it. All the changes I'm really surprised about, considering the author actually wrote the screenplay.

I know that books and movies are two different mediums and sometimes there have to be changes from one to the other. As someone who's a fan of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, I completely get that and have seen it happen many times. But this was less "adapted from book to screen" and more just "inspired by the book," if that makes sense.

I will say, though, that I loved the train battle during the climax; I don't think that was in the book, but it was a fantastic visual and was probably needed to satisfy moviegoers, which I didn't mind.

I Recommend: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Book)

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