Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Review: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

I've read three vampire books in my life, and this was the funniest.  I'm not necessarily going to recommend Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, because it has a limited appeal, or it could easily have strong appeal to some groups that have no business reading it.  You have to be able to appreciate horror, humor, and history in almost equal amounts, which is a strange combination at best.  You also should not read this if you are young and have not had your historical awareness kindled yet.  It would be wrong to leave an impressionable young mind with a conviction that beheading vampires was the real use of Abe Lincoln's axe.  And the implication that vampires were the real reason for slavery (because of the constant supply of human prey) and that their unholy alliance with the wealthy Southern landowners was the real danger in the Civil War, trivializes the historical complexities to a point that no teacher of history can condone.  But it was funny! I have a feeling the movie (which I won't be watching) has a harder time keeping the humorous tone than the book, because there are just so many gory scenes.  Fortunately I don't get grossed out by reading, and the verbal description of gore is so over-the-top that even though I don't like that particular horror element, I found the book very entertaining.  I consider it in the category of alternate history, which is a favorite of mine... and if you can keep the distinction between fantasy and reality, you might enjoy it too.

The genius of the author is in his ability to capture the feeling of a biography, with specific historical detail that has been tweaked just enough to make you want to Google it to find out for sure if it's made-up.  Of course, that's also the insidious thing about it.  I'll have to be careful in future years as I read about the Civil War, that I don't recall some interesting tidbit of information as factual.  It has implications for the modern day as well... for example, I will always wonder now if there isn't a different reason than I had assumed for why Secret Service agents always wear dark glasses.  And never smile.  And I will certainly never be able to recall "Now he belongs to the ages" in quite the same way.

Bram Stoker's Dracula is a classic and just about anyone could read it without getting creeped out too much.  It doesn't linger on the gory or gruesome; and vampires are unquestionably evil, which is probably where they should stay.  Only in a warped culture such as ours can vampires play the romantic lead.  And no, vampires don't sparkle.

I like a vampire story of literary quality, not just pulp fiction: so I'd like to promote an overlooked treasure - The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers.  A slightly more likely mash-up of the Romantic poets (among them of course Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary, the author of Frankenstein) and La Belle Dame Sans Merci, with the riddle of the Sphinx in there too for good measure.  Like Abraham Lincoln, this book is rich with historical and biographical detail, but it doesn't confuse the issue by trying to spoof historical characters. 

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