Abe Lincoln and alt-history

Okay, so I went to see The Hunger Games this weekend. I’ve read the trilogy (which I really enjoyed), but the movie could only do so much in 2.5 hours. A lot of the characters got short-changed, I felt, and the movie didn’t capture what I’ve been calling the utter banality and brutality of the Capitol. But again, there’s only so much you can do with a 2.5-hour movie. The cast was great, and I enjoyed the pacing of it, so there you go.

ANYWAY, my point is, I was sitting in the theater getting ready for The Hunger Games and the previews came on, including. . .

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

For reals, yo. And it freaking looks like it’s going to kick some serious ass. Check out the trailer:


OMG you know you want more of this! Keep reading!

Note his weapon — an axe. It was said that Lincoln was a really strong guy, and he could wield an axe like nobody’s business. That’s part of history and historical lore. He once said that if he had six hours to chop down a tree, he would spend the first four sharpening the axe. I like that the author of the book on which this is based (see below) took those little tidbits about him and made Lincoln’s axe a super-awesome vampire killin’ tool, and gave him mad skillz to wield it.

I get a kick out of alt-history (I happen to be trained as a historian, with the academic bells, whistles, and assorted accoutrements), so stuff like this just makes me smile. I mean, who would’ve thought? Abraham Lincoln as a freaking vampire killer. I have to see this, now, to see if they pull it off.

So what is this “alt-history” of which I speak? Well, alternative history is a literary genre in which stories are set in worlds where actual (i.e. documented) history isn’t. That is, history has diverged from its documented path and it takes a reader into the realm of “what if”. The genre is sometimes viewed as science fiction, literary fiction, and historical fiction, but I consider the “alt-history” label easiest to grasp because not all historical fiction is alternative history. Generally, works of alt-history take pivotal moments in actual history and re-write them with that “what if” idea I mentioned above. There are generally 3 things alt-history needs to do: 1) an author makes a conscious decision to change something in the past 2) that change would alter history as it is known and 3) the author examines the consequences of that change.

In terms of Lincoln, his presidency is indeed one of those pivotal moments in American history, not just because of the man he was, but because of the larger events occurring when he took office. Here, in the movie that casts him as a vampire killer, he has to save the world from being overrun by vampires, and it looks like at least some of the soldiers fighting in the Civil War might be of that persuasion. Not sure, yet, how that’s going to play, so don’t quote me on that.

At any rate, Seth Grahame-Smith, the writer of the book on which this movie is based, has altered Lincoln’s early life, prior to his becoming president. He’s now a vampire killer, and what that means is that his early Buffy the vampire slayer days will have repercussions throughout his presidency and probably will influence his presidency because from the trailer, I get the sense that he’s got to deal with vampires then, too. Perhaps he was elected because of his skill at taking out vampires. And perhaps the Civil War battles in the trailer are actually battles fought between humans and vampires. Or perhaps there are vampires in the ranks of the Union and Confederacy. We shall see what the movie brings us! As it stands, I have not yet read the book. But gosh darn it, I’m on it!

Do you see how interesting this can get? If you change one aspect of history, you have to think about the ripples that creates in your narrative in order to make it convincing. So it helps, actually, to know what the documented history is before you take some of it and re-write it as something totally different. That way, you have a sense of the big picture, and what kinds of things are going to shift in response to the change you made.

I mean, Abe Lincoln and vampires. That’s awesome. Seth Grahame-Smith also gave us Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. And here’s the link to the Abe Lincoln book.

source: Shock ’til you Drop

And rumor is, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is in the movie works, starring Natalie Portman.

So there you go. Try a little alt-history. You might like it.

Happy reading, happy writing, happy movie-going!

Shout-out to Kate over at Facebook (you know who you are) for bringing up this movie on my FB page. I was going to blog it at some point, and what do you know, here you go!

4 thoughts on “Abe Lincoln and alt-history

  1. Fascinating. I had heard about this movie, but I honestly didn’t know what to think of it. Based on this, though, I might have to keep my ear to the ground for more information.

  2. When I saw the trailer for the first time this weekend, I thought: WTF does Lincoln have to do with mad ninja skillz? Because at first, you’re thinking it’s some kind of historical mystery-thriller (along the lines of the Robert Downey, Jr. “Sherlock Holmes” movies). And then you see the younger Lincoln doing all kinds of crazy ninja stuff with his axe, opening a can of whup-ass on people and THEN you realize he’s whuppin’ vampires and at that point, it’s the first serious pour of the awesome out of the awesome bottle, and your brain kinda goes all SHUT UP IS THIS FOR REAL ABE LINCOLN IS GOING BUFFY VAMPIRE SLAYER ON THESE PEOPLE. And then you realize that you want to see it, because you totally want to see Honest Abe kick some vampire ass. At least that was my reaction. Speaking for myself, of course. 😉

  3. There’s also a Sense and Sensability and Seamonsters out there I think by the same people!

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