Once again, I throw out the disclaimer that all reviews may contain some spoilers.
Sometimes it’s only one book, or one particular series of books that draw my attention. I love Anne Rice, but I prefer her supernatural tales over her religious or erotic pieces. I prefer Michael Crichton’s science fiction works as opposed to stories like Air Frame, The Great Train Robbery, and Disclosure.
Seth Grahame-Smith is one of the rare authors that I will read purely because his name is on the cover. This began with one of his earliest known contributions to both modern and classical literature: Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies.
Both praised and criticized for the way the book is essentially the same story, but with the zombie element carefully woven into the narrative of Jane Austin’s original work, Grahame-Smith could be reasonably credited with the start of the trend that was re-imagining the classics. Android Kerenina, Sense, Sensibility, and Sea Monsters, and Dawn of the Dreadfuls were both written by a different author, but it was Grame-Smith that opened the door for a theme that some would love and others would hate.
His more recent works have similar themes, only it’s history that gets the rewrite in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the sequel, The Last American Vampire.
The first book is probably easy to explain as the title says it all. At the time this book was published, the big thing was vampires and Abraham Lincoln. Grahame-Smith took the two, put them together, and like a person who first rears back in disgust at the thought of spreading mustard on peanut butter and rye, the reading community found that the final result was surprisingly better than they expected.
The main strength of both books, featuring the characters of Abraham Lincoln and the vampire Henry Sturges is that, the books use so much factual data, that can be found in any library, that you could be forgiven for believing that the fictional elements were as real as the actual events depicted in the novels. This is not a parody of history. Like Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies these are carefully crafted tales, lovingly woven into the fabric of what is there to make a re-imagining that is both believable and entertaining.
There will always be critics whenever someone tries to do something new with something old. I’m guilty of gallantly defending the original version of any song that was remade in the last twenty years, but I’ll sometimes miss the irony of the fact that some of my favorite songs of the 80’s are also remakes of earlier songs. So fans of the Dark Shadows TV series may also be surprised to find that I enjoyed the Tim Burton movie, which starred Johnny Depp, and was also written by Seth Grahame-Smith.
Like Pride and Prejudice, Dark Shadows the series was loved and is still celebrated by fans to this day. I hope the TV series has the same shelf life, and I would consider myself lucky to one day have the time and the means to sit down and binge watch the entire series. But just like the film adaptation of our favorite books can’t always include all of the elements of the source material, the Dark Shadows movie did everything it could to incorporate the original elements of the series, considering it was a roughly two hour movie about a series that had a long run. The story had clear beginning, middle, and end. One legitimate complaint against the Dark Shadows movie was that it introduced a lot of elements and story lines that couldn’t be adequately nourished in a movie format, and as a person who likes to have everything resolved, by the end of the story, I can understand why that would bother some people. As to the tried and true criticism of the movie’s comedic content, I can only defend it as being a staple of any Tim Burton film.
That brings me to one point in The Last American Vampire that is never resolved. That is a scene involving a boy that may or may not have been autistic, attacking the main character in what may be a fit. That scene ends abruptly, but I had expected the child to be mentioned again later in the narrative. The story is told in a non-linear fashion, with some elements being brought up in one chapter, but not being returned to until later in the story. I love this style of story-telling and have experimented with it in my own writing, but that one instance of the boy attacking Henry on the Thames is never mentioned again.
Seth Grahame-Smith is like the novelist equivalent of a guy who finds an old television set from the fifties, collecting dust on the side of the street. He removes the parts he can’t work with, adds something new, and the result is something that we recognize as a fifties television set, re-imagined as a new work of art.