Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter: An American Monomyth

I recently watched the 2012 film adaptation of the book Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter written by Seth Grahame-Smith. Since I am currently reading The Myth of then American Superhero by John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett (2002), I was sensitive to the correlations between their theory of the "American monomyth" and this film starring Benjamin Walker.

The American monomyth is a pattern of story telling in America that goes as far back as captivity narratives. The archetypal plot formula includes three key features which can be identified in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: (1) an Eden-like community threatened, (2) an intruding and evil "other" group, and (3) a (super-) hero who restores the harmony state (Lawrence 22).

1. Eden

The first element of the monomyth is evident at the opening of the film, when the boy Lincoln witnesses a free-born black member of his community dragged off to be sent south as a slave. The "Eden" in this film begins as Lincoln's boy-hood community and grows into the whole United States. Citizens are law-abiding and cooperative; the only characters who are in favor of slavery are the vampires and a few nameless rich southerners with few lines. The majority are good people who know that slavery is wrong. They all believe, as Lincoln's mother declares, "Until every man is free, we are all slaves" (Abraham). Lawrence and Jewett write that, in the monomyth, "the majority's only failing is its impotence in the face of the evil of others" (23). In Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, citizens in general are not bad, only helpless against the power of the vampires, who use slavery to monopolize a racialized food source.

2. Intruding Evil

If the community within "Eden" is good, then any evil must consequently originate from without.Part of this element of the monomyth involves "projecting all evil outward upon others (or in today's literary and theological terminology, 'the other')" (Lawrence 27). In this film, the evil "other" group is made up of vampires.  We see in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter an attempt to place all blame for the moral wrongs of slavery onto this group.

An important part of this element of the monomyth is the failure of "the institutions designed to cope with such challenges," particularly democracy (Lawrence 22). In this film we see the voting public relegated to a "spectator democracy": they elect Lincoln to save them and clap at his speeches, but have no real contribution to the victory at the end (Lawrence 29). In fact, they are instead victims: debtors, slaves, and slaughtered soldiers. The government, until Lincoln becomes president, is unwilling or unable to confront slavery. It is also completely in the dark about vampires, and thus unequipped to deal with them. As a result, only a superhero can redeem the Eden and its people.

3. Superhero

Abraham Lincoln in this film fulfills many of the criteria for a monomythic superhero. In this context "superhero" connotes a man (occasionally a woman) who is more than human. Lincoln is not only smart and athletic, but he can also chop through a tree with one blow. Other criteria include having a secret identity, a self-less zeal for justice that legitimizes revenge, the delaying of sexual (female-relational) fulfillment, and a religious justification for his actions.

Lincoln is an idealistic loner with a secret identity. Only Henry Sturges, his guide and coach, knows that he is a vampire hunter. He admonishes Lincoln, " No distractions, no attachments. No friends or family" (Abraham). When Lincoln first arrives in Springfield, he avoids contact with others and hunts vampires at night. While revenge was his inciting motivation, his restraint "purifies" his desire for it. The audience feels his goal to avenge his mother is justified, and since he shows patience in achieving it, he is in the moral right. To protect others, specifically Mary Todd, he puts off a relationship with her. When she tries to kiss him, he pulls back. After he does marry her, he continues to keep his vampire hunting a secret.

I highly recommend this book!
Lincoln's mission as a hunter is also religiously sanctioned. Henry tells him, "When Judas betrayed Jesus his reward was 30 pieces of silver. At that moment those pieces became a symbol of betrayal in God, of evil. And silver became a curse upon the cursed" (Abraham). Thus, the hunting of vampires is blessed by God. This is a particularly important element of the monomyth, for audiences often feel that "without a superhuman agency of some sort, there is no true redemption" (Lawrence 243). In order for the peace of Eden to return, a superhero must intervene with religiously justified actions.

The American monomyth adopted by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter argues that without Lincoln's motivating speeches, strong will, and resolution to fight the evil outsiders, the victory against slavery and vampires could not have been won.

Conclusion

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter follows the American monomyth archetype described by Lawrence and Jewett thirteen years ago. This archetype is not only a past plot formula, but Hollywood continues to use it for action films today, netting profits as audiences still accept and enjoy the pattern.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Dir. Timur Bekmambetov. Perf. Benjamin Walker. Twentieth Century Fox, 2012. Film.

Lawrence, John Shelton and Robert Jewett. The Myth of the American Superhero.Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002. Print.

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