Remember when I said I didn’t really get the Abe Lincoln/vampire mash-up novel and movie? After reading W. Scott Poole’s article in the HuffPo, I’m rethinking my opinion.
Poole makes the following argument:
If you’ve read the novel, you know it’s a dark rendering of America’s secret history, the idea that dark powers have moved through the structures of American culture since the beginning. These evil powers, which in 1860 wanted a nation of their own, see human enslavement as a way to feed their appetites.
In my early discussions with my students, this was actually one aspect of the book that troubled me a bit. Didn’t this equation of vampire conspiracies and slavery serve to undermine the struggle to move slavery to the center of the American narrative, especially in discussions about the meaning of the civil war? Fictionalizing it seemed to deal with a serious subject in a silly way.
My students helped me to see it a little differently. On some level, the elements of the fantastic in the novel point to deep, if hard to bear, truths about America. Grahame-Smith actually ties the great vampire plot to notions of “the Slave Power” in American life, an image employed by the abolitionist movement to describe how southern political influence, even over the Founding Documents, had left the republic twisted by inhuman bondage.
Moreover, its not that horror narratives of various kinds haven’t always been a part of the story of slavery. Slaves in the colonial era created a complex folklore about the southern master class, worrying that slave traders were cannibals. My research uncovered at least one case in Louisiana which newly imported slaves became convinced that the masters were witches and vampires (after watching them drink red wine).
These tales of terror illuminate rather than obscure important truths. Slavery did represent a kind of dark magic in which legal fictions transmogrified the bodies of human beings into property. The institution of slavery did become a kind of cannibalism, swallowing millions from the African continent, digesting them in the rice and cotton fields in the relentless pursuit of wealth that characterized the alleged southern “aristocrats.”
Using Poole’s argument, then, I could write an AJ: Alien Slayer novel that uses aliens as a substitute for the Second Bank of the U.S. This would fit with Jackson’s argument that the Bank was under the control of foreigners (or aliens, using the contemporary term for immigrants).*
If only I had the imagination to pull it off, then Hollywood might be my next stop.
* I’m not being sarcastic–I actually think this idea might work.