Anne Rice discovered her strong suit early. Written in five weeks, Interview with the Vampire introduced the themes of compulsion, exoticism, and eroticism that would inform her later works. Although she has explored these themes against a wide variety of backdrops, it is her revival of the gothic—and of the vampire in particular—that both brought her critical attention and transformed her into a popular cultural icon. In 2005, Rice took on a dramatically new approach in her work as she dedicated herself to explication, through historical fiction, of the life of Jesus.
Interview with the Vampire is the first of the books that Rice produced in her series known as the Vampire Chronicles. The books in the series shift back and forth in time, from the prevampire life of Lestat in eighteenth century rural France to his escapades in twentieth century New Orleans and then, in Memnoch the Devil, to the time of the creation of heaven and hell.
Interview with the Vampire introduces Lestat through the narrative of Louis, a vampire Lestat has “made.” Louis relates his story to Daniel, a young reporter. Even as Louis grieves for his mortal life, Daniel craves Louis’s power and immortality. Daniel has to overcome his initial horror and skepticism before he can accept the truth of what Louis says, but by the end of Louis’s long story, Daniel is begging to be made a vampire too.
In The Vampire Lestat, Lestat relates his own version of his life. Lestat’s narrative, like Louis’s, is published as a book. (Indeed, Lestat has written his in order to correct several errors he perceives in Louis’s earlier account.) Lestat, always a show-off, revels in publicity, and he uses the book to launch his career as a rock star. Like so many of Lestat’s grand schemes, however, this plan crashes, ending when Lestat barely escapes his fellow vampires’ murderous attack as they seek revenge for his unpardonable publication of a book that reveals their secrets.
In The Queen of the Damned, Lestat becomes the consort of Akasha, the Egyptian ruler who became the mother of all vampires when a demon wounded and invaded her body, giving her immortality. Marius, an old Roman sage and vampire, has kept Akasha intact for more than two thousand years, but it is Lestat’s energetic wooing that brings her out of her long stupor. She revives determined to rid the world of men, whose violence has made them unfit to survive. Only a remnant will endure for breeding purposes, she declares. Having partaken of her blood and fallen deliriously in love with her, Lestat nevertheless struggles against her insane project. He is finally saved from Akasha’s wrath by Maharet and Mekare, witches who are also twin sisters and who destroy Akasha.
In The Tale of the Body Thief, Lestat, suffering from ennui, succumbs to the temptations of a body thief, Raglan James. The body thief offers Lestat a day of adventure in a mortal body in exchange for his own. Stupidly, Lestat accepts, even paying James twenty million dollars for the privilege of enjoying one day of mortality. James then absconds with both the money and Lestat’s body, which Lestat is able to repossess only with the help of David Talbot, head of the Talamasca, a society dedicated to investigating the occult. Lestat, who is in love with David, then makes the resistant David into a vampire.
In Memnoch the Devil, a terrified Lestat discovers that he is being stalked by Satan, who calls himself Memnoch because he does not regard himself as a rebel angel or as God’s accuser. Memnoch invites Lestat to become his lieutenant—not to gather souls for hell, but to redeem those awaiting enlightenment and salvation. Memnoch’s argument is that he is offering God a grander creation, a purer vision of humankind, than God himself has conceived. In the end, Lestat repudiates Memnoch, doubting the devil’s word and wondering if what he has “seen” is only what he has imagined.
With the Vampire Chronicles, Rice rejuvenates the conventions of gothic romance and the horror novel. Like earlier heroes, Lestat is a nobleman of surpassing courage and physical attractiveness. Indeed, the vampire elder Magnus makes him into a vampire because he has seen the handsome Lestat on the stage in Paris and admired his indomitable spirit. As in William Godwin’s novel Things as They Are: Or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794), Lestat is an insatiably curiousprotagonist attached to an older hero who represents both good and evil. Lestat must know the origins of vampirism, and he must follow his desires regardless of the cost to himself and others.
Lestat’s eroticism also partakes of the gothic tradition. Reflecting Rice’s abiding interest in androgyny, he finds himself attracted to both men and women—to the goddess Akasha and to the head of the Talamasca, David Talbot. Deeply devoted to his mother, Gabrielle, he takes her as his vampire lover. Incestuous and homoerotic elements that are veiled or only hinted at in earlier gothic fiction explode in Rice’s chronicles. Rice also succeeds in making gothicism contemporary by making Lestat into a rock star, thus underscoring parallels between the cult of celebrity and the allure of the vampire.
Mayfair Witches series
Rice conceived the first installment of the Mayfair Witches cycle, The Witching Hour, in 1985 after she finished writing The Vampire Lestat. She had generated some new characters that...
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