Called Out of Darkness (Magill's Literary Annual 2009)
In October, 2004, Anne Rice shocked her legions of loyal readers by announcing that she would never again pen the American gothic novels that had catapulted her to the top of best-seller lists. Proclaiming that she had renewed her commitment to Jesus Christ and returned to the Catholic faith of her childhood, she insisted that she would write “only for the Lord.”
At the time of her announcement, she had published twenty books that had dealt with the supernatural, beginning with Interview with the Vampire, which appeared in 1976. The main character, Lestat de Lioncourt, a French nobleman who became a vampire in the eighteenth century, rivaled Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula in fame, and to the delight of Rice’s adoring fans, he appeared in subsequent books of the Vampire Chronicles series. In addition to writing about vampires, witches, mummies, and other beings of the occult, Rice wrote adult and erotic fiction under the pseudonyms Anne Rampling and A. N. Roquelaure. She is one of the most popular authors in modern history, and more than one hundred million copies of her novels have been sold. Several of her books have been adapted for film, television, and the stage and have also inspired musical compositions by various artists.
In spite of warnings that she was committing career suicide, Rice kept her promise to confine her writing to Christian-themed books. In 2005, she published Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, the first in a trilogy of novels based on the life of Jesus. Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana, the second in the series, appeared in 2008. Well received by critics, the books were lauded for vivid, well-researched, and reverent portrayals of Jesus.
While hardcore fans of Rice’s vampire stories were dismayed by the new direction that her writing had taken, spiritually inclined readers were intrigued. Both groups, however, asked the same question. How could a renowned writer of best-selling gothic novels renounce the genre that made her career and become a committed Christian who writes only for God? Rice attempts to answer this question in Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession. Reflecting on her life and work, Rice chronicles her Catholic upbringing, a thirty-eight-year detour through atheism, and a return to her Catholic faith at age fifty-seven in 1998.
Rice lays the foundation of her account by offering a lengthy retrospective of the ways in which her Catholic faith suffused her childhood. Born into a devout Irish Catholic family in New Orleans, Louisiana, she grew up in an all-white neighborhood. Her neighbors and extended family were all Catholics. Her father went to seminary briefly but left and eventually became a postal worker. She had two aunts who were nuns. Her mother, who became an alcoholic after Rice’s grandmother’s death, made sure her two daughters and son were grounded in Catholicism.
Steeped in the trappings and practices of her faith, Rice was a faithful churchgoer until the age of seventeen. She describes in detail the churches where she worshiped and the feast days that were so much a part of church life. However, it is the pageantry of the mass that most captivated her:Daily mass was extremely interesting because the priest wore vestments of watered taffeta with thick embroidery, and even the altar boy wore a lovely white lace-trimmed surplice over his black robe. The priest said the Mass in Latin, facing away from us, and moved back and forth across the altar as he consulted an enormous book. The altar boy rang small golden bells at the moment of the Consecration when the priest spoke in Latin the words of our Lord from the last Supper, “This is my body . . . This is my blood.” . . . Our feelings were those of immense gratitude and wonder. We believed in this miracle as we believed that streetcars passed our house, or that rain fell in great soft glimmering sheets in the afternoons.
Her evocative descriptions open a window on the brand of Catholicism practiced in the 1940’s and 1950’s that may seem foreign to young contemporary Catholics of the early twenty-first century, who have been raised in the wake of the sweeping changes of Vatican II. The Latin mass, rich vestments, and ornate churches reflected an almost magical world where the authority of priests and nuns was trusted and unquestioned. In fact, Rice notes that not even a whisper of scandal touched the religious of her day, and any...
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