As a long-time admirer of the novelist Anne Rice, it was with much joy that I read news of her return to the literary genre that made her name, gothic-horror fiction about the eternal creatures with a thirst for human blood, the vampires.
Rice’s latest novel, Prince Lestat, will hit US bookstores on October 28, more than 10 years since her last work under the Vampire Chronicles series was released. The new book, published by Knopf, is available to pre-order in Amazon.com.
More good news: Universal Pictures recently announced that it had acquired the movie rights to all of Rice’s novels under the Vampire series, for producer Brian Grazer and Imagine Entertainment.
Fans of Anne Rice are ecstatic with these developments, feeling as I did that it’s about time that the doyenne of the vampire novel got her due. In her long absence from the genre, new authors had gained ground including Stephenie Meyer of the wildly popular Twilight book series and Charlaine Harris of the Southern Vampire Mysteries, which became the inspiration for the popular HBO television series True Blood.
Of these two new authors, I had only read Meyer’s Twilight books (mostly out of curiosity) and clearly, her sophomoric work is targeted at the young adult market. It lacks the wit and inventiveness that can be seen in other works aimed at young readers, most notably the Harry Potter series of J.K. Rowling.
But what she does have is her straight-laced Mormon background, which somehow translated well (especially in the movie version) into the repressed sexual yearnings of a virginal teenager – and whose object of affection just happened to be a pale and handsome vampire.
Moving from Meyer to Rice will be a big leap for some. The Vampire Chronicles are not light reading; there will be no cute scenes in the meadow or vegetarian bloodsuckers that sparkle. In Rice’s books, the dramatic (and often violent) plotlines are underpinned with big religious and philosophical questions about life, death, love, God, sin, guilt, and redemption. You will be scared, but you will also be moved, and you will also think about your own life.
Interestingly, though, Meyer has claimed that Rice was never an influence in her books, despite Rice’s dominance of the vampire genre for almost three decades.
When Meyer was still a toddler, Rice’s first novel, “Interview with the Vampire” had already been published. In this seminal work we are introduced to Rice’s most colorful and compelling character, the French aristocrat turned vampire Lestat de Lioncourt, and his companion and apparent lover Louis de Pointe du Lac (played famously by Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, respectively, in the 1994 Neil Jordan movie adaptation).
As first novels go (especially in the age before global mass marketing), “Interview” had yet to find its core audience and it wasn’t until Rice wrote the sequels, “The Vampire Lestat” and “The Queen of the Damned” almost 10 years later that they became bestselling books, topping 100 million in book copies sold. She followed this up with seven other titles under the Vampire Chronicles, the last being “The Blood Canticle” released in 2003.
Lestat is the vampire for the thinking man and woman. He’s brash, self-absorbed, and charming at turns (hence his moniker, the ‘Brat Prince’), but he can also be profound, contemplative, and sometimes as excited with the world as normal people are, but more often, just weary with it.
The weariness that comes from being an immortal being defines Rice’s vampires. We can perhaps understand it on an intellectual level, although I think that we are just attracted to the very concept of living forever.
It is indeed a pleasing proposition, to see the world pass by and change generation after generation, gain the wisdom of the ages, and remain as young as the day you turned into a vampire. Our human fragility makes us long for the impossibility of being an immortal.
The cover artwork for “Prince Lestat” was released recently and together with it a teaser about the vampire tribe in crisis and Lestat’s pivotal role in saving their kind. The setting apparently is the modern age but as Rice is wont to do, it probably will have flashbacks through the millennia to encompass the back stories, conflicts, and struggles of other famous vampires in the series, including Akasha, the Queen of the Damned. (Perhaps only ardent fans like myself enjoyed the movie version of the book, played with gusto by the late singer Aaliyah, with Stuart Townsend underplaying his Lestat.)
Rice was thought to have given up on the vampire genre after a widely publicized return to her Roman Catholic roots in the mid-2000s. During this time of Christian renewal, she published the novel “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” her fictionalized take on the life of a young Jesus Christ.
While I missed her more gothic writing, I still read her Christ series and was surprised to find that I enjoyed them. But then Rice is a tremendous literary stylist. She suffuses her writing with lush detail and intelligence. Try reading even just the first part of the book, which describes with such painstaking authenticity the mind of a little child who is slowly finding out that he is a God.
Her reconciliation with organized religion would not last long. Today Rice considers herself a “secular humanist” and declares that while Christ is still central to her life, organized religion has no place in it.
Apart from the Vampire Chronicles and the Christ series, the prodigious Rice also wrote three novels about witches (Lives of the Mayfair Witches); two on werewolves (Wolf Gift Chronicles); two on angels (Songs of the Seraphim); and several other novels, short fiction, a memoir. She also published works under her two pseudonyms Anne Rampling and A.N. Roquelaure.
While the printed medium is slowly losing its edge amid the advance of technology, it is heartening to know that good stories are still valued highly by film-makers and other people running the digital world. And there’s no better storyteller of vampire legends than the great Anne Rice.
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