Title: Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned
Author: Anne Rice
Media Type: Book
Warning: Potential spoiler. Proceed at own risk.
I came across the Vampire Lestat seven years ago and fell in love with it after only fifteen pages.
I am not on the vampire bandwagon and never a reader of the supernatural simply because what they are: the supernatural. They have no rules, no bounds, and many times no character and no connection. A lot of time the supernatural is placed there for the sole purpose of creating terror, diving into our irrational fear of the unknown. That, to me, is dull and uninspiring. There is nothing for me in the genre. I could not care less if authors become so popular because the rest of humanity loves it.
But, yes, I did pick Anne Rice’s book up from the shelf in which at least a dozen of her books were showcased. There were two main factors for picking up hers in particular out of a hefty number of books on supernatural out there: my friends love her, and I was curious. I watched Interview with the Vampire not long before that day mainly out of curiosity. My friends mentioned her books far too often that I had to at least know what it is about. I was unimpressed with the film in general – not even the combination of Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Antonio Banderas could stir me. The story, however, spurred my curiosity even more. There was nothing about the terror of the supernatural creatures; it was about the vampires being vampires trying to exist in an ever-changing world while they were damned to be forever unchangeable.
Louis was not my favourite, so I chose my next best connection to Interview with the Vampire: Lestat. This fellow proved to be the best decision I had made.
The Vampire Lestat is, as the title suggested, all about Lestat: how he is when he is a human, how he come to be a vampire, how he lives, how he loves, and how he brushes with death. Reading an autobiography of a person who never exists should have been boring. But no, it was actually the very opposite; I enjoyed every sentence in it. Lestat is a character too intriguing and lively to believe he exists only within the mind of his creator. How, I asked, can a person create something with a depth of an actual human being, being both impulsive and true to his character at the same time? After nights of pondering, I resigned to the idea that Anne Rice is simply a great maestro of her art. After all, some skills can never be explained explicitly. Hers is clearly one of them.
However, there is no real storyline in the book. That is fair if you think that we don’t have a storyline to our lives either, and those who have one never see it coming. Lestat’s life is simply ordinary if not for the fact that he is a vampire. Even though he feeds on blood, he loves like everyone else and grieves like everyone else. He struggles with relationships as everyone does with both Nicholas, his human love, and Gabrielle, his mother. The power of the book comes from the very core of Lestat’s person. And that is enough to make it a great one.
I finished the book within a week after many rounds of anxiety. I was surprised to find myself unable to put it down and dread to death to pick it up because I feared the worst for Lestat and I grieved with him. I empathized with his principles and adored his reckless and forthright nature. He, in essence, is a man who knows no rules and no bounds except his own. He is moved by no one but his own beliefs and insight. He never knows how to give up and never does. In him is every kind of modern ideologies: an individualist, rationalist, and liberalist.
But because there was no storyline to follow, I didn’t bother to find other books in the Vampire Chronicles despite the last chapter in the Vampire Lestat being a major cliff-hanger. I was quite content in drawing inspiration from my favourite vampire rebel. I didn’t give it any further thought for seven long years.
It was out of chance that I came across the omnibus edition of the Vampire Chronicles which includes Interview of the Vampire, the Vampire Lestat, and the Queen of the Damned – the conclusion to the first three stories of the chronicles. Remembering the magnificent portrayal of a vampire’s mind I had read before, I picked it up, sat down, and started reading.
Like before, I was unable to stop.
I started with the missing introduction, Interview with the Vampire, following Louis’s human years and his meeting with Lestat before he is turned into a vampire. The viewpoint is completely different from Lestat who is a practical man. Louis is a romantic soul. He ponders over deeds and people, right and wrong, philosophy and ideology – things Lestat won’t spend too much time with. The contrast between them would have been more intriguing if Louis is not so self-absorbed; he jumps to conclusions too many times for his own good and seems to see the worst out of everything he deems bad.
The more eminent character in Louis’s story is Claudia, the child vampire, and probably the strongest character in the Interview. She is turned into the night creature at way too young an age that she knows only how to be a vampire. Reading her is like reading a science fiction about an alien creature set loose among its prey species with no other like minds in sight. The way she thinks and sees things are vastly different from others, humans or vampires. If other vampires are hybrids, she is the pure-blood. She is also cursed with a child’s body, a perfect delusion when she hunts but a great drawback for her to reach her full capacity. The evolution for this ever-child precedes any other aspect of the story in my opinion. Her lost is the greatest lost of the story and almost puts the story to a standstill.
Fortunately, that was not long before the end. And both Interview with the Vampire and the Vampire Lestat came to its grand conclusion in the Queen of the Damned.
The third volume of the chronicle was written differently from the first two by using third-person and first person narration alternatively instead of just first-person, and it covered a variety of stories from different characters and time. It is Anne Rice’s attempt to complete her vampire mythology and seals out loopholes. To give her credit, it is convincing to a much higher degree than other supernatural stories. Her kind of spiritual world is not tied to any religion and tabs into the baser form of spiritualism that we would find at the dawn of mankind. That might be the most ingenious move since it is the kind of thinking anybody can connect to regardless of their faiths and beliefs. Instead of pushing some audience away by suggesting god or the like, she basically embraces everyone and provides the central connection between beliefs, making her explanation universal.
That does not mean all loopholes are gone – that is unlikely – more like she has put her puzzles so neatly together that you would experience a smooth transition from one concept to another, hence minimizing the possibility that you would notice any existing loophole in between.
That, my friend, is the genius of the storyteller.
Another thing the Queen of the Damned does is it provides a very interesting outlook to the immortal lives, the real immortality in which you live millennia after millennia in a changing world as a static being. The immortals in both Interview with the Vampire and the Vampire Lestat are relatively young compared to the first generation of vampires finally gathering in the Queen of the Damned. All of them exhibit different symptoms of living too long: some of them have lost themselves to sounds of thoughts they hear through their vampire senses sharpened with time, some have gone mad from guilt and grief, and some have shut themselves up from the outside world not knowing how to connect to the young ones. All these unpleasantness lead many immortals into hibernation and wither away except one, the core character of the vampire mythology, Maharet.
She is one of the witnesses of the birth of the vampire species and possesses a great amount of knowledge of the mechanism. She also is the only ‘true immortal’, the only first generation that has never gone into hibernation or insanity and retains continual awareness over 6000 years. The reason she survives thus long is she has a connection to her mortal family and have kept it all this time while avoiding the suspicion of being an immortal. In that way, she always has a way to connect with the changing world. Over the centuries, her family has grown, branching to different continents and ethnic groups that eventually her family becomes, more or less, humanity.
The true immortal, the alien species, finds her place among the beings that are her prey, the beings she once was and still loves.
The true beauty of the Queen of the Damned is how the stories and details fall together and complement each other like a great piece of art, and how the vampires and their misery reflect humans and humanity. With immortal eyes, they can see things that are too large for mere mortals to see, and they come to the conclusion we, humans, know but hardly acknowledge: all humans are a single family. And for that family, the vampires would risk their own existence.
Actually, this conclusion sounds more epic than how it actually unfolds, much to my delight. Anne Rice didn’t overplay the doomsday undertone and the heroic attempts of the vampires. Everything is at a very human level, which is not easy to find these days when almost any potentially epic storyline are hyped more than it should have been. The final confrontation between the vampires and their queen is filled with human emotions, guided by human motivations, and ends with a rather human action, all the time devoid of supernatural suspense.
After all, this essentially is not a vampire story. Vampires are mere reflection of humans, a tool to examine our façade and virtue under extreme circumstances. With their morals challenged and the worldviews altered, they are forced to ask very difficult questions that we probably would not consider under normal condition. The Vampire Chronicle at its core is not about the supernatural but about what the supernatural tells about us. That, actually, might have been the heart of all supernatural stories before it becomes a vehicle of terror we are familiar with.
And here at the end, I would like to give Anne Rice a salute she much deserves for an extraordinary work that brings the heart and humanity back to the territory they have always been: the realm of the supernatural.