Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Adventure classics -- Is there healing in the blood?


Interview with the Vampire

by Anne Rice

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What a long strange trip Anne Rice has had. From the novel that put vampires back on the literary map after a long hiatus, through witches, erotica, Christian fiction, and werewolves. Now the undead live again, with the release this week of Rice’s Prince Lestat. And to think it all started with the story of that veritable gay married couple Louis and Lestat, in 1976’s Interview with the Vampire, written while Rice was mourning the death of her young daughter.

Decades after its appearance, Interview seems prescient. After a long life together, Louis and Lestat seem for all the world like an old married couple. They love, they squabble, they have a child of sorts, they separate, they even try, not very successfully, to kill each other. They can’t get along, but they can’t get along without each other.

I resisted the lure of Rice’s vampires for decades. What kind of repression insists on bloodletting as a metaphor for sex? The notion of a child as vampire seemed like an especially creepy form of kiddie porn. And the limited diet? No way I could sympathize with the renunciation of chocolate, even to secure immortality.

Finally, I told myself it was my duty to the readers of this blog to delve into Interview. I finished it on a suitably dark and stormy night. A freak storm had cut electrical power to my Dallas neighborhood, setting the scene for the physical darkness of the year 1791 when Louis, in despairing guilt over his brother’s suicide, meets the vampire Lestat in a dark alley.

(I’m following the story as stated in the novel, rather than in the 1994 movie version which provides the illustration for this post.)

Although Lestat drains Louis nearly to death, he stops short of physical death, changing Louis into a vampire instead, for the mundane purpose of bleeding Louis of his money. But many great love affairs have had equally prosaic beginnings.

And although Rice’s late twentieth century writing seems as full of coded homoeroticism as the previous century’s Picture of Dorian Gray discussed last Wednesday, the 1970’s were still early days for gay pride. Rice is careful to state explicitly that love between vampires can never be physical. The only physical sensuality of a vampire’s life must lie in killing.

It would take the decade of the 1980’s, with its plague of AIDS, to open more frank conversations about connections between sex and blood and death. And to turn Rice’s book from a cult classic to a media phenomenon. After languishing for years, her vampires roared back with the sequel to Interview, The Vampire Lestat. The resulting Vampire Chronicles series now numbers eleven novels.

Learning as I did that Rice modeled child vampire Claudia after her dead daughter Michele helped make the passages more palatable. Claudia in the book is only five, a good bit younger than her postulated age in the movie. She’s also the same age as Michele when she died of leukemia, significantly, a disease of the blood, shortly before Rice wrote Interview.

Did working through the effects of being eternally frozen in young childhood convince Rice that prolonging earthly life isn’t always the best solution? Maybe I should address that question to her Facebook page, where she’s written candidly about many aspects of her life.

For more about Rice and her writing (including the progress of the latest vampire incarnation), see her on Facebook or at
www.annerice.com/.

(Next Wednesday Adventure classics begins a November of fantasy with Jorge Luis Borges’ short story, “The Aleph.”)