The alternative title for this might as well be 'Ronni indulges in some shameless fangirlishness'; I am quite partial to the vampires, and Anne Rice's series is, of course, the original and the best. (Leaving folklore and various incarnations of Dracula out of the equation.)
I first read these books when I was 21, and though I chose to read them for the vampires, the experience was utterly transformative, rivalled only by reading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials
series when I was 12. Both sets of books just came to me at the right time in my life. Rice's novels provided just the rich, philosophical feast, the melancholy musings on life, literature and mortality (and their connections), the sense of the deadening, sterilising weight of history, that I felt and yet could not articulate at the time. Her immortals are monstrous, inhuman, and at once figures inspiring empathy and understanding.
There are 10 original Vampire Chronicles
novels and two 'New Tales of the Vampires'. It would be impossible here to give each one the attention it deserves (and in any case, I only like the first five and last Chronicles
books) so I shall only talk about a few unifying themes and ideas that make these books special to me.
The ethics and burdens of immortality clearly are at the forefront of any books about vampires, and Rice gives them a prominent position. How do you give meaning to a life which has no end? If you cannot die, how can you find common ground with the other conscious beings with whom you share the Earth? How much of human morality is connected with human mortality
? Rice's vampires struggle with these and other conundrums of their condition, and each comes to his or her own conclusion. Marius finds purpose in guarding the bodies of Akasha and Enkil, the oldest, unmoving vampires; Pandora's millenia-long love for Marius gives her unlife meaning; Lestat embarks on quest for human fame and fortune that lasts two centuries and leads back to the simple Catholic religion he craved as a child (with his own melodramatic flourishes, of course), while David Talbot, the fastidious Englishman whom Lestat 'turned' becomes the self-appointed historian and chronicler of the older vampires' stories. In this way, Rice creates inhuman characters who deal with their inhumanity by becoming the embodiment of various human qualities - duty (Marius), love (Pandora), celebrity (Lestat) and scholarship (David).
But her first, and perhaps greatest character, Louis, the melancholy, world-weary narrator of Interview With the Vampire
, finds no solace in these human things. I have always thought it significant that Rice wrote only one book from Louis' perspective; he is closest to her heart, and 'his' book is the anguished cri de coeur
of an intelligent, rational, educated 20th-century woman struggling to find in her rationalism a reason why evil exists in the world. 'How can we be moral in this new world where there is no God? If we are not human, are we more than human - are we the closest thing to God - and if so, shouldn't we act with a morality that is above that of humans?' Rice's anguished narrator seems to be asking.
Armand, Maruis' youthful-looking, emotionally volatile protegé, decides that the purpose of vampires is to reflect the spirit of their age. If this is the case, the miserable Louis is the spirit of the Enlightenment (as Armand tells him, 'Your fall from grace has been the fall of a century'), born into rationalism but yearning for the dark, certain, uncertainties of an age where the world's phenomena had not yet all been explained away.
Lestat, Louis' erstwhile antagonist and companion, is the embodiment of the 20th century. Even in 'Louis'' book, he takes up too much space, stealing every scene, demanding to be noticed, demanding to matter. His journey, catalogued in most of the later books, sees him start up a theatre of 'vampires pretending to be humans pretending to be vampires', become a rock star whose music awakens Akasha, the mother of all vampires, on a murderous crusade to annihilate humanity, swap bodies with a human to feel what mortality feels like, go on a Divine Comedy
-esque journey into Heaven and Hell (this in my second favourite book after Interview
, Memnoch The Devil
) and undergoes a melodramatic spiritual transformation that causes him to lie in the desert under the sun (which should destroy him) and yet live. And this all in just four books! Lestat remains a liar to the end, but in the broad sweep of his journey, we can see the journey of 20th-century humanity - from rationalism to despair and back to a form of spirituality again.
Rice's true talent is that although readers never forget that her books are dealing with characters who are utterly inhuman, we can find in their stories existential anguish, philosophical musings and esoteric concepts which reflect the burning questions, struggles and confusion of our own, utterly human lives.