Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Vampires and God

I was thinking of writing something about vampires for Halloween then I came upon this article. It seems that Anne Rice has found God and will only be writing for and about God in the future. Her next book will be a first-person account of Jesus's time in Egypt as a boy.

Rice has been the most influential writer of vampire fiction in 100 years. The previous writer, of course, was Bram Stoker whose Count Dracula defined the vampire in movies and literature until the 1970s. That's when Rice's Interview with the Vampire came out.

It is very rare for a writer to take a stock character like the vampire and turn it into a genre but Rice did it. She redefined the vampire. Stoker's version was noble, foreign, and evil. He drank blood, he slept in his "native soil", he could change form and he was burnt by crosses and the sun. Rice's vampires still drank blood and avoided the sun but they could not change form and religious symbols did not affect them. More importantly, they went from being a supporting character to being the star.

Dracula hardly appears in his namesake novel. Even when Harker is living in Castle Dracula he spends little time with the Count. In contrast, Rice's novels center on her vampires. Yes, they still drink blood and kill people but that is a subtext, lost in accounts of the life of an immortal in 18th century Paris or 19th century New Orleans. You no longer fear them, instead you want to be one.

There have been hoards of imitators since then. Many are best-sellers in their own right. I am currently reading P. N. Elrod's 14th vampire novel. Most of these are about a Depression-era vampire in gang-controlled Chicago. He's the good guy, saving people and only drinking from cattle.

Most of Anne Rice's 25 books have been about vampires. She probably peaked with Queen of the Damned (or maybe with The Vampire Lestat). Both of those books re-wrote her previous cosmology. In Interview we were told that no vampire could remember where they came from. In Lestat we find out that this was a lie and Lestat himself had met the original vampires. In Queen, we find out a lot more about them. Along the way she introduced the idea of spirits.

Although Rice never quite comes out and says it, it is obvious that all of the gods, spirits, and other non-living creatures are human (or near-human) ghosts who have forgotten their own history. She also took Lestat on a tour of Heaven and Hell that nearly ruined the character. The next several novels featured other vampires with Lestat having, at most, a walk-on roll. Finally in the last novel she returned to Lestat to wrap up all the lingering plot threads from the vampire and the Mayfair Witch books.

In a way, it is a good thing that she moved on. New Orleans was central to many of her books and it will not be in any condition to inspire such literature for a long time.

Will Rice's new series be any good? She seems to think that she pulled it off. I don't know. I hope that she doesn't start a new wave of first person books about Jesus.


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