Part Five: In Which Favorites Are Blatantly Played
In which the end is nigh, but not quite so nigh as previously assumed.
When last we left off, Louis and Claudia had escaped to Europe, had a pointless detour in Romania so we could all point and laugh at that dumby dumbo Bram Stoker, and then came to Paris, where they learned that the other vampires they’d been searching for are actually a high school clique doing pretentious murder theater.
Also, killing another vampire is punishable by death and everyone in the clique who isn’t Super Pretty Mindfreak Armand is looking for an excuse to kill these two weird newcomers (and, to be honest, Armand’s really only fussed about the danger is represents for his prospective new squeeze). So there’s a ticking clock going on at the back of all this, as Claudia and Louis leave their first engagement with the theatre and head back to their palatial hotel suite.
Claudia is pretty justifiably distraught, seeing the little chat they just had for what it is: a death sentence slooooooooowly lowering itself onto her neck. But more than that, she’s upset because it’s obvious to anyone with eyes that Louis is seriously smitten with the handsome and mysterious Armand, and she’s both afraid he’s going to leave her and resentful that he’s staying, but only out of guilt.
I reached out for her now as she drew near, but her fierce eyes settled on me and I let me hands drop back limp. ‘Do you think I would leave you in danger?’
“She was smiling. For a moment I didn’t believe my eyes. ‘No, you would not, Louis. You would not. Danger holds you to me…’
“ ‘Love holds me to you,’ I said softly.
“ ‘Love?’ she mused. ‘What do you mean by love?’ And then, as if she could see the pain in my face, she came close and put her hands on my cheek.
“ ‘You would leave me for Armand if he beckoned to you…’
“ ‘Never…’ I said to her.
“ ‘You would leave me, and he wants you as you want him. He’s been waiting for you…’
Claudia tells him that the reason she was so quiet during Armand and Louis’ big long talk about evil is because Armand put her under a trance, and sowed a command of sorts in her mind telling her that she should just die, so he could have Louis.
I again feel the need to reiterate that my fave is a selfish, spiteful little shit. And I love him.
Anyway, Louis blows her off and says that Armand would never, simply could never be guilty of such a hateful thought, because he’s got it real real bad, and Claudia begins to realize that she’s going to have to start making plans if she’s going to get out of this alive.
The next night, Louis goes back to Armand in order to prove that he’s definitely the one vampire they can trust, and winds up walking in on a weird scene with Armand and his pet human, Denis. Basically Armand has voyeurism in his bones, so he watches Denis eat and drink like it’s the most intense thing ever, and then the kid goes and…puts his arms around Armand and…I have no idea what’s happening here. It’s clearly deeper than a hug (and seems to go on for a while, because when it’s over Louis is all FINALLY), but it’s…probably not feeding? Louis would describe that for sure.
I HOPE TO GOD IT’S NOT SOME KIND OF HANDJOB, because I’d kind of been pretending Denis was a secret adult after all that hard-on business when Louis was feeding from him (not without precedent – Daniel is described as “the boy” throughout, and it’s later revealed he was 19/20 at the time), but NOPE, Armand talks about how he’d never turn Denis into a vampire because he hasn’t finished growing and so we all just read about erotic pubescent boners someone please boil me in acid.
Behold, the most adult Armand ever drawn
(I feel bad for not showing off the actual manga actually released in Japan before now – it’s really quite pretty, especially precious 90s boy Daniel, and a helpful soul scanned it in total)
ANYWAY, the actual point of Armand’s big long monologue is carefully laying out for Louis, who apparently does not understand catty society politics despite growing up as a Southern Gentleman™, that the other vampires in the house are intent on only bringing in new vampires who revere them and won’t upset the social order. The fact that Louis never speaks freaks them out, and the fact that Claudia is an adult in a child’s body is likewise a titter-worthy taboo (also one of them is jealous of her looks because WIMMEN). Armand caps it all off by saying Louis should go on not saying anything, because he’s clearly an open book who’d tell anyone anything (I’m sure you sir are not doing anything to influence his emotional openness, oh no).
And then this happens, and in spite of the fact that every relationship in this series is at least some degree of dysfunctional horrorshow, I am struck by d’aww.
I heard his words just as if he were speaking them again: ‘All I want is a certain space, a certain peace. Or not to be here at all.’ And I felt a longing for him so strong that took all my strength to contain it, merely to sit there gazing at him, fighting it. I wanted it to be this way: Claudia safe amongst these vampires somehow, guilty of no crime they might ever discover from her or anyone else, so that I might be free, free to remain forever in this cell as long as I could be welcome, even tolerated, allowed here on any condition whatsoever.
Now, the fact that Armand is a Lying Liar Who Lies and also has powers of illusion that trump almost every other vampire in the series (and certainly in this book) throws a certain amount of doubt on every scene Louis spends with him. You could go as far as to argue that Louis never loved him at all, and was under mental suggestion the whole time that eventually broke. I tend to believe that, while Armand is definitely guilty of using his influence to push Louis into doing things that follow The Plan (which mostly falls under “keeping Louis safe” but also “keeping Louis out of the way while Armand schemes” in certain moments), Louis’ romantic feelings are genuine.
That’s not because of any sense that Armand is clearly Pure and Blameless (though his thought processes are so non-neurotypical that I think, in his detached and analytical way, he’s trying to protect Louis from what’s going on around him…half of which Armand is responsible for) – as I can never hammer home enough, my boy is a garbage boy. What’s more important is that if Louis has no agency at all, not even emotional agency in who he chooses to value as companions, then there are no stakes to the story. If he doesn’t love Armand, he’s a puppet for essentially the entirety of this final arc, even when he starts on his big murder spree. And there’s no reason to root for a character like that. He’s a cipher. If their relationship is real, it creates a tragedy, a sense of something lost in the shitshow that follows.
“I could see that mortal boy again as if he were not asleep on the bed but kneeling at Armand’s side with his arms around Armand’s neck. It was an icon for me of love. The love I felt. Not physical love, you must understand. I don’t speak of that at all, though Armand was beautiful and simple, and no intimacy with him would ever have been repellent. For vampires, physical love culminates and is satisfied in one thing, the kill. I speak of another kind of love which drew me to him completely as the teacher which Lestat had never been. Knowledge would never be withheld by Armand, I knew it. It would pass through him as through a pane of glass so that I might bask in it and absorb it and grow.
“Knowledge would never be….”
OH, MY SWEET SUMMER CHILD
Oh and, uh, Armand, you might want to watch your step. The fall from that pedestal is a doozy.
And of course, here we have the first salvo in the great “Can Anne Rice’s Vampires Have Penetrative Sex” debate. Don’t you dare even pretend to look shocked, these are baby’s first porno novels. Of course everyone’s discussed it endlessly. This would seem to suggest no – that if vampiric bodies are still capable of erections or orgasm, they’re uninterested in it because it doesn’t feel as good as killing (or the later inter-vampiric stand-in, sharing blood).
BUT Louis’ description of sex to Claudia (that it was something hurried and not savored), might be just as much a suggestion that Louis himself is some shade of ace – disinterested in physical intimacy if not actively repulsed by it. Oh, and you KNOW that this particular passage was used to furnish many a no-homo argument over the years, in spite of Louis’ addendum that he certainly wouldn’t MIND intimacy with the beautiful beauty Armand even if his chief interest lay in the emotional realm.
And lastly, while Louis pegs Armand as a teacher by virtue of his being the oldest (and Louis being thoroughly twitterpated), it’s worth noting that, uh, Armand doesn’t know shit about shit. In the grand scheme of things, it turns out Lestat knows more than Armand (though he was kept from sharing it for Plot Reasons and OH BOY are we gonna get to that). Armand is powerful and direct, and his reliance on reading Louis’ emotions as a way of navigating their conversations make it seem like he just KNOWS STUFF. But in fact, Armand’s led an extremely sheltered life. Mostly involving imprisonment and various flavors of brainwashing. But he wants Louis to be his sweetheart, so obviously he’s not gonna say that.
Such mutual openness this romance has going for it from the very beginning.
Speaking of mind reading, Louis is starting to suspect that that is indeed a thing Armand can do, and asks if Armand can’t just spare him the pain of talking about these worries by looking into his head and plucking out his thoughts. Because Louis defines passive aggression so thoroughly that even a literal mind reader cannot measure up. Armand tells him that that’s not how it works.
“ ‘What is it you want to do?’ he asked. And his voice assumed the most gentle, sympathetic tone.
“ ‘ Don’t you know, don’t you have that power?’ I asked. ‘Can’t you read my thoughts as if they were words?’
“He shook his head. ‘Not the way you mean. I only know the danger to you and the child is real because it’s real to you. And I know your loneliness even with her love is almost more terrible than you can bear.’
You may’ve picked up on the fact that Armand never calls Claudia by name. He’s no rookie at the passive aggressive rodeo either. But anyhow, this establishes that vampire mind reading is more in the sense of images and feelings than concrete thoughts. Fooooooooooor the next five seconds, anyway. Later books, and even Anne’s treatment of the 1994 script (which incorporates a few tidbits from the books Lestat narrates), give Lestat actual factual thought reading. Which could be interpreted as Armand lying again (though why would he, if thought reading would clearly make Louis more dependent on him). It could be Armand actually being honest about the way in which his perspective is impaired (as Lestat puts it, “the Dark Gift is different for everyone”).
Or, it could be one of the first installments of our fun series, Anne Forgets a Thing (here is appropriate accompaniment for your enjoyment). These books have more continuity errors than “historically accurate” fantasy novels have rape scenes, some of which can be explained away by that good old unreliable narrator conceit. Others…less so. Like my favorite, where Daniel’s last name is written as “Molloy” in the first edition of Queen of the Damned, and “Malloy” in subsequent editions. Heck, there’s one in this very scene!
Louis gets up to leave, overwhelmed by all this talk about how, BTW, they could be murdered by a vampire mob any day. Armand is upset at having botched things, begs Louis not to go, and then goes ahead and jumps their relationship forward about six steps by giving Louis a key to the secret door that leads from Armand’s room out onto the street (thus letting him skip the theatre entirely). The catch is that Louis says, “he stood beside me, eye level with my eye.” Which is no big deal…except that all the other books (as we’ve touched on in the past) make a big, big deal about how small Armand is. Eensy, tiny thing, No bigger than 5’6” at a stretch, possibly 5’2” depending on what you’re reading.
Small spite child, shown actual size
Which could, I guess, just mean that Louis is also pretty short. But I don’t think so. There’s kind of a sense that Anne hasn’t quite cemented the physical description yet. Later books always, without fail, describe Armand as looking like a Boticelli angel. Dead at 17, ain’t it tragic, look at his beautiful curls and babyface and his black little heart. But here, the Boticelli comparison is actually used for Denis, Armand’s age is never described as anything more extraordinary than him being “a young man,” and while Anne does briefly describe him as auburn haired, pretty much every description after focuses on his big brown eyes.
Which, y’know, while we’re two thousand words into talking about the redhead already – I’m going to go ahead and make a stand against the good old standby joke about Antonio Banderas being the shittiest casting in the movie version. He looks nothing like the character and a good deal older, yadda yadda etc. Here’s the best joke, everyone else can go home.
But here’s the thing: not only does Banderas give one hell of a performance, clearly entranced by Louis and convinced his ruthlessness is an acceptable means to an end (and then Louis dumps him immediately and Banderas’ crushed look that WHOOPS OVERESTIMATED just destroyed me). It’s really genuine, maybe the movie’s best after Cruise and Dunst, and at least half his dialogue is lifted without change from the books. But all that gets overlooked, because he doesn’t look like a teenager. And there’s a certain fairness to that – Armand’s body adds a dimension to his interactions with others as much as Claudia’s does. But now let me give you a hot dose of context.
In 1994, it was still a pretty common argument to conflate homosexuality with pedophilia, particularly with gay men. THINK OF THE CHILDREN, Y’ALL. The movie already had to deal with the Claudia/Louis relationship, which only tenuously steps the worst landmines of creepiness, as we discussed, by avoiding physicality and giving mentally grown Claudia all the power. So, the filmmakers maybe didn’t want to stack, on top of that stack of gunpowder, a relationship with yet another underage character, particularly one that so played into existing stereotypes.
I COULD STILL PUT HIM IN MY POCKET
Then there’s the fact that, by virtue of the script, Louis’ feelings for Armand are a lot more explicitly tender and obvious than his relationship with Lestat. Back then, it was a big deal if you asked an actor to, gasp, play gay. Heavens forfend. But Banderas, in addition to being a handsome fellow and a marketable star, had also appeared in Philadelphia in 1993 (aka the movie where the Noble Gay dying nobly from AIDS is nice enough to teach A Straight to be a better person before he croaks). While their scenes were scrubbed of basically any intimacy, he was playing Tom Hanks’ lover, and apparently that was proximal enough to The Gay that he was an okay dude to ask. And then he fucking killed it with the material he was given it, in spite of the fact that the majority of his scenes were opposite the totally catatonic Pitt (who has made no bones about how much he haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaated being in this movie). He’s a champ, and a treasure, come at me.
But I digress.
Like your analyst, Louis emerges from Armand’s room and sort of wakes up to the fact that there actually exists a world outside his crush’s pretty face. And also he’s hungry. Luckily for him, a drunk man with no survival instinct comes up to him on the street, insisting that Louis sit for a portrait. And Louis, in one of his “dazzled by the beauty of mortality and also so fucking hungry” modes, goes along with it. But the moment can’t last, and while Louis had tried to warn the man to run from him, now he can only think to seize his victim and think, powerfully, “Die.”
And when his attention turns to artist’s work, a rough sketch, he’s surprised by the alien image he sees.
But the horror, the horror of seeing my expression! For he had captured it perfectly, and there was nothing of horror in it. Those green eyes gazed at me from out of that loosely drawn shape with a mindless innocence, the expressionless wonder of that overpowering craving which he had not understood. Louis of a hundred years ago lost in listening to the sermon of the priest at Mass, lips parted and slack, hair careless, a hand curved in the lap and limp. A mortal Louis. I believe I was laughing, putting my hands to my face and laughing to that the tears nearly rose in my eyes; and when I took my fingers down, there was the stain of the tears, tinged with mortal blood. And already there was begun in me the tingling of the monster that had killed, and would kill again, who was gathering up the painting now and starting to flee with it from the small house.
But the painter is not yet dead, and tries futilely to grasp at Louis and take the painting back – and so, in a rage which wouldn’t be out of place on Lestat, Louis picks him up and tears his throat open before fleeing back to the hotel. This is a scene that exists purely for thematic reasons, but I find myself rather fond of it. Louis is desperate to see images of himself.
In a way, he’s a study in dichotomy. He lacks Lestat and Claudia’s traditional vanity, but he’s endlessly self-reflective, often having difficulty understanding the perspective and motives of others. Yet, as he moves later in the book and begins to show flashes of clarity in regard to those around him, he becomes adrift, desperate for someone to tell him who he is – the real purpose behind his hounding of Lestat. He hoards the painting of a self he can’t feel under the burden of his murderous bloodlust. He begs Armand to tell him his own thoughts and thus free him from the burden of his endlessly tormenting guilt and despair. He wants someone to take over his life, falls over and over into codependent relationships that allow him to lose himself…and in the end, winds up alone in a room, talking to a young man who desperately wants to be the next in that doomed, chosen line. It’s why the final conversation he has with Lestat is so important.
But while Louis is content to spend the rest of the night in contemplation, Claudia has other plans. Practical at heart, she’s been working on an exit strategy for the inevitable conclusion Louis refuses to acknowledge. She’s long since picked a new caretaker (the thread of it was dropped almost as soon as they got to Paris), and now she’s brought her prospective companion home to dad for approval. And vamping. Saying no isn’t really an option.
Papa Lestat taught her the importance of a good entrance
The woman’s name is Madeleine, and she very mistakenly thinks she can seduce Louis into turning her (also she’s described as having “a child’s mouth” because WE CANNOT HAVE NICE THINGS ANYWHERE; and in some ways I can see the warped angle where Anne might’ve been attempting to say “all mortals appear as childish innocents to a vampire,” but that’s a touch undermined by the actual eroticizing of actual children, because we cannot have nice things).
Louis turns her down, angry and horrified that this is being asked of him, and Claudia finally snaps. If you’ve seen the movie, you might notice at this point that a lot of Claudia’s dialogue is lifted almost without change, and Dunst really rises to the occasion in delivering it, particularly this scene.
‘Don’t you look away from me! I am sick at heart with your looking away, with your suffering. You understand nothing. Your evil is that you cannot be evil, and I must suffer for it. I tell you, I will suffer no longer!’ Her fingers bit into the flesh of my wrist; I twisted, stepping back from her, floundering in the face of the hatred, the rage rising like some dormant beast in her, looking out through her eyes. ‘Snatching me from mortal hands like two grim monsters in a nightmare fairy tale, you idle, blind parents! Fathers!’ She spat the word. ‘Let tears gather in your eyes. You haven’t tears enough for what you’ve done to me. Six more mortal years, seven, eight…I might have had that shape!’
She demands that Louis turn Madeleine as recompense for making her an eternally helpless vampire who cannot move through the world without a caretaker. And it’s not an unreasonable request, in some ways. Claudia has obviously been developing a bond with Madeleine, a woman grieving the loss of her daughter, for quite a while – she’s the one who made Claudia that “lady doll.” It’s not exactly clear how much Madeleine sees Claudia as a surrogate child and how much as an adult and companion. She’s not exactly thinking with clarity, you see, which is something Claudia is pretty clearly encouraging.
“In the archway of the parlor they stopped, and Madeleine stood as if confused, her hand at her throat, beating like a wing, then going still. She looked about her like that hapless victim on the stage of the Theatre des Vampires who did not know where she was. But Claudia had gone for something. And I saw her emerge from the shadows with what appeared to be a large doll. I rose on my knees to look at it. It was a doll, the doll of a little girl with raven hair and green eyes, adorned with lace and ribbons, sweet-faced and wide-eyed, its porcelain feet tinkling as Claudia put it into Madeleine’s arms. And Madeleine’s eyes appeared to harden as she held the doll, and her lips drew back from her teeth in a grimace as she stroked its hair. She was laughing low under her breath. ‘Lie down,’ Claudia said to her; and together they appeared to sink into the cushions of the couch, the green taffeta rustling and giving way as Claudia lay with her and put her arms around her neck. I saw the doll sliding, dropping to the floor, yet Madeleine’s hand groped for it and held it dangling, her own head thrown back, her eyes shut tight, and Claudia’s curls stroking her face.
There is all kinds of vagueness going on right there. But what’s important is clear enough: Claudia hasn’t just found a replacement for Louis, she’s found someone weaker than her in one very important way, and dazzled that person in order to subjugate her. She’s perpetuating the cycle that enslaved her, that she hated, just as Lestat did before her. She wanted a lady doll, and she got one.
Louis and Claudia go back and forth a few more rounds, and at last Louis breaks down, unable to bear the sight of the suffering he’s caused her, even as an accessory to the crime. He senses their relationship dying out with the fight and the coming of Madeleine, as well as his own increasingly clear feelings for Armand. And he feels…clarity, of a sort.
Perhaps it was the night, the starless sky, the gas lamps frozen in the mist that gave some strange comfort for which I never asked and didn’t know how, in this emptiness and aloneness, to receive. I am alone, I was thinking. I am alone. It seemed just, perfectly, and so to have a pleasing, inevitable form. And I pictured myself then forever alone, as if on gaining that vampire strength the night of my death I had left Lestat and never looked back for him, as if I had moved on away from him, beyond the need of him and anyone else. As if the night had said to me, ‘You are the night, and the night alone understands you and enfolds you in its arms.’ One with the shadows. Without nightmare. An inexplicable peace.
In isolation, it is really easy to make fun of this paragraph. Not least in retrospect, for the easy potshot of “forever alone.” But what Louis is describing her is very, very real, even if he’s couched it in terms of melodramatic gothic fiction. He’s suffered for years and years, and after this great burst of anxiety and anger and despair, he’s bottomed out, arriving at a brief stage where to feel nothing, to never feel companionship or anything else ever again, would be a welcome reprieve. And this is true to the experience of longterm clinical depression.
For all the flourish of gothic fiction that happens around it, all the heightened emotion and purple prose, it’s damn well worth remembering that part of the reason this book endures is because at its heart are some very powerful flashes of truth rendered on the page – I sometimes suspect this is why Anne all but writes Louis out of the later books. When you’ve recovered from a depression so deep, it can be horrifying to look back on art you made at the bottom of the well, feeling somewhat foolish and maybe even fearing that you might find yourself dragged back there. Even Louis’ vampirism is often an apt metaphor for the frightful feeling of suffering under this disease, not least in that painting scene.
He looks at the portrait of himself as others see him, a bright and contented young man, and can’t comprehend it – how can it be that this is all they see, that this is how he looks, when from inside every last thought in his head is being poisoned by the crushing grip of this powerful emotion? An emotion that seems not of himself, a monster lurking under his skin until it bursts out an then, in a brief moment after that catharsis, he feels himself again. But not truly, and not for long. He doesn’t know why, and he doesn’t know how to make it stop. How can he, when he can’t even escape long enough to see himself? How can anyone stand to be near him, when surely they should be able to sense how irredeemable he knows he is?
One of the finest essays ever penned on depression is Kyle Kallgren’s two part “Melancholia” video. The talk of depression as it applies to Louis is mostly in the second part, but I’m linking both, because it would be truly criminal to break the emotional arc.
Louis keeps his promise and turns Madeleine into a vampire, being surprisingly gentle as he does so in the way he’d wished Lestat would have been with his turning. He even lays with her in a coffin, telling her to hold onto him as solace when she feels herself begin to die. And when it’s done, he tells Claudia that they’re even – he killed her, and in making Madeleine into a vampire, he felt the death of his last shred of humanity.
Interview got all the nice, fancy adaptations by the way. After this we’re going to be stuck with the Innovation print. This is on the upper end of that particular quality spectrum
Madeleine takes to vampirism too well for Louis’ liking, happily draining her victims dry and concocting a world of tiny furniture perfectly sized to make Claudia feel like the adult she is. Louis feels contemptuous, and this is even a rare moment where he realizes that he’d been holding onto his grief for his brother Paul as a thing that made him special.
I supposed in my colossal conceit and self-deception that my own grief for my dead brother was the only true emotion. I allowed myself to forget how totally I had fallen in love with Lestat’s iridescent eyes, that I’d sold my soul for a many-colored and luminescent thing, thinking that a highly reflective surface conveyed the power to walk on water.
“What would Christ need have done to make me follow him like Matthew or Peter? Dress well, to begin with. And have a luxurious head of pampered yellow hair.
(A brief break to collectively tip our hats in acknowledgement of that amazing burn. Nobody does lowkey piercing insults like Louis de Pointe du Lac, y’all).
And in the end, Louis sinks further into the bottom of his depression, distanced from even his strongest emotions and fooled into thinking that, with Claudia’s detached example, this is merely what it’s normal for vampires to feel.
It seemed then the only emotion of which I was still capable: hatred of self. I love them. I hate them. I do not care if they are there. Claudia puts her hands on my hair as if she wants to tell me with the old familiarity that her heart’s at peace. I do not care. And there is the apparition of Armand, that power, that heartbreaking clarity. Beyond a glass, it seems. And taking Claudia’s playful hand, I understand for the first time in my life what she feels when she forgives me for being myself whom she says she hates and loves: she feels almost nothing.”
We, uh, kind of lost hold of the goofs there at the end. Maybe they’ll find their way back in the next part. Which is. Full of murder. Not that run of the mill murder, important people murder.
NEXT TIME: GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY IT’S ALL GONE TO SHIT.