It’s time to talk about Lestat. You remember Lestat, don’t you? The one who came up out of nowhere to take these books in a completely different direction, the one who eventually could do no wrong?
We’ll be covering a slightly shorter segment of actual text this round, since there’s a whole bunch of setup and context we need to discuss before going forward. Also, this book is a good deal longer than Interview (my 1st edition of IWTV clocks in at a little over 300 pages, while my trade copy of TVL runs 550, with thinner pages and smaller typeset), so we’ll probably be riding this train on into the new year. Hopefully it’s an entertaining ride.
….I also better reiterate my fondness for these books right here and now, because the claws are gonna come out for a bit.
Nine years have passed since Interview with the Vampire was published, and since it became a runaway success. Following that time Anne Rice had a lot more money and did a lot more traveling, while also writing some standalone novels and some really eyebrow raising porn (dear Anne, I cannot decide if you or 50 Shades is worse; on the one hand the latter is a very damaging depiction of BDSM that seems just plausible enough that people bought into it as real while yours is clearly in a magical fantasy land, and on the other the protagonist of the Sleeping Beauty series is like 15 when the thing starts).
So the standalone novels weren’t terribly well-reviewed, is the thing – Cry to Heaven got particularly savaged, and not even for my own personal bugbear of “mostly involves a queer relationship, but ends with the older man nobly shooing his lover off to a Real, Proper Heterosexual Relationship” – and in 1985 it was time to come back and start writing vampires again. From that very, very different mindset came The Vampire Lestat, and a standalone novel became a series. This will become something of a pattern in Anne Rice’s career, if post-2000s you replace “stand-alone novels” with “werewolf boys and Jesus fanfic.”
If you followed the recaps for the last book, you may recall me mentioning that this book has quite a different tone. I didn’t mean that just in terms of our respective main characters, which is a jump all on its own since we’re going from introverted, romantic Louis to egotistical, performative Lestat. The change goes all the way down to the way the books are written. Most people are pretty wise to the fact that Louis is an unreliable narrator…at least half of them because Lestat opens this book by shouting at the top of his lungs that Louis made up terrible lies about him and he’s quite cross about it. And that’s true. There are obviously things Louis hides from Daniel, and thus from the reader.
What most people don’t remember is that Lestat is an equally accomplished liar with a much better handle on spin. In IWTV, Louis had a limited degree of control over his story. He can hide things, he can tell lies, but he’s also giving an extemporaneous interview over the course of a single night; an intimate process not unlike a confession, which gives one more opportunities to slip up and show inconsistencies in the story (since they can’t check back on what they’ve said). In the end, it was Daniel who compiled the tapes and chose what was included (Anne got some mileage out of these “exorcised bits,” including a Playboy story starring a suddenly very heterosexual Armand).
If I stop for every piece of “say what now” we will be analyzing this book
until the heat death of the universe
Lestat, by contrast, is writing an autobiography. He not only addresses us in the first person, without any kind of framing device to pull the reader back and remind them to think critically, but he controls every element of the text. The story he tells us (excluding the introduction and ending) are words he wrote down, edited, and published. He had the chance to shore up his story, make sure everything triple checked and sounded consistent, even if it didn’t actually happen that way. Moreover, while Louis is quite an educated intellectual, which shows through in his digressions into the theoretical, Lestat is an entertainer. He worked as an actor for a good chunk of his mortal life, and became a rock star in death. He knows how to play an audience, how to spin a yarn that will pull the emotional response he wants. And when he publishes his book he’s surrounded by mortals who are no way, no how going to call bullshit on him.
We don’t just need a grain of salt with this one, readers. We need an entire dumptruck.
The book doesn’t just throw us into the autobiography, though. Oh, no. We get a prologue. A prologue that is very, very hard to take seriously in retrospect, because it sounds alarmingly like My Immortal.
I am the Vampire Lestat. I’m immortal. More or less. The light of the sun, the sustained heat of an intense fire – these things might destroy me. But then again, they might not.
I’m six feet tall, which was fairly impressive in the 1780s when I was a young mortal man. It’s not bad now. I have thick blond hair, not quite shoulder length, and rather curly, which appears white under florescent light. My eyes are grey, but they absorb the colors blue or violet easily from surfaces around them. And I have a fairly short narrow nose, and a mouth that is well shaped but just a little too big for my face. It can look very mean, or extremely generous, my mouth. It always looks sensual. But emotions and attitudes are always reflected in my entire expression. I have a continuously animated face.
A lot of preps stared at me. I put up my middle finger at them.
Incidentally, Exit to Eden begins in a rather startlingly similar manner. That aside, the existence of this prologue already throws the relationship between metatext versus in-universe text into chaos. Interview with the Vampire and Lestat’s autobiography, which is also called The Vampire Lestat, both exist in the world of the story. All later novels presumably do as well, since all are in some way formed around “chronicling” an individual vampire or Lestat telling us of his adventures after the fact. But then….where does this intro fit? Was it written into subsequent editions, after the events of Queen of the Damned? Is it something he wrote but didn’t publish? If so, how are we reading it, that he’s addressing us? If this is meant to be his unwritten monologue are we meant to take it with an additional degree of objectivity, the problems with which we’ll get to in about two seconds? I –
Please stand by
The metatextual elements of these books are one of their best and most intriguing features, But it gets convoluted real fast, and it doesn’t help that the series has a rather distant relationship with things like its own chronology. For example, the prologue is explicitly said to take place in 1984. Lestat’s autobiography was just published, and it’s two weeks before the concert. Here’s where it gets fun. Later on Lestat sees Daniel at the concert, and Daniel is about 32. But when he interviewed Louis, Daniel was only 19/20. Meaning IWTV was published in-universe not in its real-life publication year of 1976, but closer to ’71 or ’72. BECAUSE WHY NOT, I GUESS. KEEPING NOTES IS HARD.
But I’m stalling. As you might recall, our last sighting of Lestat was when he was feeling quite pathetic and out of step with the mortal world (he insists Louis is LYING, but later admits he saw Armand around that time while he was housebound and that Louis was AROUND (he even admits that the smell of fumes and the sounds of machinery made him sick and scared, as Louis described, so….yup, perfectly reliable narrator). It turns out he finally succumbed to despair and buried himself in the earth, where he was in a sort of sensory deprivation-like state for a couple decades (conveniently missing WWII, because that would be too interesting), only to be roused by the sounds of rock music being practiced a few houses over. He thinks this stuff is real swell, bucking off the societal miens of conservatism and talking openly about good and evil and sensuality, so he drags himself up out of the ground by munching on bugs and rats and eventually humans.
While we’re rewriting canon from the last book, Lestat now only kills other killers and criminals. No innocents for him, no sir. This is an antihero you can trust. Also he’s psychic. This is an interesting device, allowing Lestat to glean information about the world of 1984 directly from the heads of those experiencing it….and the book uses it to shoot itself in the foot pretty much immediately.
Remember a few paragraphs ago, when I said that it is a SUPER BIG PROBLEM if we’re meant to understand this as an objective, trustworthy narration? Because if this prologue isn’t published but is only Lestat’s thoughts which we happen to be privy to, what would he stand to gain from lying or spinning a story as he would in a published book? Well, this is why.
Trust me, we’ll need this. Collectively
Lestat thinks the 80s are just swell, y’see. Which is in keeping with his character – he’s a very particular kind of optimist, who likes to emphasize things that support his worldview and demonize or downplay the bits that don’t in his writing. And to an extent, yes. The 1980s can certainly be said to have been an improvement on the 1910s, when he was last up and about, or the 18th century when he was alive. But the narration doesn’t just stop there. Nay, this is a GOLDEN UTOPIC ERA OF OPPORTUNITY, MY FRIENDS.
And the women – ah, the women were glorious, naked in the spring warmth as they’d been been [sic] under the Egyptian pharaohs, in skimpy short skirts and tuniclike dresses, or wearing men’s pants and shirts skintight over their curvaceous bodies if they pleased. They painted, and decked themselves out in gold and silver, even to walk to the grocery store. Or they went fresh scrubbed and without ornament – it didn’t matter. They curled their hair like Marie Antoinette or cut it off or let it blow free.
For the first time in history, perhaps, they were as strong and as interesting as men.
Yeah, that typo is really in there. I’m pointing it out because it always takes me a second to calibrate to the BOGGLING MISOGYNY GOING ON HERE. Yes, Lestat. Finally women are wearing pants and being interesting. Now, I know your mother makes for an amazing genderqueer character from a modern perspective, but did you forget all the pants wearing she did and how she’s one of the smartest and toughest people in your entire sphere of existence.
And I know that this is the 80s, so we’ve only got second wave feminism to work from, but really. Really, here in print before my eyes, is the NOT LIKE OTHER GIRLS argument. It isn’t that women’s stories were erased from history in the past, y’all. It’s not that they were subjugated and that men often took credit for their achievements. No, no. It’s simply that they weren’t interesting until this point in time. Good job, women. Way to collectively make it up to the standards set by the patriarchy! Now take this sweetie and go sit down, if you please.
But wait, we’re not done. Oh, are we ever not done.
The old aristocratic sensuality now belonged to everybody. It was wed to the promises of the middle class revolution, and all people had a right to love and to luxury and to graceful things.
In fact the poverty and filth that had been common in the big cities of the earth since time immemorial were almost completely washed away.
You just didn’t see immigrants dropping dead of starvation in the alleyways. There weren’t slums where people slept eight and ten to a room. Nobody threw the slops in the gutters. The beggars, the cripples, the orphans, the hopelessly diseased were so diminished as to constitute no presence in the immaculate streets at all.
Even the drunkards and lunatics who slept on the park benches and in the bus stations had meat to eat regularly, and even radios to listen to, and clothes that were washed.
Oh my God, where do I begin with this. Let’s start with a fun statistic. According to the US Census Bureau, 15% of Americans lived below the poverty line in 1983, the highest number of the decade. That, of course, doesn’t count all the people who would have been homeless, mentally ill, or otherwise unable to be counted in census data. Not only that, this takes place in New Orleans, and the South had a disproportionately high statistic in regards to poverty, particularly for people of color. Meanwhile, the number of women trying to break into the work force and facing discrimination and the glass ceiling led to extreme struggles for single-parent households and single women (and boy did papers at the time like to scapegoat those uppity women).
There’s celebration of how great things were for the middle class, because apparently it’s MORNING IN AMERICA AND EVERYTHING IS FINE. Never mind that the theory of trickle-down-economics, the stigmatization of welfare recipients, and widespread racial discrimination all happened under Reagan’s administration. This is the man who said that homeless were so by choice.
That attitude is reflected here, and the interesting fish out of time element of so many of the best vampire stories is used here as a cudgel – when Lestat was alive several centuries ago, cities still struggled with basic issues of public hygiene. So what are people complaining about now? By comparison, it’s practically a dream! There’s an ugly condescension to it, even before we get into the implications of that lovely argument about how the poor have extravagances like PROTEIN and ONE TIME PURCHASE LUXURY ITEMS like radios! At this point I started screaming about Vimes’ Boots and had to sit quietly for a while.
But all of this I would be tentatively prepared to let go, even though I suspect these to be Anne’s politics more than Lestat’s. I’m sure to her the 80s were a swell time with all that comfortable book money, with her financially secure status as a white, married woman who now had money for luxuries like travel to foreign countries, never mind “food” and “a roof.” Fine. Lestat’s an individual with blinders on. Maybe he DOES think things are great compared to his day. There are ways to show the discrepancy between his overbearing optimism and the reality of hardships of the current day, like having him interact with mortals struggling to survive, but WHATEVER.
THIS IS FINE
Blah blah blah, Lestat talks about how people have come into an age of reason and given up that tired old Christian God, never mind that he’s smack dab in the middle of the neoconservatism movement that pushed back hard against all the social and sexual revolutions he’s apparently so delighted by and also he’s in the FUCKING BIBLE BELT, moving on.
But then something happens that I cannot, under any circumstances, forgive.
As for sexuality, it was no longer a matter of superstition and fear. The last religious overtones were being stripped from it. That was why the people went around half naked. That was why they kissed and hugged each other in the streets. They talked ethics now and responsibility and the beauty of the body. Procreation and venereal disease they had under control.
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW, ANNE. I’M NOT EVEN GONNA GET INTO THE FALLOUT OF DRUGS LIKE THALIDOMIDE IN THE 60S, THE NEWNESS OF ROE V. WADE, OR THE FACT THAT SEXUAL HARRASSMENT WAS ONLY NEWLY AND SPOTTILY ENFORCED. NOPE, NO TIME FOR THAT, BECAUSE
AIDS, MOTHERFUCKER. HAVE YOU HEARD OF IT.
HIV/AIDS was first reported in the news in 1981 as a “gay cancer.” Between 1982 and 1984 it had jumped from 447 deaths to 3,454 deaths per year (alternately, 4,251), and was beginning to affect those sharing needles in addition to queer men. There was no known treatment, and diagnosis meant a death sentence within a number of months if not weeks. Within the queer community, people watched entire friend groups die. All the people they knew, wasting away horribly and quickly, with very little knowledge as to how it was caused, no recourse, and intense amounts of public discrimination from housing discrimination to being in physical danger of assault. Ronald Reagan failed to address this in any way until he made an apology for ignoring a plague devastating an entire population in 1990, when the death toll was up to over 18,000 per year.
And you’re telling me that Lestat, a queer man who survives by drinking blood, who describes himself as getting his education by reading the minds of the lower classes and those on the outskirts of society, never heard about this. He never ran across a man looking for a casual encounter or afraid of what might come from. He never saw a car with a bumper sticker talking about how AIDS was God’s punishment for homosexuality (people still believe this, by the way; monstrous people, far more than the bloodsucking killers in this book). Never once did this utter despair reach his EXTREMELY PSYCHIC EARS.
Horseshit. How dare you. How dare you write a story that stars a queer character, who makes a romance novel of his relationships with other men (and women, because bisexuals exist), and then pretend in-fiction that things are just FINE AND HUNKY DORY for an oppressed and victimized community you’re profiting from. How DARE. For all that these books did and continue to mean to me, this moment of blindness is beyond the pale. Authors carry a responsibility, if they’re going to tell stories of those who’ve been marginalized, to at least do some BASIC FUCKING RESEARCH into being respectful of that experience if not focusing on those stories (which should be left to those who come from those communities).
The extent of awareness is that when Lestat pops out of the ground and declares that he’d like to join the rock band he’s been hearing, Satan’s Night Out, he hears them complain about how it’s hard for them as makeup wearing androgynes to line up gigs in the South. The end.
Hey, I blacked out for a couple seconds there.
We’d better move on.
As I said, Lestat goes to the band and declares that he’s a vampire, and he’s going to make them famous. They’ve heard of him, and think it’s just swell that he’s copying that famed fictional character Lestat. This is what leads Lestat to Louis’ little confession, at which point he decides that he shall SET THE STORY STRAIGHT.
Okay, first he has a little existential crisis about how the new world has made evil mundane, and so there’s no place for him in it.
In the amber electric twilight of a vast hotel room I watched on the screen before me the stunningly crafted film of war called Apocalypse Now. Such a symphony of sound and color it was, and it sang of the age-old battle of the Western world against evil. “You must make a friend of horror and moral terror,” says the mad commander in the savage garden of Cambodia, to which the Western man answers as he has always answered: no.
No. Horror and moral terror can never be exonerated. They have no real value. Pure evil has no real place.
And that means, doesn’t it, that I have no real place.
Except, perhaps, the art that repudiates evil – the vampire comics, the horror novels, the old gothic tales – or in the roaring chants of the rock stars who dramatize the battles against evil that each mortal fights within himself.
Here we have Lestat’s primary MO – he believes himself to be evil, though he goes out of his way to mitigate this by only killing those he deems evil and over time drinking blood without killing his victims at all. All the allure of evil, none of the nastiness of it, you see. Now, I must be fair – it’s actually a fairly compelling emotional struggle over the course of the book that brings him to this mindset. It’s the LATER books that make a bit of a fetish of this whole “evil with the edges sanded off” sort of thing.
I warned you we only had ugly official art from here on in
I WARNED YOU
So he joins up with the band, gets a lawyer who’ll set him up with a social security number and set up all the wealth he has stored away – so really he didn’t NEED Louis’ bookkeeping, honest and true, WHAT a drama queen his ex is. And then said ex comes calling with that best-selling novel (Lestat listens to the Goldberg Variations while he’s moping about this, because of course he does).
Lestat is shocked that this book exists, simply shocked. It’s forbidden for vampires to tell their secrets, y’see, unless they plan to turn the listener into a vampire as well. Vampires that we have not seen up to now but roam about existing are very keen on protecting these secrets, meaning that while Louis is OBVIOUSLY A DREADFUL LIAR, he’s also in terrible danger unless Lestat acts.
All the more reason for me to bring the book and the band The Vampire Lestat to fame as quickly as possible. I had to find Louis. I had to talk to him. In fact, after reading his account of things, I ached for him, ached for his romantic illusions, and even his dishonesty. I ached even for his gentlemanly malice and his physical presence, the deceptively soft sound of his voice.
Of course I hated him for the lies he told about me. But the love was far greater than the hate. He had shared the dark and romantic years of the nineteenth century with me, he was my companion as no other immortal had ever been.
And I ached to write my story for him, not an answer to his malice in Interview with the Vampire, but the tale of all the things I’d seen and learned before I came to him, the story I could not tell him before.
Old rules didn’t matter to me now, either.
We stand at a crossroads. Here Lestat is making a big romantic gesture, an effort to clear away all the bad things that had come before and start again with honesty. I believe that he’s sincere in that, I truly do. And there IS a certain amount of truth to the fact that he was pressured if not outright THREATENED into keeping things from Louis. But of course, Lestat cannot admit he is flawed – or when he does, in very specific terms he gets to set. Of course NONE of the things Louis accused him of were his fault, heavens no. There were ALL, UNIVERSALLY malicious lies, including Lestat’s awful controlling behavior that peppered the happy years at the Rue Royale.
Nope, our hero is pure and blameless, and we need only listen to his side of the story and take it exactly at face value. Oh, and if he just happens to start a WAR between humans and vampires by bringing all this information to light, well wouldn’t that just be swell and exciting. HE’LL get along fine, so everyone weaker than him can just tough it out.
And so ends the prologue, and this installment. Keep those close reading glasses on.
NEXT TIME: The Bold, Exciting, and Definitely Not Fictitious Life of the Mortal Lestat