Hey, you ever wanna feel really fucking depressed? Try reading Prince Lestat and then coming back to this book. Nothing like remembering the later books turn Lestat into a remorseless rapist who bends every character in the plot to his whim, thus ensuring that no one will ever ever call him on his bullshit ever again (except Gabrielle, whom the later books like to remind us is just a heartless harpy, y’all).
Let’s pretend we can go back to a time where this sweet boy is still trying his best.
When last we left off Lestat had been kidnapped, forcibly made drunk, and was then turned into a vampire by way of metaphorical rape. It has been a long night which is not yet over. So Lestat follows Magnus, the asshole responsible for all this, into another room because what the hell else is he gonna do at this point? Magnus is giving him the basic basics of being a vampire – you’re immortal now, you need to drink blood, make sure you stop drinking blood before the heart stops or you’re gonna have a bad time – while casually building a giant bonfire. It is a miracle Lestat takes any of this in (he does describe hearing the words “as if [he] were being physically beaten”), because he’s so far into a state of shock that there are not enough blankets in the world.
But Magnus does not have time for the emotional wellbeing of his victim! He shows Lestat how to get through the mega-secret hole in the wall that leads to Magnus’ ultra-fancy treasure and also his coffin, makes Lestat promise to scatter his ashes so he can’t come back once he burns up, and then jumps straight into the fire.
Lestat takes this about as well as can be expected: he falls on the floor and starts crying. He thinks about seeing the only source of knowledge for this new life he has burning in front of his eyes, spends some more time pinging out prayers that nobody answers, and thinks about the burned witches from his own town because we need to obliquely bring that metaphor full circle. And then? Then he falls back on pretty much the best coping mechanism he’s got: false bravado.
What had I done to deserve the witches’ fate? I didn’t want to be in hell, even for a moment. I sure as hell wasn’t going there just to spit in the face of the Prince of Darkness, whoever he may be!
On the contrary, if I was a damned thing, then let the son of a bitch come for me! Let him tell me why I was meant to suffer. I would truly like to know.
Oh, and then his body starts to die. Like, with intense pain and all the waste being forced out (and then Lestat is so in shock that he lets rats crawl all over him and eat it, because there are occasionally some nice bits of grotesque imagery). I guess that wasn’t important to mention. Lestat, left all alone and terrified, has to marvel at what’s happening to him all alone – why his skin is all shiny, why his teeth have turned pointy, and that he’s now the boogeyman in the shadows he was once taught to fear as a child.
It’s an effective way of putting Lestat’s role in Louis’ making into context without having to necessarily cast what Louis said as entirely lies (not that Lestat doesn’t do more than his share of fussing about wounded pride). Lestat figured it all out on his own, with no one to turn to – why shouldn’t it be as easy for Louis to accept his body’s death, and that he must kill? The beats are all the same, if we accept that by that point Lestat was so deep in his need to protect himself and pretend at strength that he conveniently forgot how he cried about being alone, or how frightened he was about the concept of killing, or how he didn’t even think that Louis might not be able to read minds or might not be morally comforted by passing judgment on his victims.
Lestat is very good at deluding himself into the narrative he wants to believe, and very bad about understanding that people might have valid worldviews that differ from his own. These two things account for about 65% of the problems in his interpersonal relationships.
This accounts for 68% of my facial expressions in those moments
The other ones are rage. And tears. Rage tears
Once Lestat’s able to pull himself together enough to move (and gets over the fact that he has to crawl through a very tiny corridor basically on his face, way too tight and claustrophobic for a living person), he goes to examine his inherited treasure, Edmond Dantes style (very much like, actually, except he didn’t even have to go get it, and also Abbe Faria was a loving teacher and father figure and Magnus was a rapist shitheel). Inside the room he finds a bunch of big stone sarcophagi where clearly there had ONCE been many vampires, a big chest full of gold and jewels, and all the good stuff, and a beautiful red outfit studded in jewels to go with his red velvet cloak.
There’s that red motif again. Nicolas wore red during their first meeting. Lestat’s cloak of Very Real Wolf Fur was made of red velvet. His first outfit as a vampire, the first thing he has that will distinguish him as Other from what he was (not just dead but RICH), is red literally from head to toe. It shows up too frequently to be a coincidence. In fact, it shows up too frequently for me to believe that it actually happened that way (I’m sure it did for some but not all). Rather, red is a color we KNOW (or will know) is connected to one of the biggest meetings of Lestat’s life – it’s Marius’ signature color. And so, whether consciously or not, it echoes back on all these pivotal events Lestat is describing (meeting his boyfriend, being hailed a hero, becoming the aesthete with materialist sensibilities he is now).
There’s a bit more messing around in the coffin room – Lestat wonders if devils can love each other, echoing Louis’ musings at the end of Interview, plays around with rosaries and writing Jesus Christ in the dust (the only thing other than his name, we’re told, he can write well) – and then he discovers a mirror, and apparently, it’s time to break my heart again.
I stared at my reflection. I became frantic to discover myself in it. I rubbed my face, even rubbed the mirror and pressed my lips together to keep from crying.
Finally I closed my eyes and opened them again, and I smiled very gentle at the creature. He smiled back. That was Lestat, all right. And there seemed nothing in his face that was any way malevolent. Well, not very malevolent. Just the old mischief, the impulsiveness. He could have been an angel, in fact, this creature, except that when his tears did rise, they were red, and the entire image was tinted red because his vision was red. And he had these evil little teeth that he could press into his lower lip when he smiled that made him look absolutely terrifying. A good enough face with one thing horribly, horribly wrong with it!
Lestat suffers horrible dysphoria in his new body, pretty damn accurately in a way I can’t imagine Anne knew she was scratching. He can admit it’s a nice body, very pretty. But it isn’t HIM. He looks at it and can’t see his mental image of himself, and some part of his terror seems to be that someone else might look at this image and think the not-him WAS the real him. Then he settles for a minute, adjusts, almost likes it – and then the wrongness of one particular thing brings the whole image crashing down until it’s suffocating him again. It’s not a constant oppression, but when it catches him it seems to do so strongly (this comes back after QOTD only to be squandered in the actual worst way).
This anxiety-ridden, dysphoric baby is #relatable, y’all.
I’VE SEEN HOW YOU WROTE THIS SWEET BOY DOWN THE LINE, ANNE
YOU DID IT BAD. YOUR PRIVILEGES ARE REVOKED
Then it gets worse. And we get to the entire reason, by my contention, the Wolfkiller narrative is so pointedly made part of the early narrative. Lestat wanders down to the basement, where he catches wind of a pungent, awful smell.
In a deep prison cell lay a heap of corpses in all states of decay, the bones and rotted flesh crawling with worms and insects. Rats ran from the light of the torch, brushing past my legs as they made for the stairs. And my nausea became a knot in my throat. The stench suffocated me.
But I couldn’t stop staring at these bodies. There was something important here, something terribly important, to be realized. And it came to me suddenly that all these dead victims had been men – their boots and ragged clothing gave evidence of that – and every single one of them had yellow hair, very much like my own hair. The few who had features left appeared to be young men, tall and slight of build. And the most recent occupant here – the wet and reeking corpse that lay with its arms outstretched through the bars – so resembled me that he might have been a brother.
In a daze, I moved forward until the tip of my boot touched his head. I lowered the torch, my mouth opening as if to scream. The wet sticky eyes that swarmed with gnats were blue eyes!
And that’s it. Lestat stumbles into the basement of a serial killer, finds the remains of a whole pile of victims who look just like him (thereby also witnessing his own death vicariously, over and over again, something that he is now removed from forever), and wonders what it is that made him worthy of survival while these others were left to die. The evidence suggests that his life was shattered by a stranger purely on account of his looks, and the only thing that separates him out is chance.
Well. I can’t imagine that suited Lestat particularly well. Present day Lestat dutifully writes out the panic attack that hit him (including more dissociation), and the wondering without answer as to why he’d been spared. He can recount all of that – but as the writer of the story, he can also devise a reason for the reader to pick up on. Because while Lestat can spout all he wants about the world lacking purpose or meaning outside of the laws of aesthetics, he doesn’t seem to like it when that randomness applies to him. He wants to know why HE suffers. Why this happens to HIM. Why people act certain ways toward him in a way he can mold into the narrative of his life.
And thus, we have Lestat the Wolfkiller. A masculine, untouchable Lestat so strong and indomitable that only a vampire could have taken him down (Lestat’s issues with toxic masculinity, you’ll recall, being manifold), and that vampire would’ve been so impressed with his deeds that he snatched him up and made him what he is. He wasn’t possibly just chosen for his looks, something out of his control, like all the others. No, it was the wolves of course. The wolves made him special. The hero of the story, not a victim of fate or a survivor just desperately trying to claw his way through a cruel and random world.
The wolves, dear readers, are the only way Lestat knows how to cope.
And cries of THIS BOY, THIS TRAUMATIZED BOY
Echoed through the house
So ends Lestat’s first night as a vampire, as he’s barely able to drag himself back up to the secret room and seal himself away in a big stone coffin. It’s a wonder he gets back up again.
The next section, which is one of those “longer than you remember it when you come back to the book again,” is more or less the equivalent of that one to-this-day fantastic scene from the first Spiderman movie. He wakes up unbelievably thirsty, kills Magnus’ crotchety old servant (whom he’s totally fine with having for breakfast, because he can read the guy’s mind and finds him unpleasant), then gets dressed up and decides to go out on the town and test his powers.
The first thing he does is go to a church to see if he catches fire or implodes, adding to the tragedy of how Louis and Lestat’s relationship broke bad on account of Lestat’s fucking awful (and ultimately plot related) communication skills: he goes through so many of the same impulses that Louis does and the same questions, which is probably why he assumes Louis will be fine. Again, failing to consider the totally different philosophy Louis holds, but the possibility for communion was there if he’d been honest – which, in turn, makes this poignant now with the knowledge that he wrote all this with the mind that Louis would read it. Adding the wolves or no, there’s a lot of Lestat allowing himself to be vulnerable here for the benefit of an audience of one.
Anyhow, Lestat goes to a nearby village to people watch, where he discovers he can read minds…kinda. Basically, he can shut it off when he doesn’t want to hear it or is thinking to himself, he only hears strong emotional thoughts, and there are some people who he doesn’t hear at all because of reasons. Lestat, a person who loves loves loves people but has difficulty stepping outside his own head, comes to rely on this new skill very quickly, a fact which will shoot him in the foot even more quickly.
The entire section of “Lestat discovers his powers” is pretty excellent at showing over telling – of course Lestat has no idea what the hell he’s doing, so he just has to report what he observes and make up what it might mean as he goes along, with plenty of wiggle room for us as the reader to suss out what the “truth” might be. He is also deeeeeeeeeeeeep into a manic episode during all this.
For those of you who don’t remember, I talked here and there during the Interview recaps about Lestat having untreated Bipolar Disorder – he has meteoric highs and abysmal lows and Louis was often unable to discern what triggered them, adding one more issue to the bonfire that was their frequently terrible marriage.
It seems that Lestat’s never really had a language to describe any of this either. He has his “dark moment,” and moments like this where he’s suddenly euphorically happy, but he doesn’t seem to realize that his intensity of feeling and severity of mood swings aren’t a thing that everyone experiences. And really, he’s not got a lot of comparison points – Nicolas is deeply depressed and Gabrielle is probably the most stoic character in the entire series. And of course, it doesn’t help that Nicolas seems to think Lestat’s euphoric modes are his default state and believes he “infected” Lestat with darkness during his low periods…NONE OF THESE CHILDREN HAVE THE VOCABULARY TO TALK ABOUT THEIR MENTAL ILLNESS WITH ONE ANOTHER AND IT PHYSICALLY PAINS ME.
WHY IS THIS NOT WORKING
Anyway, Lestat has a grand old time in the village, barring a mysterious presence that follows him around and refuses to come out when he yells at it, and decides the next night that he’s going straight to Paris. In spite of declaring the night before how happy he is to be a fiend, he’s already starting on the self-justification, claiming in one breath that he ate a dreadful pickpocket and liked it but then ending the segment asking the reader, “Hell, the son of a bitch was going to kill me, wasn’t he?” For all his claims of how happy he is the be a vampire, how little he cares for morality and how good and evil are a farce, this is someone who wants very much to have someone tell him he can be good, just like the little boy in the monastery.
We move into phase two of “Lestat’s Adventures With Mortals,” which involves Our Hero, who has previously decided that those he loves must never ever see him in this new form lest they be horrified and confirm that they could no longer possibly love him as he is, getting himself an attorney and financially providing for his mother, Nicki, and the theater where he’d worked. Lestat is still figuring out how to pass for human, leading to one of those on-purpose-funny moments of black humor that I sometimes forget exist.
At one point we wandered through the warehouse, a rat appeared as bold city rats will, racing along the wall very close to us. I stared at it. Nothing unusual of course. But there amid plaster and hardwood and embroidered cloth, the rat looked marvelously particular. And the men, misunderstanding of course, began mumbling frantic apologies for the rat and stamping their feet to drive it away from us.
To me, their voices became a mixture of sounds like stew bubbling in a pot. All I could think was that the rat had very tiny feet, and that I had not yet examined a rat nor any small warm-blooded creature. I went and caught the rat, rather too easily I think, and looked at its feet. I wanted to see what kind of little toenails it had, and what was the flesh like between its little toes, and I forgot the men entirely.
It was their sudden silence that brought me back to myself. They were both staring dumbfounded at me.
I smiled at them as innocently as I could, let the rat go, and went back to purchasing.
I LOVE THIS DUMB BOY.I love this boy who is so fucking excited about everything and thinks he’s unlovable and alone now but wants to make sure he can still take care of all his loved ones.
I…had better stop thinking immediately about the
parallels between Harley and Lestat
It goes well at first – Gabrielle is clearly suspicious, asking if he’s really alright and happy, but says that she’s happy for him (this is the first point at which he actively decides to lie to someone he cares about, and my heart breaks again); the theater is jazzed about the new owner and seemingly unlimited funds. And Nicki, who got better digs and a Stradivarius and was supposed to be starting with a private teacher…Nicki is pissed, and constantly harassing Lestat’s lawyer with demands to know where Lestat is.
The answer is, “Lestat is avoiding you most of all, scarecrow, because he’s sure you’ll see him as a monster.” But he’s having a great time in Paris otherwise, really, accidentally-nearly shattering windows with his vampire voice and crushing goblets because he’s too strong. Shenanigans abound. There’s a lot of Lestat-the-writer visibly inserting himself in here too, as if to remind us of his ever-present hand shaping the story. He talks about his tendency to break into fits of uncontrollable laughter, for example, which “makes other vampires furious, by the way. But I jump ahead of the tale.” Let us not forget that this is no more objective than Louis’ account – Lestat’s just a more commanding presence, and a better crafter of a palatable narrative.
Two more exciting things happen in this bit: Lestat reveals that he still absolutely cannot stand corpses, because while he’s reveling in his “fiendishness” he really hasn’t dealt with death at all; and at some point he’s learned to read. Because of…reasons. This is, I assume, a nod to accelerated vampire learning, which Anne retcons later but we’re ignoring that with all our hearts. All he SAYS is:
One night in March, I realized as Roget read my mother’s letter to me that I could read as well as he could. I had learned from a thousand sources how to read without even trying.
It is, on the one hand, a spectacular narrative copout. It is, on the other hand, perfectly Lestat to absorb things from practical experience but never actually apply himself to something he thinks he’ll fail at.
Unable to keep away any longer, Lestat goes to spy on Nicolas, who is…not doing well. The other actors from the company assume Lestat became a trophy husband to a rich wife, but Nicki does in fact know him better, saying Lestat would never be ashamed of his association with the theatre. To make it worse, he does half-remember Lestat’s kidnapping, and it’s been tormenting him. He’s been drinking a lot. Like, a lot.
Even with his fancy new mind reading powers, Lestat can’t understand his lover’s depression.
I couldn’t bear delving into his soul without him knowing it. Yet I couldn’t stop myself from sensing a vast secret terrain inside him, grimmer perhaps than I had ever dreamed, and his words came back to me that the darkness in him was like the darkness I’d seen at the inn, and that he tried to conceal it from me.
I could almost see it, this terrain. And in a real way it was beyond his mind, as if his mind were merely a portal to a chaos stretching out from the borders of all we knew.
Too frightening that. I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to feel what he felt!
But what could I do for him? That was the important thing. What could I do to stop this torment once and for all?
Lestat, no. You’re trying, but don’t…no. This is why you cannot relationship. THIS IS WHY. Because you love people, sincerely and deeply, and want to make them happy. But you want to make them happy through the lens of how YOU understand the world, and shove aside their issues as something that can be gotten rid of rather than grappled with. If they’d just come around to your way of thinking, they’d be much happier! Right?
Like the EPITOME of “you tried”
It’s a sweetly naïve and extremely damaging way to view other people. Excusable in a 20-year-old. BAD NEWS for a centuries old vampire, when he goes right on carrying this ethos to the new world.
Not long into his stalking Nicki senses that he’s being watched and comes to the window – and then, suspecting that it’s Lestat, Nicki proceeds to AGGRESSIVELY PLAY THE VIOLIN AT HIM. It would be really funny if it weren’t so deeply tragic.
Lestat hides out on the roof and muses for a while that the world is a Savage Garden (future title of a filk band), where things are beautiful but have no meaning, and the beautiful things humans make in the face of that chaos are the most valuable things on earth. And he tells himself that because of what’s happened to him, his “conversation” with Nicki is over forever.
….So naturally he dresses up in his finest duds and goes to his old theatre the very next night.
He panics at the thought of being found out but manages to be happy for a few seconds – they’re all happy to see him, champagne is being popped, and the thing Lestat apparently didn’t think was a possibility happens and he ends up getting to hold Nicki again. And, horror of horrors, he finds that he really wants to eat his boyfriend.
Now there is a great tradition in these books that vampires find all humans beautiful and delectable and etc. It’s part of the fantasy. No matter who you are, reader, these unearthly creatures think you’re the most gorgeous thing they’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s because they want to kill you, sure, but every reader of a vampire novel holds the deepseated belief that they are holders of the secret special lottery ticket. That, too, is part of the fantasy.
But here, in this moment, it’s a horror for Lestat. Because when he was alive, Nicolas was more special to him than anyone on earth. But as a vampire, that just means he’s all the more irresistible to snuff out forever. And he panics, trying to get away from his boyfriend who just DOES NOT UNDERSTAND WHY THIS IS HAPPENING.
I let the thirst rage. I let it tear at my insides. I just clung to the rafter and I saw in one great recollection all my victims, the scum of Paris, scraped up from its gutters, and I knew the madness of the course I’d chosen, and the lie of it, and what I really was. What a sublime idiocy that I had dragged that paltry morality with me, striking down the damned ones only – seeking to be saved in spite of it all? What had I thought I was, a righteous partner to the judges and executioners of Paris who strike down the poor for crimes that the rich commit every day?
This is a beautiful moment of self-awareness that the later books do not have time for and indeed think is stupid to bother with, and therefore I treasure it all the more. Lestat knows that he’s a killer, that any justification he makes is just a salve for his conscience, but he can’t stop. He’s terrified of death down to the very core, and so he’s caught in a feedback loop of self-hatred and self-justification. High and low. Manic and depressive. FOREVER.
The actors in the company make it worse by pushing him out onto the stage for old time’s sake, at which point Lestat can only imagine the audience as the inevitable corpses they’ll become. He can’t appreciate that they’re alive; he can only see that one day they’ll be dead, and feel paralyzed by the terror of that knowledge. For those keeping score at home, that’s another tick in the “Lestat’s struggles with anxiety are entirely too fucking real” column.
Perhaps moved by this, he starts to show off, tipping his hand about his powers during the performance by performing impossible stunts, trying in some small way to show his “real” self to the audience and see what they do. Seeking, as he always is, some measure of validation. And it’s….going….until the presence that’s been following Lestat around possesses someone in the audience and compels them to shoot Lestat through the chest. 18th century France was all about the open-carry flintlock pistols.
And all of this is shocking, but the bullet is less bad than the fact that Nicolas sees Lestat gets shot – and also sees him get up like nothing happened and pretend that it was all part of the show. So for Nicki, he’s seen his lover vanish without a trace, possibly to his death, been stalked and avoided but not knowing why, seen his lover reappear only to apparently die in his arms….and then he gets up totally fine, wants nothing to do with Nicki, and now everyone thinks Nicolas is delusional for insisting he definitely saw Lestat get shot for real. Lestat’s attempts to save the remains of this relationship pretty much make it worse at every turn.
HOW. HOW DID YOU DO IT THIS BAD. THIS SPECTACULARLY BAD
And then Lestat has his more-or-less equivalent to Louis drinking from Claudia (speaking of that there’s that same erotic fetishization of young, YOUNG bodies that there was in that scene, and if I try to cover it my soul will depart my body; ANNE, FUCKING STOP IT). He goes to a church and sees a mother and child outside, seeking shelter. And he kills them.
There weren’t any words for the rapture. Before I’d had all the ecstasy that rape could give. But these victims had been taken in the perfect semblance of love. The very blood seemed warmer with their innocence, richer with their goodness.
There was meaning in the world, yes, and laws, and inevitability, but they had only to do with the aesthetic. And in this Savage Garden, these innocent ones belonged in the vampire’s arms.
Here we have more of that duality, seemingly without realizing it. Lestat talks about “rape” versus “love” in regard to the people he kills, and quite resolutely not in terms of himself. He doesn’t want to think about it in terms of himself. Because here he’s decided that the innocent are victims in this new vicious, cruel world he’s come to have a sense of. And he refuses to see himself as a victim. So the only solution, then, is to make himself a killer. Something he hates, something he doesn’t want to be and will in fact casting others into the role of victim that he’s abdicating, just so he can be rid of that sense of powerlessness. It’s a fucking tragedy.
NEXT TIME: Lestat takes the jump into vampire parenting and begins his long, terrible track record of being the actual worst at it