When last we left, Nicki and Lestat had a spiteful breakup, and Armand’s attempt to be the new boyfriend were somewhat dashed when he triggered Lestat’s PTSD. Despite beating Armand’s face in, Lestat wasn’t quite able to strike the killing blow – once his flashback subsided, he was able to see his now-helpless attacker as little more than an ancient, pathetic child. So naturally, Lestat decides to take him home.
We may not actually get very far in the text this time around: Armand’s backstory is quite dense despite taking place over a few pages, and I’m certainly not going to leave any stones unturned. With that said, let’s get into it.
So, they ride back to the tower. Armand is basically catatonic, “forcing” Lestat to double up riding with him so he doesn’t fall off the horse (yeah, okay Armand; I genuinely feel for you through most of this but also you just wanted to spoon your crush). And once they get inside, Armand is basically healed from the beating except for the blood he lost. This freaks Lestat at out, because he seems to have chosen Armand as the focal point of all the abjection he needs to feel for the inhumanity of vampirism – as well as his fascination with it (“I hated him. But I couldn’t stop looking at him”).
Rather than seeing vampires in general as inhuman and horrifying, as he did when he was turned, it’s Armand who’s grotesque, horrific, inhuman and cruel. Because if it’s not specifically Armand, but rather all vampires, then that means those things encompass Lestat too; and while he says he’s dealt with all of that and embraced how glorious it is to be stylish and evil, yada yada, that’s clearly not true. He’s just found a different scapegoat that allows him to function. And through all of this, Gabrielle has taken on “mothering” Armand, cleaning the blood off his face and combing his hair. Lestat’s probably at least partially right that she’s doing it because it allows her to examine Armand like a specimen.
I mean look, it’s very nearly like affection. Touch is happening.
Most of Armand’s keepers have figured that’s enough
Lestat asks what Armand plans on doing, now that the coven is gone. What does Armand want?
He looked to Gabrielle, who stood near the fire, and then to me. And silently, he said, Love me. You have destroyed everything! But if you love me, it can all be restored in a new form. Love me.
This silent entreaty had an eloquence, however, that I can’t put into words.
“What can I do to make you love me?” he whispered. “What can I give? The knowledge of all I have witnessed, the secrets of our powers, the mystery of what I am?”
Lestat also mentions how beautiful Armand’s voice is, when he actually uses it (Lestat Is Insensitive take 4367, “you sound so nice why do you prefer nonverbal communication I cannot fathom this difference”). But Armand’s not just bringing out pretty arguments, or the speaking style he knows Lestat prefers. He gets right close and personal, taking Lestat in his arms and promising that they’ll understand one another more deeply than anyone else possibly could; he says that he loves Lestat because he couldn’t kill him.
What’s painful about this scene is the contrast of it. Armand is still using his mental powers, the same way he has for centuries, but he’s also putting all his cards on the table. He begs, he shows weakness, and he promises to tell them everything he knows in order to sell himself as being valuable. Because that’s what he’s doing here: he’s trying to sell himself to Lestat and Gabrielle, begging them to take him along, teach him and direct him in the same way that he’s lived his entire life both as a mortal and a vampire.
“Have I no value to you?” he asked. He turned to Gabrielle. Her face was anguished and still as she looked at him. I couldn’t know what went on in her heart, and to me sadness, I realized that he was speaking to her and locking me out.
But we were destroying him quite completely in another way.
“Yes,” he said, “that’s true. You are destroying me. Help me,” he whispered. “Give me but a few short years of all you have before you, the two of you. I beg you. That is all I ask.”
But Lestat isn’t having it, for reasons even he doesn’t seem able to articulate beyond “I hate him.” He sees an illusion of Armand melting like wax in front of the fire. And then, wounded, Armand is quick to turn his pleading into a curse: that Lestat should always be alone if he continues to spend his time among mortals; that fledglings like Gabrielle will never make him happy, because in trying to save them he’s already made them hate him.
“Oh, but it’s always a travesty, don’t you see?” he said with that same gentleness. “Each time the death and the awakening will ravage the mortal spirit, so that one will hate you for taking his life, another will run to excesses that you scorn. A third will emerge mad and raving, another a monster you cannot control. One will be jealous of your superiority, another shut you out.” And here he shot his glance to Gabrielle again and half smiled. “And the veil will always come down between you. Make a legion. You will be, always and forever, alone!”
This meme is dead but so is Lestat. So it’s fine
Curse or no, he’s pretty accurate regarding the fates of Lestat’s various fledglings. He’s clearly watched it happen many times in many forms during his long and horrible history. To Armand, who relies on hard data and seems to have great difficulty in extrapolating and imagining the theoretical, why shouldn’t this mean that all relationships between maker and fledgling will always be doomed?
He tries to sell his logic to Gabrielle, pointing out that she knew turning Nicolas would be a disastrous decision and yet Lestat did it anyway. And he points out what’s been pushed again and again in Lestat’s narration during the scene: everyone in the room can read one another’s minds, except Lestat and Gabrielle. And because it’s so normal for all vampires without blood ties, it makes the silence quickly and painfully apparent.
The loss of a crucial method of communication among their species is a great hurdle to a successful relationship; and why settle for that, Armand reasons, when there is a vampire who can read Lestat’s thoughts, and who is offering himself up? While he says Lestat and Gabrielle need “guidance,” he seems quite willing to subjugate himself to their will. It doesn’t matter that he’s older. They know more; Lestat’s cult of personality is worth following, because Armand couldn’t overcome it.
Armand presses the issue: it’s not just that he can read Lestat’s mind; he’s been following Lestat since he was made a vampire, reading his thoughts; by sharing those moments (read: stalking Lestat and intruding on his thoughts from afar), he’s the only one who can completely understand what Lestat’s gone through. Doesn’t that make him the perfect partner?
When he’s turned down again, Armand tries to make his escape.
“I offered myself to you at the moment you vanquished me,” he said. “Remember that when your dark children strike out at you, when they rise up against you. Remember me.”
I’m sure that statement isn’t in any way portentous. If there’s one thing Armand definitely isn’t, it’s a tiny ball of spite who can hold a grudge for a very, very long time. Lestat stops him from leaving, insisting that they shouldn’t part in hatred; and, defeated again, Armand allows himself to be led back to the fire. When even Lestat knows this is a bad plan on some level (“I felt danger again, terrible danger”) you know it’s going to be trouble. But Lestat doesn’t have what he wants from Armand, or even know what that is, and so stay he does.
“You sit there until I figure out why I like you.”
It’s ultimately Gabrielle who begins investigating in an effective way. Whatever conversation she was having with Armand, along with her analytical capability, has led her closer to understanding him.
“You come to him and you say, ‘Take me with you.’ You say, ‘Love me,’ and you hint of superior knowledge, secrets, yet you give us nothing, either of us, except lies.”
“I showed my power to understand,” he answered in a soft murmur.
“No, you did tricks with your understanding,” she replied. “You made pictures. And rather childish pictures. You have done this all along. You lure Lestat in the Palais with the most gorgeous illusions only to attack him. And here, when there is a respite in the struggle, what do you do but try to sow dissension between us…”
Have I mentioned lately that Gabrielle is the best? She’s the best. She knows herself, her flaws, and what she wants; and she’s quick to cut through bullshit from the frightened children around her. She was fifty when she died, older than both Lestat and Armand combined, and that comes with no small scrap of maturity and life experience.
When Armand tries to accuse her of secretly hating Lestat, she can respond with utter calm that she’s never loved anything in her life as much as her son. When he says that they need his guidance, that no one can live without some kind of beacon to follow, she answers no – it’s Armand who doesn’t know how to live without someone telling him what to do. Gabrielle has things she doesn’t know, but she does know what she wants to do about it.
“I want to know, for example, why beauty exists,” she said, “why nature continues to contrive it, and what is the link between the life of a lightning storm with the feelings these things inspire in us? If God does not exist, if these things are not unified into one metaphorical system, then why do they retain for us such symbolic power? Lestat calls is the Savage Garden, but for me that is not enough. And I must confess that this, this maniacal curiosity or call it what you will, leads me away from my human victims. It leads me into the open countryside, away from human creation. And maybe it will lead me away from my son, who is under the spell of all things human.”
She came up to him, nothing in her manner suggesting a woman now, and she narrowed her eyes as she looked into his face.
Gabrielle: the first vampire scientist. Anne will forget this in time, or stop giving a fuck about it, and introduce new vampire scientists about 25 years later. They will all bullshit extremely bad science, and despite making one of them a woman, that character will immediately drop off the face of the earth so she can talk about them menfolk instead. Isn’t having a crystal ball fun.
Now imagine this, but on like Everest or something
Oh, and you know why she doesn’t seem at all like a woman, Lestat? Because in fact she is not. I’m going to keep bringing it up because you keep bringing it up. Quit being a dick.
Having said her piece, Gabrielle turns the question back on Armand. What road has he traveled on? The question kind of….breaks him. This is the tale of Armand’s past, but he doesn’t tell it to them in words. He doesn’t sit down and craft the story – in some ways it’s almost as if he can’t. He stumbles around, unable to speak, and literally loses his words. When Lestat tries to read his mind, he says Armand has “no thoughts,” that there are only images there.
But that’s not so different from every encounter he’s had with Armand to now. Armand the illusion spinner, Armand who remembers things in visceral detail but cannot process them, so he can tell you exactly what events occurred and when but not how he felt about it. His feelings, by contrast (as he tells Louis in IWTV) are intense and in the moment. His cognition is neurodivergent, and Lestat – whom we’ve established over and over is absolutely garbage at understanding people who think or feel differently from himself – terms that difference as emptiness.
They get their story, all right. They get it straight from Armand’s head in vivid color, as if they themselves were living the memories. Which brings up to the Tale of Armand, the boy with enough backstory for four characters. It has every terrible underlying thematic issue we’ve unpacked til now, in spades. But mostly child abuse, physical and sexual.
Once upon a time, there was a little redheaded child. We don’t know exactly how old, though Anne will later make up dates. Anne will retcon a lot of this, actually. Which is a shame, because the original tale I quite evocatively told. It’s telling, too, which is part of the reason it had to change.
But Especially Marius
So we have a child, a boy stolen from Russia by the Tartars and sold into slavery. He’s shipped across the sea, broken and filled with “a solemn vow not to live,” and winds up in a Venetian brothel (it’s mentioned in all of this that he’s a Christian, likely Eastern Orthodox, which helps explain why he was so susceptible to the vocabulary of the cult). There’s not a sense of how long he spends there. It could’ve been months or years. Eventually he stops speaking and cooperating, and his owners lock him in a dark room for days without any food or water. When they let him back out, someone is there to take him: a tall, pale stranger. And once Armand realizes what’s going on, this scares him half to death.
At the final moment, he screamed. He swore he would obey, he wouldn’t fight anymore. Will someone tell him where he’s being taken, he won’t disobey anymore, please, please. But even as he was pulled down the stairs towards the dank smell of the water, he felt the firm, delicate hands of his new Master again, and on his neck cool and tender lips that could never, never hurt him, and that first deadly and irresistible kiss.
So this is Marius. Marius is the fucking worst. Later books will apply retcon after retcon in an attempt to make him slightly less The Worst, because Anne thinks this character is swell, but they do not change the facts. Marius is the worst, and we will now go over why (if you would like a more concentrated analysis, here you go).
Here we have a man buying a child sex slave (if we take Armand at his estimation that he spent two or three years with Marius before being turned, he’s about 14). His reaction, when that child responds with fear, is to silence the child with an act both violent and explicitly sexual. He continues the abuse Armand was conditioned to suffer under, with the slightest difference that he’s supernaturally gifted with the ability to make it feel good instead of painful. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s an adult buying a child for sexual purposes.
Armand’s memories of his time with Marius are all proceeded by the phrase “drunk.” He’s drunk on the feeling of being bitten, drunk on the thrill of living someplace where he’s not beaten and starved, drunk on fine food and “wine which never ran out.” He becomes Marius’ special pet, modeling for paintings, sleeping in the master bed and being told that they’ll be united soon, that as soon as Armand is ready (read: in the shape Marius finds most pleasing) he’ll be made a vampire. He is, quite literally, kept in the lap of luxury.
Armand is given the best of everything, a place of favoritism and authority over the other apprentices Marius keeps and presumably doesn’t sleep with, money to spend around the city. It’s no wonder the memories sound so rosy, when they were all Armand had to hold onto during centuries of brainwashing and living underground. That brief period of excess was the relative high point surrounded by physical and psychological torture. Being the pet plaything of a middle-aged (looking) man is going to seem like a highlight. But the story seems to know better, however Anne tries to backpedal on the point later. It walks a razor’s edge her, leaning just enough toward being implicitly horrific to work even if Lestat promptly glosses over that horror; though it’s hard to give it that credit, knowing that later volumes in the series will work hard to romanticize Armand’s abuse at Marius’ hands.
…the Master looking up and seeing him and putting down the brush, and taking him out of the enormous studio as the others worked until the hour of midnight, his face in the Master’s hands as, alone in the bedchamber again, that secret, never tell anyone, kiss.
There is the surface level of the “secret” element being that Marius is a vampire, but that’s also undeniably loaded language. The employment of secrecy to bind an abuse victim to their abuser is an old tale, and Armand is well and truly under that spell. As far as he’s concerned he isn’t abused, he’s special. And the fact that it’s the high point of his life is unbearably sad.
Important accessories for going over Armand’s backstory
And finally, on one night that isn’t noted as being special in any other particular way, Marius tells Armand it’s time. Consider that, knowing what we know of Armand in the relative “present.” The perfect time, when Marius decided Armand was tall enough and “strong enough,” was when he was only 17. When his “sturdy” build and round face probably still involves some baby fat, and he’s described over and over again as looking cherubic. 17, on the cusp of becoming an adult. “Strong enough,” it seems, means “willing to wait until you start to show signs of finishing puberty.” It’s as if Humbert Humbert had the power to freeze his “nymphets” in time.
For the child who doesn’t know anything better, though, that moment is a joy. Armand’s only acknowledged unhappiness is that Marius would leave at times, to check on Those Who Must Be Kept, which he refused to tell his new fledgling anything about. Because there is never, ever anything less than an enormous gulf of power between Armand and Marius, between master and pet. Armand is much a thing to be Kept as anything else, but not a partner to trust.
It doesn’t last. Less than six months after Armand is turned, a mob comes looking for Marius and Those Who Must Be Kept. Armand is captured, while Marius is decried as a heretic and burned. As far as Armand knows, he died that night. But for Armand, the night went on.
“No, don’t do it to me, no!”
And as he watched, petrified, he saw brought towards the pyre the mortal apprentices, his brothers, his only brothers, roaring in panic as they were hurled upwards and over in the flames.
“No…stop this, they’re innocent! For the love of God, stop, innocent!…” He was screaming, but now his time had come. They were lifting him as he struggled, and he was flung up and up to fall down into the blast.
“Master, help me!” Then all words giving way to one wailing cry.
Thrashing, screaming, mad.
Of course he submitted to the cult. The trauma and shock of seeing everything he loved destroyed, yes. The desire to live, for all the undercurrent of suicidal tendencies that run through his childhood (Marius tells him to only kill evildoers, but that’s quickly overwritten by the Children of Darkness’ dogma), yes. But he also has no other recourse.
He was made a slave, and then he was put in a gilded cage. Marius told him just enough to keep him calm and obedient as a mortal and as a vampire. He gave him no information, not just about his supposed burden but that he should beware of other vampires looking for him. In order to keep Armand dependent, Marius ensured that he would have no concept of how else to operate. Naturally, when Marius was forcibly removed from the picture, Armand fell into step with his next keeper. How else was he to live?
The Children of Darkness try to interrogate Armand about Those Who Must Be Kept, of course, but he has nothing to tell. So they settle for indoctrinating him, first starving him and then extracting promises alongside nourishment and ritual.
He was flying, no longer bound to the earth and the awful pain of his Master’s death and the death of the paintings, and the death of the mortals he loved. The wind sailed past him, and the heat blasted his face and eyes. But the singing was so beautiful that it didn’t matter that he didn’t know the words, or that he couldn’t pray to Satan, didn’t know how to believe or make such a prayer.
And before dawn, he was delirious, and he had a dozen brothers around him, caressing him and soothing him, and leading him down a staircase that opened to the bowels of the earth.
It’s the same strategy. Pain and fear followed by rewards of implicitly sexual touch and exacting rules. The dogma changes, but the behavior is basically the same. Armand’s life ends in fire, and begins again the same way. It’s no wonder he began to suspect this was just how one started anew; why he repeated it with the dissolution of the Children of Darkness and later with the demise of the Theatre de Vampires at Louis’ hands.
Armand imagines for years that Marius might have survived, even dreams of him crawling to some great sanctuary, though he hears no trace of him. In place of the lack of knowledge he received from his Master, the cult teaches him, including the rule that would later cost Claudia her life and that no vampire must ever tell their history – you haven’t heard about it yet, but Louis has been doing quite his share of dodging in the present. And he learns that there are no vampires older than 300, destroying any roots to their ancient history.
When Lestat came to Paris in his red velvet wolf fur cloak, it immediately set Armand off, as if it were a desecration of his last, sacred memory. And when he couldn’t destroy the new vampires, he was left broken instead.
“All things have eluded my understanding,” he said. “I am as on whom the earth has given back, and you, Lestat and Gabrielle, are like the images painted by my old Master in cerulean and carmine and gold.”
He stood still in the doorway, hands on the backs of his arms, and he was looking at us, asking silently:
What is there to know? What is there to give? We are the abandoned of God. And there is no Devil’s Road spinning out before me and there are no bells of hell ringing in my ears.
Hold on, I have to cry. Armand’s life is one long history of objectification. His sense of self is shattered over and over again, left no time to form for itself as new owners rebreak him to their own satisfaction. Marius, for all that Armand remembers him adoringly and for all that Lestat is about to idolize the hell out of him, set the tone for centuries of life. It’s only because Lestat refuses to take him and continue that cycle that Armand is forced to try something different. And even then, it won’t be until the 20th century that he truly has the chance to become someone new.
Over and over again! 😀
I mentioned before that Anne retcons Armand’s backstory multiple times, each time in the service of making Marius look less like what he is. We’re told that he originally bought Armand because the boy was rumored to be a prodigy painter, which it turns out he forgot due to trauma (and then Marius kept him on because hey, that prepubescent boy is real sexy). We’re told that Marius was forced to turn Armand at 17, because he had been poisoned and wouldn’t live another minute. Because of course, without that excuse we’re forced to confront the fact that sainted Marius determined that the perfect time to make his fledgling was frozen in pubescence, eternally young and dependent, because Marius liked the look of him that way.
We’re told, in the greatest lie of all, that it was Armand’s wicked scheming and manipulation that caused innocent, millennium-old Marius to fall for him. As though this child wasn’t raised to think his father-lover hung the moon, and given no alternative. Each successive change does more and more to blame the victim (the poisoning was because Armand slept with a jealous noble to make Marius jealous, you see; gee, what a slutty mcsluterson. Geez, Marius only ordered him to go to brothels and have meaningless sex) and to exonerate the man with all the power. It says a great deal of troubling things about the mindset of the writer, of which narratives are privileged and of who’s allowed to speak as the series goes on. This is why there are only three books, readers.
At any rate, the tale is done. But all Lestat learned from it was a deep infatuation with Marius and a conviction that this godly being must still survive. Armand’s meaningless centuries of existence terrify him, so he seizes on the idea of Marius, “this protagonist” as Lestat calls him.
Marius was travelling some route into my soul that would let him roam there forever, along with the hooded fiends who turned the paintings into chaos again.
Lestat doesn’t hear the tale of a child abused and left for dead (because if Marius survives, why wouldn’t he come back for his so-called beloved?), he imagines the things he wants himself to be: a rebel who created meaning through art, who broke all the rules and perhaps survived destruction at their hands. He wants to believe the points of this myth that agree with his own imagined narrative, to think that there might be kinship for him that’s more perfect and ideal than Gabrielle’s silence and Armand’s dependence. It doesn’t hurt that Marius is a handsome older man, and Lestat has so many daddy issues.
And victim blaming. Did I mention the victim blaming?
“No. You were the slave of Marius and then of the Children of Darkness. You fell under the spell of one and then the other. What you suffer now is the absence of a spell. I think I shudder that you caused me so to understand it for a little while, to know it as if I were a different being than I am.”
Yes, Lestat. The ability to feel intimate empathy with someone else, to truly understand their experience, must be such a terrible thing. How awful. There’s also a truly bizarre disconnect going on in Lestat’s mind during all of this: he thinks in awe about how Marius kept “a mortal lover” without killing him, and yet calls Armand a child and a slave. He doesn’t seem to reconcile any cause and effect there. It’s Armand’s fault for falling “under Marius’ spell.” Not like Lestat. He’s not under a spell. He’s just impressed by how handsome and brave and smart and deep Marius is, that’s all.
Lestat does at least stumble on one grain of truth. He tells Armand, “We cannot be Marius for you.” He even admits that he’d like to take Armand along, but knows it would be disastrous.
“You have to suffer through this emptiness,” I said, “and find what impels you to continue. If you come with us we will fail you and you will destroy us.”
Then he asks if Armand’s tried yoga.
“I mean, like, have you tried not being a victim?”
It’s Gabrielle who gives practical advice, telling Armand he should go to the Theatre and lead the remains of the coven there. She even advises him to learn from Nicolas, which Lestat is not about. They try to convince him that there is spiritual value in the creation of art, that it isn’t just “voluptuousness” (which is a weird, weird word choice). Armand still believes in God, you see, and always has. It may be the one things that’s kept him from killing himself at various points in his miserable life, even though he also firmly believes himself to be evil. But he also worshipped Marius, so the comparison of theatre to painting – a place where “the carnal and the spiritual come together” seems to coax him somewhat.
“The only thing really important for you,” she said slowly, “is that you go to an extreme.”
He stared at her blankly. He could not possibly understand what she meant by this. And I thought it too brutal a truth to say. But he didn’t resist it. His face became thoughtful and smooth and childlike again.
Yup, that about sums up what we’ve discussed of Armand til now. Something ended? BURN IT DOWN AND KILL EVERYONE INVOLVED, THEN START OVER. Love someone? Make sure one or the other totally subsumes their personhood so that you are a unit of adoring and adored. He’s never lived any other way. Still, he asks them why they have to leave, when they’re no longer being hunted. To him, that’s the end of it.
But both of them are now searching for other truths – Lestat in his hope for Marius’ wisdom, Gabrielle in her own examination of the wild. Each is in a different place along the same line of growth. Armand is stuck in place, paralyzed and unsure how to search for meaning or what he wants; Lestat is searching, but still hopes to find someone who already knows and can give him the answers; and Gabrielle knows her questions and how to start discovering the answers for herself. None of them are going to be able to hang together very long.
Before they go, though, Lestat wants to get the issue of his ex-boyfriend cleared up.
“I don’t want him harmed,” I said in a tense whisper.
“No. You want him destroyed,” he whispered back. ‘So that you need never fear or grieve for him anymore.” And the look of scorn sharpened hideously.
“I’ll go to them,” he said in the softest voice. “And I will take the gold you offer me, and I will seek refuge in this tower. And I will learn from your passionate fledgling whatever he has to teach me. but I reach for these things only because they float on the surface of the darkness in which I am drowning. And I would not descend without some finer understanding. I would not leave eternity to you without…without some final battle.”
He even promises, finally, “I will spare your ill-fated Nicolas.”
“Oh yeah, I’ll take care of him. Real good care.”
Lestat doesn’t trust Armand as far as he can throw him, but there’s nothing much for it but to let him go. They both hold him and kiss him goodbye (no homo though, these are very heterosexual books), and turn their thoughts toward their own plans.
Gabrielle took a very different lesson from Armand’s memories than Lestat. They convinced her that she wants nothing to do with vampires, and wants to go to all the places in the world where humans have never been. To her, Marius is a fairytale, and he’s about as interesting. She acknowledges he might be real, because of a story Armand parroted that he had no reason to know himself, but she doesn’t care.
“Mother, tell me this again, this Egyptian story…”
“Lestat, you have years to read all the old tales for yourself.” She rose and bent to kiss me, and I sensed the coldness and sluggishness in her that always came before dawn. “As for me, I am done with books. They are what I read when I could do nothing else.”
And then she buries herself in the yard, just to see if she can.
“I want to see if I can sleep in the raw earth itself,” she said over her shoulder. “If I don’t rise tomorrow you’ll know I failed.”
GOD, that’s such a good line. As for Lestat, he goes to a nearby rock, takes out his knife, and starts carving. He leaves a message for Marius, saying that he’s searching for him.
NEXT TIME: Letters from home, and parting after parting.