Summer is turning to fall, and so we return to those garbage vampires of my heart doing….actually, remember the World Tour part of Interview with the Vampire that was wisely cut from the film? Yeah, this is that again; except that Lestat is the Dashing Hero who actually knows a single scrap of something that he refused to tell Louis and…no. No, no. I can’t get into this yet. Now is not the time. But soon, dear readers. Very soon.
Because Lestat is a dumb, sweet idiot, he leaves the theatre assuming that Nicki’s gonna be fine and that he and Armand will be friends now, because Armand is certainly not the sort to hold a grudge over having his entire worldview shattered and then having his romantic overtones rejected. Nope, it’s gonna be fine.
Oh, after spending too long with the later books it’s nice to be back to the Lestat who’s a dumb idiot because he wants to believe the best in people and kind of sort of leave them to make their own futures rather than just barging in and taking over their lives when he wants attention. I miss this boy.
Anyway, unlike Louis and Claudia, Lestat and Gabrielle have considerably more luck in finding other vampires. Some run away in self-preservation, some are mindless shamblers or ghouls a la the Romania adventure (is it petty to point out Rice hadn’t read Dracula when she did that parody? Probably? But no more petty than the actual subplot); and several pockets of the Children of Darkness continue to thrive, blending into society but keeping up the graveyard living and ritualistic behavior.
During the course of this road trip, Lestat makes the single worst decision of his unlife.
Sometimes it was no more than a few words that I scratched with the tip of my knife. In other places, I spent hours chiseling my ruminations into the stone. But wherever I was, I wrote my name, the date, and my future destination, and my invitation: “Marius, make yourself known to me.”
Desperate for a teacher and drowning in daddy issues, Lestat doesn’t yet realize how this search is going to fuck up his relationships for decades and decades. But that’s a while off. For now, Lestat isn’t getting any answers from Marius, and nobody he talks to has seen the guy, either. Most of them are convinced Armand is a legend too, making the whole venture a somewhat depressing grind for Our Hero.
Lestat is getting news from Paris, though, and the tone of this section marks a shift in the structure of the novel heading into the back half. Part VI is pretty short and at least half epistolary, contrasting Lestat’s movement across great swaths of land without finding much in the way of revelation with the huge emotional and psychological shakeups going on back in that Paris theatre. It works a trick, though unfortunately it’s also lulling us into a false sense of security for the Biggest, Dullest Backstory Dump Ever. But ssshhh, let’s focus on the good thing right now.
When I say “good” I’m only talking about us, the readers. For the characters, it’s a big ‘ol trainwreck combusting while everybody looks on. The first letter Lestat gets is from theatre manager Roget, who tells him all about the new ventures Nicki has been directing—basically an early version of the Theatre de Vampires as it would later be performed for Louis and Claudia (with an entirely different cast; not ominous at all). Roget being the Muggle Character, his letter is full of gosh-darn wonderment at all the technical prowess these fine actors are putting on for the people, with their vampires and uncanny corpsey physics.
The more fascinating correspondence comes from Eleni, whom you may remember as The Most Emotionally Intelligent Vampire. Which means that we have the most emotionally savvy vampire writing to the least emotionally savvy one. That’s right, it’s time for a good old game of “read the subtext!”
Oh, how I’ve missed it.
Okay, in fairness, Lestat actually is on-point for a minute. At least long enough to provide an example of how to interpret Eleni’s letters once they’re actually put into the text. Credit where it’s due—it’s a clever way to nudge less experienced readers toward reading implication.
“But when [Nicolas] is not at work, he can be quite impossible. He must be watched constantly so that he does not enlarge our ranks. His dining habits are extremely sloppy. And on occasion he says most shocking things to strangers, which fortunately they are too sensible to believe.”
In other words, he tried to make other vampires. And he didn’t hunt in stealth.
Thank you, Lestat. I am very proud of you and your newfound literacy. He has considerably less to say when Eleni is writing about Armand.
I cannot say we do not love [Nicki]. For you sake we would care for him even if we did not. But we do love him. And Our Oldest Friend, in particular, bears him great affection. […]
Each night, however, [Armand] arrives at the door of the theater in his black carriage. And he watches from his own curtained box.
And he comes after to settle all disputes among us, to govern as he always did, to threaten Our Divine Violinist, but he will never, never consent to perform on the stage.
…Y’all, Armand and Nicki totally had a thing. I’m convinced of this point. We’ll come back to it once we’ve gone through all the letters.
Eleni begs Lestat to come back, but he’s having none of it—he’s having too much fun hanging out with mortals, reading books, teaching himself Latin, all the things he could never do when he was a mortal boy trapped by his family. He’s particularly fascinated by the myth of Osiris, which is not in any way convenient foreshadowing for a staggeringly stupid plot explanation.
Okay, further fairness: it actually isn’t as stupid the way Lestat reads it here. Well, besides reading Osiris as a god of “unworldly goodness,” applying a totally inappropriate moral compass to those stories. But otherwise, he reads the dismemberment and reassembly of Osiris sans penis as a metaphor for vampires, who are returned to life but can’t “procreate.” Can vampires fuck? We dunno, we’ll never know, it is a stupid and fraught conversation with many conflicting points of proof because this series doesn’t keep reliable continuity; best just to shake hands and agree that drinking blood is a stand-in for sex and move on with the rest of us.
Gabrielle rolls her eyes about as hard as I did at Lestat’s reading, because she doesn’t realize that he’s the protagonist shaping the story, and that he’ll turn out to have hit on the right thing. For her, he’s a freshman English major who learned baby’s first analysis and is assuming the couple stories he knows and likes have Grand Importance.
“Osiris was the god of the corn,” she said. “He was a good god to the Egyptians. What could he have to do with us?” She glanced at the books I was studying. “You have a great deal to learn, my son. Many an ancient god was dismembered and mourned by his goddess. Read of Ataeon and Adonis. The ancients loved those stories.”
GABRIELLE DE LIONCOURT: LEARN HOW TO CONTEXT, PLEB.
Fuck, y’all, I love her so much. She’s so great. I just. Feel this salty nonbinary wit in my soul. If Anne Rice doesn’t want her anymore that’s cool, I’ll adopt her.
Unfortunately, this is more or less the end of Gabrielle’s role until the very end of the book. Lestat senses that she’s growing distant from him, heading off to explore the wilderness and vanishing for up to six months at a time. They drift further and further apart as Gabrielle embraces the constancy of nature and Lestat tries to hold fast to the remnants of the life he knew as they slip away. His father is sickly (a timeline clue for IWTV readers), his brothers have children growing up, and France is about to change in violent revolution. I think you know where this is going.
That’s right: another long conversation between two characters about the nature of morality and what it means to be evil! It wouldn’t be part of the VC Trilogy without it. IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN THIS CORNER, the Challenger: Gabrielle posits that while God probably exists (and is possibly a dick), Satan is a personification to hang humanity’s inherently destructive urges on; also, wouldn’t it be swell if civilization just collapsed and nature took everything back?
IN THE OTHER CORNER: Lestat continues to stan for whatever seems most logical to his feelings at the time, because he secretly wants to be a Good Boy. And if someone rose up to kill humanity he would rise up against them and “I could be saved, I could be good again in my own eyes, as I set out to save man from this.”
A fun note: the thrust of the narrative changed between The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned, leaving several lines and bits of characterization in TVL that don’t really line up with how things shook out. One of them was setting up Armand as a villain in opposition to Lestat, which Rice thankfully backed off on; I suspect this conversation was another such case. It’s too obviously foreshadowing not to be meant to reference the 1980s-era conflict, but it bears very little similarity to Lestat’s actual actions in QOTD.
And I don’t buy that the writing is quite self-aware enough to be pointing us toward Lestat failing his own ideals—it was dubiously aware of this early on and ever less as the books went off, and that may have retroactively colored my confidence.
But he tries. Oh, for now, how he tries.
“What I don’t understand about you is this,” she said. “You hold to your old belief in goodness with a tenacity that is virtually unshakable. Yet you are so good at being what you are! You hunt your victims like a dark angel. You kill ruthlessly. You feast all night long on victims when you choose.”
“So?” I looked at her coldly. “I don’t know how to be bad at being bad.”
LESTAT DE LIONCOURT: I’m trying, okay?! Stop making me think about my own untenably opposed ideals and actions, it’s hurting my brain!
Actually, joking aside, let me zoom in briefly on that idea. We’ve talked multiple times about Lestat as a character who means well but mistakes imposing his desires on others for having empathy with them. It’s a central character flaw, and a surmountable one within the context of the trilogy—Lestat writes his autobiography to make up for the decades he deceived Louis and try to start over. When he fucks up here, in the context of TVL, it’s in a fairly contained way. He doesn’t try to force Gabrielle to stay with him; when he fights Armand, it costs him a great deal and he wins partly because he’s in a blind, panicked rage that he later regrets.
He can still do a great deal of harm – see his abusive first marriage to Louis and Claudia’s whole life—but he’s not untouchable. Even in IWTV, he’s a surmountable antagonist. At his worst, he can still face consequences for his actions and the harm he does to others. By the end of QOTD, however, he essentially has godmode powers (more on that later); it’s a crisis point where he has to face his own internal hypocrisy, because nobody else can save him from himself.
But he…doesn’t. He goes on being the supposed hero of the story, the narrative justifying his actions while the characters around him have no power to fight him off when he imposes his desires on them. And that cancer at the heart of the franchise ties back to this problem of Lestat refusing to resolve that question that started out as a way for him to cope with the horror of his unwanted vampiric existence: “how can you do so many monstrous things to others while saying you want to help?”
But in the midst of all the philosophy, Gabrielle also tells Lestat some practical things: yup, vampires can sleep in the ground no problem, and if someone wakes them up but doesn’t kill them right away, a vampire will protect itself without ever waking. Hey! Good worldbuilding! Look!
While Gabrielle is losing touch with humanity, Lestat becomes serial killer-obsessed with it, stalking living people and imagining how they’d be a perfect, understanding partner to him and then merge into him to heal all of his problems. You begin to see part of why he fucked it up so bad when he actually went through with making Louis after romanticizing the hell out of him from afar.
IMAGINE: Lestat’s inner monologue during the turning, because we never actually get that.
LESTAT: oh shit, oh no, this isn’t how it was supposed to go. Why isn’t he following the script? Why didn’t this work? Again?
Conveniently for the dispensing of plot in letter form, Lestat is away from the mail long enough for it to pile up. Spoilers: Nicki’s not doing well. Like, “if people we’re busy worrying about the revolution he’d have brought an angry mob to our door by now” bad. But Lestat is still running from his problems and hoping that telling Eleni to understand harder will fix things. Also, Anne Rice read a book about the French Revolution once.
I answered both letters with all the predictable concern and all the predictable feeling of helplessness.
Stop breaking my heart, I’m being mad at you right now.
They go to Egypt, because Lestat has smelled the theme the author has insisted on weaving here and is willing to follow on it, and an ominous package is waiting for him in Cairo.
“I had a dream about you,” I said aloud, glancing at the package. “I dreamed that we were moving through the world together, you and I, and we were both serene and strong. I dreamed we fed on the evildoer as Marius had done, and as we looked about ourselves we felt awe and sorrow at the mysteries we beheld. But we were strong. We would go on forever. And we talked. ‘Our conversation’ went on and on.”
I tore back the wrapping and saw the case of the Stradivarius violin.
I’M NOT OKAY, Y’ALL.
Eleni’s letter describes the events leading to Nicolas’ death: Armand finally got sick of his shit and locked him up, but not before cutting off his hands so he couldn’t play the violin (don’t worry, vampires can pop their limbs on and off like balljoint dolls). Once Nicki was let out he was suicidal, and demanded they create a blaze for him in the cult’s old tradition. And…so they did. The theater was officially named the Theatre de Vampires, and the violin went on to Lestat as a final fuck you (and maybe something sadder) from Nicolas.
Alright, before we move on to Lestat’s nigh-catatonic sadness at his first love’s death, let’s talk about Nicki and Armand. I brought it up, after all.
They smooched. Like a lot. And they were probably an absolute mess.
Hold on, let me show you my corkboard.
Alright, so Eleni mentions Armand having “great affection” for Nicolas. That could be an attempt to set Lestat at ease, but I don’t think so—she certainly has no problems later on writing that Armand threatens Nicki to keep him in line. And as the The Most Emotionally Intelligent Vampire, she’s shown to have the clearest insight into how Armand is feeling (see: the prose noting that she’s watching him during his fragile moments).
But alright, it could use some more backing up. What’s Armand described as doing? He comes to the show every night, he continues acting as the coven leader to the others, and he threatens Nicki in some nonspecific way to keep him in line. The first two are arguably within the logic of his bond with the remaining members of the coven, as well as keeping his promise to Lestat that he’d look after Nicki. But the last thing. That one sticks with me. Because that’s not like Armand at all.
As readers, we have the benefit of hindsight. We know that Armand having feelings for someone doesn’t in any way mean he’s going to be honest with them. He promised Louis the moon and still plotted to have Claudia murdered in order to get her out of the way. It absolutely wouldn’t be out of character for him to promise Nicki would be safe and then coincidentally murder him. The fact that he was constantly threatening the safety of the coven would’ve been a perfectly viable excuse—protecting the whole. In fact, Armand’s killed members of his coven he doesn’t have a grudge against when they threatened to break the masquerade. He was the enforcer.
But he doesn’t do that here. He waits until there’s absolutely no other way to deal with Nicolas before locking him up. And then Eleni describes him as “bitter and grieved” after the funeral. There’s a sense of a genuine emotional connection going on in the background. And why not? Armand and Nicolas both came from Catholic backgrounds that majorly impacted their probably shared thoughts on evil; they both have or had the hots for Lestat and are also super angry at him; Armand represents an authority of evil, and Nicki is a way for Armand to learn more about the world and also Lestat’s old life. There are reasons for them to gravitate to one another.
Lastly, there’s a shift that’s never explained: Armand refuses to go on the stage while Nicki is alive, but is the star performer by the time Louis goes to the theatre. Consider, then, the way Nicki’s funeral is described.
Our Oldest Friend solemnly granted his wish and you have never seen such a Sabbat as this, for I think we looked all the more hellish in our wigs and fine clothes, our black ruffled vampire dancing costumes, forming the old circle, singing with an actor’s bravado the old chants.
[…] We began to dance, all of us, to induce the customary frenzy, and I think we were never more moved, never more in terror, never more sad. He went into the flames.
Everyone is involved, Armand presumably included. There’s little more to go on than pure headcanon, but I’d mark this as at least the beginning of what pulled Armand back to living at the theatre and acting in it. Part obligation, part loss, and part some small tribute.
Even Lestat, in the midst of his grief, has a small moment of clarity.
“You thought I would go back to get revenge?”
She nodded uncertainly. She didn’t want to put the idea in my head.
“How could I do that?” I said. “It would be hypocrisy, wouldn’t it, when I left Nicolas there counting on them all to do whatever had to be done?”
The changes in her face were too subtle to describe. I didn’t to see her feel so much. It wasn’t like her.
“The fact is, the little monster was trying to help when he did it, don’t you think, when he cut off the hands. It must have been a lot of trouble to him, really, when he could have burnt up Nicki so easily without a backward glance.”
She nodded, but she looked miserable, and as luck would have it, beautiful, too. “I rather thought so,” she said. “But I didn’t think you would agree.”
“Oh, I’m monster enough to understand it,” I said. “do you remember what you told me years ago, before we ever left home? You said it the very day that he came up the mountain with the merchants to give me the red cloak. You said that his father was so angry with him for his violin playing that he was threatening to break his hands. Do you think we find our destiny somehow, no matter what happens? I mean, do you think that even as immortals we follow some path that was already marked for us when we were alive? Imagine it, the coven master cut off his hands.”
Lestat, if you could just have these moments of clarity before you do stupid shit, think what you could accomplish. On the one hand this passage is a little on the nose, drawing our attention to the connection of the hand thing just in case we missed how clever it was. But like many things in these books, it gets infinitely sadder when you think about it in context of the later, terrible parts of the franchise—given that Lestat eventually, essentially, becomes his father: moving back into the castle in Auvergne, acting as leader of a brutal and frivolous monarchy, and treats his loved ones like objects he can move around as he pleases with no respect for their agency. The Lestat who ran away from his home to live with his lover and make the world better eventually became an abusive, autocratic asshole ruling out of the house of horrors he was raised in.
I made myself sad again.
There’s a little more to this section, but let’s pause here, in this moment of tragic clarity on the lip of a far deeper abyss. Also, I want to start with some good prose next time before we have to plunge into Backstory Hell.
NEXT TIME: Lestat hits literal rock bottom