If you’re wondering why it’s been a little while since the last recap, it’s because this section requires a certain amount of mental steeling to face. Not because it is particularly more horrible than other parts of this book (though at points it is, because it revolves around The Worst Character), but because a great deal of it is very, very boring. Today we will be covering the less-boring part.
When last we left off, Lestat had suffered the death of his first love and his mother leaving to enjoy eternity as her own person and buried himself in the earth, only to be dug out by the much-lauded Marius. This will turn out to be among the worst things that has happened to Lestat in terms of effects on the rest of his unlife. We’ll get into that as we go, because I am not exaggerating when I say that Marius is emblematic of just about everything wrong with these books.
This section is called “Ancient Magic, Ancient Mysteries,” and it opens with Lestat on a boat. Make your own Lonely Island jokes. Marius, it seems, bundled the pair of them onto this vessel and is steering them toward a secret island of secrets, which is what Lestat has been wanting all along. He’s definitely happy, and it isn’t concerning at all that he keeps having concerns only to immediately brush them off in narration or find that his troubled emotions have inexplicably calmed themselves.
Here is a selection of these Totally Fine Things happening over the course of a few pages.
I felt uncommonly clearheaded and strong. There was a moment’s temptation to try to figure out how I had gotten here, whether I was in the Aegean or Mediterranean itself, to know when we had left Cairo and if the things I remembered had really taken place.
But this slipped away from me in some quiet acceptance of what was happening. (367)
I felt an overpowering attraction to [Marius], and the sense of peace in me expanded. (368)
Marius was only a few step behind me. And again, I could feel and hear that pulse of power. It was like a vibration in my bones. (370)
Marius smiled and waited. Then he whispered very politely:
I must have been spellbound. I started up again and didn’t stop until I reached the summit. (370)
I could continue, but let’s leave it at that for now. You could, on the one hand, argue that Lestat is an impulsive character who often acts without understanding why he does things, and that his raging daddy issues crush is why he’s being so uncharacteristically agreeable. After all, he did the same thing in this very book with Armand…
Oh yeah. Armand.
Armand throws a wrench into the proceedings for two reasons: first, because we have clear examples of what it looks/feels like when the narrator is being psychically manipulated (both in this book and IWTV), and because Armand’s backstory has made it pretty clear that he learned how to model relationships from his previous owner, Marius. This Marius. The one Lestat is hanging out with right now, around whom he is strangely compliant and keeps having inexplicable changes of mood or opinion whenever he starts thinking about things that would make him feisty.
Marius is poking around in Lestat’s head for this entire section, is what I’m saying. Which is sinister enough, given that Marius basically exists to give an enormous dump of exposition and backstory and then dole out some very bad advice. But it’s worse because unlike with Armand (who you may recall got his entire face rearranged), Lestat never catches on to what Marius is doing.
The clues are there, but because so much of this book is Lestat loudly declaring what he thinks of people, readers often tend to pass it over and assume Marius really is the Great Super Guy that Lestat tries to sell him as here—when in reality, he’s a serial manipulator who enjoys grooming and “caring” for people weaker than him and also fucking barely pubescent teenagers.
The cherry on the shit sandwich is that then Anne Rice started believing Marius’ hype, and wrote an entire book about what a great experience it was for 15-year-old Armand to be Marius’ sex slave (a thing she seems to have also believed to be applicable in real life, at least at the time that book was written), while also increasingly positioning him as a wise, authoritative voice that’s meant to be implicitly trusted.
The lauded mentor figure of these books is basically Akio Fucking Ohtori: a suave, cultured older man who has considerably more age and experience than the rest of the main characters and casts himself as the keeper and arbiter of knowledge and meaning, while using his position of power to seduce and control those with whom he is neither capable nor desirous of an equal relationships with. The difference, of course, is that Marius is never explicitly outed as the villain of the story, except in my heart.
Anyway, they go to Marius’ Really Nice House, and there are pages upon pages describing the painting on the walls and how much stuff Marius has had time to collect over the centuries. Someone else already beat me to the best possible joke about this section, but I do want to pause on it more seriously. Yes, you guessed it, this is yet another way in which Marius Represents Problems.
The Vampire Chronicles are wealth porn. This isn’t new—it’s wrapped up in the purple prose imported from gothic horror, and at this point it’s become a staple of the vampire novel in general. You live a long time, you get to wear cool clothes and lounge on cool furniture and go wherever you want. It’s part of the fantasy of immortality. The trouble with these specific books is that they started out being at least partially an examination of how immortality kind of sucks, and how these sumptuous things are just filling a hole in one’s attempt to find meaning under the crushing weight of endless existence.
Now that’s a really hard concept to build a series off of, so it’s not surprising that later books moved away from it (though I don’t appreciate that it apparently involved completely shafting Louis in the process). But the grappling with depression and death was ostensibly replaced with a rebel who’s out to tear down ossified systems in search for an unvarnished truth, one who speaks truth to power and laughs in the face of staid conservatism. Yes, Lestat hoards nice things because he grew up poor, but you’d think that at some point “Eat the Rich” would be a natural progression point for him in light of his supposed goals.
Instead, we have a modern day Lestat (remember that framing device from a billion years ago?) who is supposedly writing all of this in retrospect while gearing up to tear down the power structure of vampire society. And at the same time, he’s gasping breathlessly about all the cool stuff this handsome silver fox owns, and how cool and mysterious and knowledgeable he is.
Lestat, Marius is the symbol of everything you purport to be against. His hoarding of knowledge under the guise of secrecy and gatekeeping is a huge part of the stratification and master/slave abuses of vampire society.
This disconnect is so irreconcilable that it will eventually kneecap the conclusion of the third book. But Marius is hot so it’s fine I guess.
After Lestat has finished his House Hunters tour, he goes to talk to Marius—who is now dressed in clothes from Lestat’s time and speaking French in order to make Lestat more comfortable.
“That’s thoughtful!” You might say.
“It’s to lull him into a state of complacency,” I would respond, placing another tack on the corkboard.
More important is the fact that Marius places a lot of emphasis on how important it is for immortals to talk to one another rather than speaking psychically like Armand. At the same time that he’s insisting this, he’s very clearly read Lestat’s thoughts and continues to do so throughout the conversation, while creating a hand-waving justification as to why he can’t share his own.
“…I can hear your thoughts now, of course, as I’m sure you realize. But I prefer to communicate with words.”
“Why?” I asked. “I thought the older ones would dispense with speech altogether.”
“Thoughts are imprecise,” he said. “If I open my mind to you I cannot really control what you read there. And when I read your mind it is possible for me to misunderstand what I hear or see.”
There is so much to unpack there. We have Marius acknowledging that he has read Lestat’s thoughts and is continuing to do so throughout the conversation, meaning that any shift in discussion that seems to hit on Lestat’s fears or concerns is likely deliberate.
There’s Marius’ refusal to open his thoughts (although he could, even selectively) because it means he’ll lose control of the situation and might have to give knowledge beyond what he specifically chooses to share (implying by default that despite this being the “learning” chapter, there is still a hierarchy of knowledge). And there’s a total lack of acknowledgement that Lestat might be uncomfortable with this one-way deal, with Marius not even offering to stop reading Lestat’s thoughts just as he doesn’t want his own read.
This fuckin guy.
The conversation that ensues is about how hard it is to be a vampire, how much Lestat has suffered from Nicki’s death, and how vampires apparently inevitably take dirt naps in order to basically reset and recover from the strain of living forever. Meanwhile, two centuries later Louis is rolling his eyes right out of his skull as he gets up every night after losing everyone he’s ever cared about. Marius insists that he has so much to share with Lestat, and I am as surprised as anyone that it doesn’t turn out to be his dick—the seductive undertones of the conversation are many and deliberate.
I became a little agitated suddenly, a little overwhelmed. I felt the unaccountable desire to weep.
He leaned forward and touched the back of my hand with his fingers, and a shock coursed through me. we were connected in the touch. And though his skin was silky like the skin of all vampires, it was less pliant. It was like being touched by a stone hand in a silk glove.
“I brought you here because I want to tell you what I know,” he said. “I want to share with you whatever secrets I possess. For several reasons, you have attracted me.”
I was fascinated. And I felt the possibility of an overpowering love.
So Lestat feels suddenly overwhelmed with emotion (read: he’s being induced by outside influence), and then Marius leans in to make him feel special and wanted, playing on his loneliness and recent rejection. He goes on to play the false fallibility card, claiming he’s definitely going to tell Lestat everything but it’ll be Lestat who changes, and Marius could be wrong (but how could he thanks to all the other things he’s putting down here as a sheltering authority figure). It’s some masterful manipulation and it is chilling.
Lestat falls for it hook, line, and sinker, because he’s lonely and vulnerable and just wants to hear that he’s loved and wanted. They talk a little bit more—Lestat wonders why Marius didn’t go pick up Armand if he’s supposedly aware of everything that’s happening with other vampires to a certain extent, a good fucking question that gets brushed aside, Lestat frets more about Nicki and how he might’ve been able to help him if he’d been buried instead of burned; and Marius tells Lestat that he isn’t dishonest with himself, the greatest lie anyone has ever told.
Along the way, we’re treated to yet more reminders that Marius is actively rifling around in Lestat’s brain:
“[…] You came of age without faith, and yet you aren’t cynical. And so it was with me. We sprang up from a crack between faith and despair, as it were.”
And Nicki fell into that crack and perished, I thought.
“That’s why your questions are different,” he said, “from those who were born to immortality under the Christian god.”
I thought of my conversation with Gabrielle in Cairo—my last conversation. I myself had told her this was my strength.
“Precisely,” he said.
A reminder that also comes smack-dab in the middle of Marius’ Thoughts on Religion, a section that is not unlike reading an Atheist Chick Tract. It is insufferable, not because there’s anything wrong with atheism, agnosticism, or any form of skepticism regarding the concept of a deity or other divine rationale for the universe, but because it is didactic and boring and smug—and the later books continue to be didactic, boring, and smug on the topic of theology when Anne decides she’s swung in favor of the theological again. It’s a matter of delivery over content.
Here Marius casts himself as enlightened and anyone who has ever struggled to reconcile their existences with faith as hopeless idiots too stupid for him to waste time on. As he does so, this supposedly wise and ancient figure is firmly locked into a view of historical determinism: i.e. that all of human history is on a path toward a singular ideal point, a point largely characterized by white European ideals.
This is another “Marius is a stand-in for bigger problems with the series,” moment. We’re about to learn that vampires stem from an Egyptian heritage, and yet every significant historical contribution discussed by these ancient vampires is tied to the history of white Europeans and the evolution or rejection of Christianity as determined by Constantine and Rome.
In another book that would be a reasonable position for Marius to be taking, because he’s a Roman with his head so far up his ass that he can’t see daylight. But there’s never another character that really significantly challenges this framework or offers an in-depth dive into cultural mores and histories outside of that white European model (or at least acknowledge that those other cultural ideals exist and have validity even if you don’t have confidence in addressing them). More to the point, this series loves to code brown characters as primitive, and even the Egyptian forbearers of the vampire culture have become literally white over time.
…Did I mention that determinist views of history tend to be really racist? They tend to be really racist and tied to ideas like eugenics and racial superiority, with the implication that a certain race (usually the white one) is more fit for survival and propagation than others. Anyway, here’s a quote.
“Yes, the Savage Garden,” Marius said with a spark of light in his eyes. “And I had to go out of the civilized cities of the Empire to find it. I had to go into the deep woods of the northern provinces, where the garden still grew at its lushest, the very land of Southern Gaul in which you were born. I had to fall into the hands of the barbarians who gave us both our stature, our blue eyes, our fair hair. I had it through the blood of my mother, who had come from those people, the daughter of a Keltic chieftain married to a Roman patrician. And you have it through the blood of your fathers directly from those days. And by strange coincidence, we were both chosen for immortality for the very same reason—you by Magnus and I by my captors—that we were nonpareils of out blood [sic] and blue-eyed race, that we were taller and more finely made than other men.”
It’s weird how I thought these books only got kind of racist in the next one, when the Egyptian woman angry about patriarchal oppression is deemed an overzealous misandrist. (Let’s be clear once again: speaking realistically every single character in this series is probably some flavor of racist. We can all be aware of that as an additional and distinct aspect from the themes, wittingly or no, falling into propagating these concepts).
Anyway, that’s all I’m qualified to say on the subject and then some, so here’s a palette cleanser before we go into the last part of this section. I call it “Lestat is still a good boy, please get him away from this living embodiment of bad ideas.”
I was burning to see [Those Who Must Be Kept], to know what they were, and yet I didn’t move. I’d really thought that I would see them, I’d never really thought what it would mean…
“Is it…is it something terrible to see?” I asked.
He smiled slowly and affectionately and placed his hand on my shoulder.
“Would it stop you if I said yes?”
“No,” I said. But I was afraid.
HE ONLY WANTS TO BE GOOD, YOU GUYS. HE WANTS TO BE BRAVE AND LOVED AND HE WANTS TO LEARN PLEASE GET HIM AWAY FROM THIS ASSHOLE.
Alright, we do have to discuss one more part of how this series approaches ideas before we go on: how Anne interpret Lestat as an “enlightenment” figure, which is here presented as meaning that he’s freed from the shackles of superstition and free to seek the truth in contrast to Louis, a “romantic” figure who is characterized by his worries over morality and his fraught relationship to his catholic upbringing. The dichotomy is “superstition vs rationalism,” and it fails to consider or value the other really important difference between enlightenment and romanticism: the nature of truth.
While the Enlightenment did birth a lot of scientific thought and a new vein of discovery that was outside of the church, it was far from a time where religion was magically gone. Enlightenment ideas, on the contrary, privilege an idea of objective Truth that’s often cast in the mode of divine inspiration (witness how often we see Lestat here slotting different things into the role of religious awe in his life, whether or not he believe in a God). So when Lestat goes to Marius and hears this account of history the book treats it in that same Enlightenment mode of being The Truth.
It’s a strange approach for a series of books that are at their best when they take on a very Romantic mode of thought: that there is no single objective truth, and basically what matters is how we all feel about it. Those individual interpretations of a shared set of data influence our reactions and thus how we go on to shape the world. In other words, the exact conflict in the differences between Lestat and Louis’ accounts, or between Lestat’s “objective” history and his desire to portray himself as the hero. This is a series of Romantic books trying to pretend they’re Enlightened, and it proves the death of the series post-trilogy.
They head down to a cave at the heart of the island, which has a super-ultra-mega gated off chamber that only someone with vampire strength could get into. Inside is a lavishly decorated room like an Egyptian tomb, and the two supposed progenitors of the vampire race: Those Who Must Be Kept. Lestat is enchanted by the “statues,” only to dissolve into horror once he realizes they’re unmoving but sentient.
I was trembling so violently, my legs could hardly hold me.
“They’re alive!” I said. “They aren’t statues! They’re vampires just like us!”
Slowly, he turned and came up to me and took my right hand.
The blood had rushed to my face. I wanted to say something but I couldn’t. I kept staring at them. and now I was staring at him and staring at the white hand that held mine.
“It’s quite all right,” he said almost sadly. “I don’t think they dislike you touching them.”
For a moment I couldn’t understand him. Then I did understand. “You mean you…You don’t know whether…They just sit there and…Oooh God!”
This ties back to Lestat’s earlier freak-out at the sight of Egypt’s ancient statues. He still carries a fear of death, and this is a new and even more horrific possibility: he’s escaped mortal death, but he might yet ossify into a thing that’s a prisoner of its own body, aware but unable to move or speak. It hits right at his horror of losing control, and it’s no wonder he starts having a panic attack.
He begs to be let out, and meanwhile Marius is watching all of this and refusing to comfort him because Marius is the worst. Instead, he keeps Lestat there, and he only relents when Lestat is in tears and literally begging to be let out of the room.
“Don’t be so impetuous, Lestat,” he said finally, smiling a little, his eyes still fixed on the male. “Every now and then I do hear them, but it is unintelligible. It is merely the presence of them—you know the sound.”
“And you heard him just then.”
“Marius, please let us go out of here, I beg you. Forgive me, I can’t bear it! Please, Marius, let’s go.”
“All right,” he said kindly. “But do something for me first.”
“Anything you ask.”
“Talk to them. It need not be out loud. But talk. Tell them you find them beautiful.”
To be clear, Lestat’s asked to go multiple times. But Marius pushes it until he’s in a full-blown panic, willing to put anything on the line including his pride if it means being let out. That is some nasty grooming behavior: it gets Lestat to act in the ingratiating behavior Marius wants, apologize for what Marius found to be irritating pride, and feel grateful enough to do what Marius asks (here an innocuous task, because it’s only the beginning of pushing those boundaries) with no qualifiers once relief is finally granted (for a situation Marius put him in).
If Lestat were to stay on the island long term with this behavior being repeated, he’d eventually be broken down and groomed to behave how Marius wants him to, just like Armand was.
The horror of that implication manages to dwarf the honestly pretty good existential dread of being trapped forever in a body you can no longer control. Anyway, Lestat is drawn to kiss the statue of the queen, and he hears her whisper the name “Akasha” into his mind. Marius is pissy that the statues spoke to this kid rather than to him, and they go upstairs to have a hundred page long round of backstory.
NEXT TIME: We will survive this dull, dull backstory, and come to the far more interesting and Louis-related things on the other side.