We’ve arrived: the nadir of the book. I’ve convinced no small amount of trusting, unwary souls to try this rollercoaster of a series. Every one found different characters and themes that appealed to them, but without fail they reported having difficulty with this stretch of pages. Why? Because it’s a fuckton of infodump about characters we’ve just been introduced to and don’t care about. Also, (even more) racism.
On the bright side, while previous posts in this series have taken thousands of words breaking down 30 pages of novel, here we’re going to be able to sail through nearly a hundred pages like it’s nothing.
Prepare yourselves for an experience I’m sure many of you are unfamiliar with: an old cis white man telling you his overconfident opinions about how and why the world works.
Because this section is a little bit unique (read: boring), I’m going to switch up the formatting of the recap for this section. Rather than going page by page sequentially and talking about interesting quotes as they happen, I’ll summarize a chunk of text for you and then hit a round-up of quotes centered around a certain theme. Let me know how the change of pace hits you.
So, remember how earlier in the book there was that neat segment titled “Armand’s Story,” and it was fun because we’d spent a considerable chunk of IWTV and almost half of this book getting to know him, which made us invested in wanting to know his motivations and history (in theory)?
Yeah, that’s a lot of hard work and like, takes a lot of time. So now we’re going to hear the infodump history of this asshole we just met thirty pages ago, and also that asshole’s complete telling of The History of the Vampire Species. But don’t worry, Marius is also an extremely dry narrator.
(This problem only gets worse in the post-editor books, by the way. Halfway through Prince Lestat I found myself feverishly thinking that Marius had charisma compared to the literal dozens of new characters introduced and then forgotten in the latter-day books.)
So, Marius is a Roman. He has no given last name here, though later books will be on that Highlander bullshit and call him “de Romanus.” Marius is the illegitimate son of a senator and a Celtic woman, thus allowing us many, many, many descriptions of how extremely blond and tall and strapping he is. Much is theoretically made of the Celts being “barbaric,” but that fails to hold up in any way to all the Druids and vampires wanting to metaphorically jump on Marius’ dick because of his suspiciously Aryan looks.
Being the illegitimate son of a rich dad also means Marius has plenty of time to study, piss people off in bar arguments, and own slaves (which, unlike the utterly inadequate but at least existent “I know now that was fucked up” nod IWTV made to Louis being a plantation owner, goes totally without comment here). He knows several languages and all the best texts, but you’ve probably never heard of them.
Then, one day, he’s approached by a man in a tavern. The guy says his name is Mael, asks Marius a bunch of questions about how many languages he knows and whether he’s literate and able to write, and then kidnaps him in the middle of a crowded bar. I would say that seems unlikely, but it’s Marius so I don’t care.
Let us pause, briefly, for a single moment in which I found Marius relatable and then felt deeply unclean.
“I told him, yes, I was fortunate enough to be educated, and I started to write again, thinking this would surely discourage him. After all, he was fine to look at, but I didn’t really want to talk to him.”
And heck, while we’re at it, a snippet of the way this flashback talks about the owning of humans.
“’Your slaves say,’ he announced gravely, ‘that you are writing a great history.’
“’Do they?’ I answered, a bit stiffly. ‘And where are my slaves, I wonder!’ Again I looked around. Nowhere in sight. (400)
“I knew I could not be Marius, the Roman, any longer. But I would take from him what I could. I sent my beloved slaves back home. (425)
“My slaves had long ago come back with the horses and the wagons for our journey, with the stone sarcophagi and the chains and locks I had told them to procure. They waited outside the walls. (462)
That last one is a new and special case because those are human beings he treats as property after both becoming a vampire and also gaining insight into the collective knowledge of the entire vampire race going back thousands of years. Truly, this is our enlightened scholar character. But I get ahead of the story.
It turns out Mael—who is a recurring character, but one of so few personality traits that I honestly couldn’t tell you a single thing he does—has been sent by his Druidic sect to find a sacrifice for their god. I’m not sure if this is how Druids work, but my experience with other parts of this series leads my to a strong guess of “no.” Not that it matters, because the god is a vampire. This is the kind of series where every potentially divine power is connected to vampires. Or Jesus. Or bird aliens. It really depends on how Anne’s feeling that week, because there’s no editor with the power to enforce a consistent chronology.
Marius is kept prisoner by the Druids while they prepare him for sacrifice, growing out his hair and trimming his hangnails and all that business. I’m also fairly sure Anne had watched The Wicker Man at some point, because one of the really good pieces of imagery in this section is a giant wooden effigy stuffed full of people being set on fire as part of the sacrifice. Don’t worry though, they were Bad Guys. It’s all fine.
When Marius is finally taken to the “God of the Grove,” he meets a vampire who’s too weak to escape his imprisonment and looks like he’s been scorched in the sun until only a withered, blackened husk remains. This dude tells Marius that he’s going to hand over eternal life, but in exchange Marius has to hike his ass down to Egypt and find out what happened to the Mother and Father of all vampires. Whatever it was, it resulted in a bunch of vamps getting crisped and the oldest of the old looking like the last fry in the oil.
Marius was chosen for this because he’s a Wise, Knowledgeable Man of the World, who would surely be gifted enough to decipher what had happen and cut through the mythic bullshit. Let’s pause for a minute and get a feel for the wisdom of this learned soul.
I’d come to Gaul as an educated Roman, through and through, and I carried with me no awareness of my barbarian blood, but rather the common beliefs of my time—that Caesar Augustus was a great ruler, and that in this blessed age of the Pax Romana, old superstition was being replaced by law and by reason throughout the Empire. There was no place too wretched for the Roman roads, and for the soldiers, the scholars, and the traders who followed them. (398)
I tried to unite all things I had seen in my history, linking my observations of lands and people with all the written observations that had come down to me from the Greeks—from Xenophon and Herodotus and Poseidonius—to make on continuous awareness of the world in my lifetime. It was a pale thing, a limited thing, compared to the true awareness. Yet I felt good as I continued writing. (399)
Wait, hold up. I know what you’re thinking. “That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Nobody can know everything in one lifetime, and he admits his shortcomings.” And you’re right, there would be something there if we were meant to be throwing everything Marius says into question. Except for the fact that this is Lestat’s great source of wisdom, the source of vampiric knowledge, and Swell Guy (who fucked and murdered a teenager). Plus the fact that, as already mentioned above, he’s still happily owning slaves among other things post total-vampiric-understanding.
As for the “beliefs of my time” schtick, that also sounds good until you remember literally the last section we discussed, where modern-day Marius boasted about how he and Lestat came from enlightened, godless times. Marius might be a man of his times, but he also seems quite confident that those were the best of times. And if the way he describes other cultures is anything to go by, that glowing descriptions of beneficent imperialism is pretty in his wheelhouse as well.
Let’s go on with the choice excerpts.
But then what Druid was going to wear his white robes into a waterfront tavern? And it wasn’t lawful anymore for the Druids to go about being Druids (402; the Romans shockingly manage to oppress religious freedom even before Constantinople made Christianity Rome’s official religion)
“In spite of myself and my general general contempt for his belief in reincarnation, this silenced me. I felt the eerie weight of his conviction. I felt his sadness. (408; Marius is every poster on a rationalist forum)
Loathsome,” I muttered. But was it? we condemned our criminals to die on crosses in Rome, to be burnt at the stake, to suffer all manner of cruelties. Did it make us more civilized that we didn’t call it a religious sacrifice? Maybe the Keltoi were wiser than we were in not wasting the deaths.
But this was nonsense. My head was light. (411; chalk this up under “things that could work as the character not wanting to dwell on his beliefs being challenged were it not for the fact that he’s narrating this from centuries in the future and has every chance to editorialize as a wiser person; as, again, Louis did in IWTV)
I heard their screams. My mind, being rational, being Roman, resisted these images. (417; M’ael)
I could go on. I will go on! But there’s more plot first. God, is there ever so much plot. Marius becomes a vampire. It may not surprise you to hear that he says no and is then forced into it—this is an increasingly evident divide between the characters Anne likes and the ones she doesn’t.
Vampires who asked to be turned (Louis, Gabrielle, Daniel) are all increasingly sidelined, while the characters turned against their will (Lestat, Maris, David) are given carte blanche for every horrible thing they decide to do post-trilogy—including committing rape against others. Loooooot of bodice-ripper virtue coding around these parts.
After being vamped and escaping from the Druids, Marius spends a while avoiding the call, tooling around his house (he’s 40 when he dies, by the way; he is a grown-ass adult in every sense of the word through every part of his story), and eventually gets it in gear when a vision of an extremely hot lady tells him to get his ass down to Egypt. That would be Akasha, the Mother of Vampires.
So go down to Egypt he does, and we get our infodump within an infodump about vampire mythology. Now, I am certainly not making any claims about the source of ideas that an extremely litigious author might’ve had, but I am saying that Whitley Strieber’s The Hunger—a book about a sexy vampire who’d originally been Egyptian royalty—came out in 1981 and was adapted into a film (with bonus blackface) in 1983, and that The Vampire Lestat was published in1985. In fairness, The Hunger stole its themes of existential loneliness from IWTV first.
In this case, it turns out that the myth of Osiris’ death and later resurrection by Isis was really about the first two vampires, a queen and king named Akasha and Enkil. There was a demon troubling the people (demons, as it turns out, are always trying to possess people because they miss feeling and loving like the living), and Enkil went to speak with it. He got the shit kicked out of him but refused to give up trying to reason with the demon, and rather than abandon him Akasha locked herself in alongside her husband. The demon entered their bodies through their grievous injuries and, at the moment of death, reanimated their blood with new life. All vampires afterward are connected to the blood of that original source, meaning that if something happens to those two, it hurts all successive vampires down the line.
Marius learns all of this from a crotchety old fucker who’s too old and removed to talk to the other, younger vampires about any of this, because the refusal to part with knowledge until the “right” person comes along (here, an educated white man) is a persistent theme. Now, to dip a bit into spoilers, this does temporarily threaten to be interesting, because in Queen of the Damned Akasha reappears to contextualize the narrative from her own experiences rather than the story passed down from dudes to other dudes. That’s really great and interesting and reminiscent of one of my all-time favorite series. Unfortunately, Akasha is also the villain of Queen of the Damned.
So…that’s not great.
Hey, how about some more Choice Quotes?
I told him you always heard such stories. Such a demon was supposed to have possessed a vestal virgin in Rome. She made lewd overtures to all those around her, her face turning purple with exertion, then fainted. But the demon had somehow been driven out. ‘I thought the girl was simply mad,’ I said. ‘That she was, shall we say, not suited to be a vestal virgin…’
“‘Of course!’ he said with a note of rich irony. ‘And I would assume the same thing, and so would most any intelligent man walking the streets of Alexandria above us. (438; wimmin m I rite)
“ ‘There stood the King and the Queen, staring calmly at the conspirators, and all of their wounds were healed. And their eyes had taken on an eerie light, their skin a white shimmer, their hair a magnificent gleam. (440; so anyway, in this book series about how vampires are tragic and beautiful and very lustworthy, being a vampire eventually makes you white no matter what you looked like before you died. In case you forgot. That’s. A canonical thing.)
I would live for centuries; I would know the answers ro all kinds of questions. I would be the continual awareness of things as time passed! (446; “I, Marius, will definitely have the most objective view of history as a privileged white man! Let me be the singular font of learning and knowledge.” There’s nothing wrong with the fact that these characters are all assholes blundering through eternity with no sense of scale, except that with Marius it pretends there’s actual scale and a locus of actual reliable “objective” advice.)
We’re almost done. I can see the end of the boring, boring backstory on the horizon. Marius tracks down the previous Keeper, who reveals that he’d put Akasha and Enkil out in the sun because literally anything was better than having to look after two creepy marble statues who you’re pretty sure are talking about you behind your back and moving as soon as you set them somewhere. Marius winds up with custody of them, but not before taking a moment to be a dick to the previous Keeper for the lulz.
Various people are unhappy with Marius taking up Keeper status, such as the Children of Darkness, which is why Marius has villas all over the world and never stays in one place. He is much more enlighteneder than you, and is also basically unkillable because Akasha let him drink her blood. We couldn’t be rid of him even if we wanted to.
That concludes our past-time snoozeathon, but let’s have one more round of choice quotes before returning to our regularly scheduled protagonist.
“I did not know what would happen!’ he said now, his veins cording against his forehead, his fists clenched. He looked like a great bald Nubian as he tried to intimidate me. […]
“I had no sympathy for him and what he said. He was merely an enigmatic figure poised in the center of this small room in Alexandria railing at me of sufferings beyond imagination. How could I sympathize with him? (454; not trying to sympathize with the suffering of others is a great way to start your quest to be the chronicler of all experience, educated grown-ass adult!)
“Quietly and slowly, she stepped on the back of his right knee, crushing it flat beneath her foot, the blood squirting from under her heel. And with the nxt step she crushed his pelvis just as flat while he roared like a dumb beast, the blood gushing from his mangled parts. Then came her next step down upon his shoulder and the next upon his head, which exploded beneath her weight as if it had been an acorn. The roaring ceased. The blood spurted from his remains as they twisted. (456; I don’t have snark for this. It’s just some solid gore)
“And though these gods [of the East] had been revealed to me by Akasha in all their grandeur and mystery, I found them appalling. I could not now or ever embrace them and I knew that the philosophies that proceeded from them or justified them would never justify my killing, or give me consolation as a Drinker of the Blood. Mortal or Immortal, I was of the West. And I loved the ideas of the West. (459; the word “civilized” isn’t used here but you can still hear it niiiiiiiice and clear, can’t you)
“And I saw the Father and Mother imprisoned. […] They begged to be released. But this meant nothing to the dark gods, who relished such agony, who drank it as they drank human blood. The dark gods wore human skulls dangling from their girdles; their garments were dyed by human blood. (460; stiiiiiiiiiiiiiiill othering those eastern cultures. Bonus points for the whole “even though this is Egyptian royalty, they’re magically super-pale-white for all this)
Perhaps some night in the far future, when you’ve returned to me, I’ll talk of the other immortals I’ve known, those who were made as I was made by the last of the gods who survived in various lands—some the servants of the Mother and others of the terrible gods of the East. (463; please never speak about anything ever again, thank you)
Hearken to me when I say: There has never been a just place for evil in the Western world. There has never been an easy accommodation of death. (464)
That last one is a little bit too much for parenthetical snark. It’s the big thesis statement of Marius’ story, and the entire theological thrust to be wrung from almost a hundred fucking pages of agonizingly told narrative. And like every other idea we’ve looked at in this section, it’s interesting in theory but marred by execution.
It’s true that our culture id deeply afraid of death, which is why we make zombies and vampires and all manner of creatures who’re perversions of the boundary between life and death. It’s an idea at the heart of this series and its fascination with the sex/death drive, the allure of the vampire and the fear-allure of what the represent: both the bringing of death and the hope of being marked out as too special for death. How does one exist as an embodiment of death, a thinking entity rather than just a pure force of id, within those constraints? It’s a central thing, reiterated in blunter form from Lestat’s “canker in the heart of the rose” speech to Armand.
Unfortunately, it’s couched right in the heart of all that really racist, othering wankery about the Dark and Violent Orient (no joke, that word is dropped in here). At virtually the same instant that we’re told the West has a problem with death, we’re also repeatedly informed that the West is the righteous, upright, civilized society. The West is the keeper of knowledge, the keeper of ideas. Rome has roads everywhere, and this Roman motherfucker is more qualified to keep the secrets of this Egyptian mythos than the presumable Egyptian who was in charge of it beforehand.
Once again, that could’ve been something set up as part of a plot progression: Marius is the gatekeeper of knowledge, the old white man who believes he was divinely given the duty to procure, keep, and frame the stories of other people’s cultures, only for the next book in the series to kick that notion square in the face with freedom of information for all and the freeing of voices to tell different stories beyond the ones the Mariuses of the world deem suitable.
That’s not what happens, though. Akasha is the villain, albeit a tragic one, and Marius is increasingly lionized with every successive entry in the series. As Anne got older and no longer had to listen to the advice of an editor, her framing became an increasingly clear and ugly thing: Marius isn’t the thing we need to get away from. It’s the thing we’re supposed to get back to.
As someone who found solace in these books as an outsider, that’s the most depressing thing in the world.
NEXT TIME: Marius ruins Lestat’s future marriage (remember Lestat?); and Interview again, “Louis is a lying liar, I swear” edition.