I first stumbled upon the Vampire Chronicles (VC) series when I caught a rerun of the movie adaptation of the series’ 1st book “Interview with the Vampire”, while channel surfing. Sceptical at its title and subject content, I was ready for a mindless and overly dramatic B-grade pseudo-horror movie. Man, was I wrong. Before the movie even ended, I was furiously searching for (and happily found) all associated materials that could feed my hunger to learn more of Anne Rice’s enthralling denizens of the night.
In honour of the revival of the VC series with the release of “Prince Lestat” today, I have decided to start a series of posts on my favourite VC books. And of course, I must start with the book that began it all.
The post-modern/ gothic-horror book takes the form of a night-long interview, in which a 200 years old vampire, Louis de Pointe du Lac, tells his life-story to an unnamed boy reporter. In his mortal life, Louis was a young French plantation owner in late 18th Century New Orleans. Depressed after the death of his brother, Louis was turned into a vampire by the alluring blond French vampire Lestat de Lioncourt.
Introspective and bound by the strict moral strictures of his Catholic upbringing, Louis spiralled into endless despair at the unalterable fact that, in order to live, he now had to kill and drink blood. Moreover, he became disillusioned with Lestat’s callous behaviour in killing his victims and his refusal to tell him anything deeper about his vampiric nature other than the self-evident need to drink blood. Equally, Lestat became disgusted with Louis for clinging to his humanity by drinking blood from animals, avoiding killing humans, and reading for the sheer pleasure of it.
As their relationship deteriorated, Lestat sought to bound Louis to him by turning a 5 years old girl, Claudia, into a vampire. He succeeded and the 3 of them lived in a sort of pseudo-family structure for the next 70 years or so. Eventually, Claudia came to hate Lestat both for turning her into a vampire (hence trapping her mature mind and soul into the body of a child for all eternity and forcing her to depend on others for survival) and for withholding answers about their vampiric nature and whether there were other vampires around. After Louis and Claudia revolted against Lestat and left him for dead (twice), they set off for Europe in search of other vampires who can answer their existentialist questions on vampiric existence.
It was only in Paris that Louis and Claudia finally managed to find other “proper” vampires: the Théâtre des Vampires, a coven of vampire actors who “pretend to be humans pretending to be vampires”. The nominal leader, Armand, the self-professed “oldest vampire alive” seems to welcome them and provides them with vampire-related information. However, other members of the theatre troupe are wary of the pair as (1) it is a serious offence to create a child vampire like Claudia, and (2) they suspected that they killed their maker Lestat, an even more heinous crime in the vampire community.
Louis and Armand quickly formed a mutual admiration society and Louis decides to leave Claudia for him. At Claudia’s request, Louis turned a doll-maker Madeleine, who loves Claudia presumably because she resembles her deceased daughter, into a vampire, to care for Claudia. Unfortunately, the other vampires (under the supposed instruction of Lestat, who came back from the dead) deemed Louis and Claudia guilty as charged: they buried the former alive (who was rescued by Armand) and burnt the latter by sunlight. Enraged at what the other vampire mummers have done, Louis set the theatre ablaze and killed them all (with some help from Armand).
After travelling with Louis for several years, Armand finally tells him the truth and then leaves him: (1) Lestat did not die in the fire and was in fact back in New Orleans (yes, yes, I know: just how many comebacks can this guy stage?), (2) he killed Claudia, and (3) he is disappointed with Louis, who is now a shell of his former self. Louis meets up with Lestat, finds him in a decrepit and fearful state and leaves him, despite Lestat’s appeals for him to stay.
At the end of Louis’ story, the interviewer asked to be made a vampire. In furious disbelief that he did not seem to have understood the torment of eternal damnation, Louis drains him to the point of death and the interviewer passes out. When he wakes up, he immediately sets off to find Lestat in New Orleans. And so ends the beginning of the VC series.
At Last, A Moral Monster
It is widely accepted that IwTV is the seminal book that first gave vampires a human voice, character and conscience. Through our Byronic narrator’s eyes, we are able to explore the psychological dilemmas of an immortal monster who desperately wants to be good. Not only did Louis continually question the morality of all the death and violence, which he caused as a vampire, he also struggled with reconciling them with his Catholic faith and is largely consumed by his thirst to understand the vampiric nature and origins. By the end of the book, Louis is despondent, feeding on humans (albeit at a subsistence level and feeling guilty about it), has abandoned Lestat and slaughtered lots of vampires. So is he now good (as he still feels conscience-stricken), evil (because he has killed and will kill again), neither? Or is this question even relevant anymore?
The muted palette of black, white and gray reflect Louis’ eternal inner turmoil, and the sombre outfit, which he wore to give the interview. To evoke the 18th/ 19th Century silhouette, which Louis favoured, I have used classic menswear elements like the black coat, the laced brogues and the gray straw hat. The blood-red colour and flame-like shape of the ring symbolises the intense emotions (not to mention, the pyromaniac tendencies) hidden beneath Louis’ calm façade. Finally, in reference to Louis’ constant quest for vampiric knowledge, I have added a “Dracula” book clutch to complete the outfit.
Although Louis is the narrator and protagonist of the novel, I would say that Claudia is the main force that drives the plot. It is she who kept Louis and Lestat together. It is she who (somewhat) shook Louis out of his melancholic state as he was forced to act as a guardian for her. It is she who convinced Louis that they had to get rid of Lestat, and masterminded the attempt at killing Lestat. It is her death that provoked Louis into killing the coven of the Theatre des Vampires. And finally, it is the revealing of her true killer that caused Louis to retreat into a solitary existence.
Intelligent, manipulative, and remorselessly violent (even her most ardent supporter, Louis was forced to admit that she is “less human than either of us, less human than either of us might have dreamed”), Claudia’s true nature is totally contrary to her angelic and doll-like appearance of a chubby little girl with golden curls and blue eyes. Still, her adult mind showed itself in flashes of latent sexuality through, for example, her choice of clothes and jewellery (Claudia had a passion for rings and brooches “that children did not wear”), and the way she walked.
In this layout, the pink babydoll dress and the cloche straw hat reflect the empire waist dresses and bonnets that were fashionable in what would have been Claudia’s mortal lifetime (early 19th Century). The white flowers in the hat make reference to the large white bouquet of chrysanthemums she carried when she killed the family servants and had a first major clash with Louis and Lestat. The white fluffy cardigan and Mary Jane flats are contrasted with the ornate black pearl jewellery to represent the incongruity between her childish and innocent façade and the maturity and darkness of her true nature.
Love, hate and lust are hopelessly intermingled in almost all the principal relationships in the book. As a mortal, Louis was mostly enthralled by Lestat’s looks and charms. And then the entire description of Lestat turning Louis into a vampire looks as though it could be ripped out of an erotic novel. Not only was the act itself intimate, what with all the close physical contact and exchanging of large amounts of bodily fluid, Louis himself described it as being “not unlike the pleasure of passion” and that Lestat behaved in a lover-like manner. Their subsequent relationship seemed to yo-yo between extreme highs and lows. Despite Louis’ rebuffs and attempted killings of Lestat, Lestat repeatedly clawed his way back from the grave to Louis and still wanted Louis to stay with him in the end.
In the Louis/ Claudia relationship, Claudia loved Louis for his unquestioning devotion and his similar pursuit of vampiric knowledge. But she also despised him for participating in turning her into a vampire, and being “weak” as a vampire. Likewise, Louis adored Claudia for her congenial companionship but simultaneously feared her utterly conscienceless nature. Moreover, as unsettling as it may sound, Louis actually found Claudia “sensual” and described their relationship as “Father and Daughter. Lover and Lover”. Finally, their relationship is so strong that Louis was (1) willing to help out in killing Lestat as she wanted and (2) proactive enough to massacre the entire Theatre des Vampires in vengeance for her death, which are possibly the 2 most emotional responses Louis has ever had to anything.