Joban Vampires

Interview VampireThe first vampire novel I ever read, I remember correctly, was one of the Dark Shadows series written by Marilyn Ross. I don’t recall which one, since I had to buy my books from Goodwill or some such vender utilized by the poor. Now, I’m really a squeamish guy and the sight of blood bothers me. Barnabas Collins, however, was a compelling character—deeply conflicted and a reluctant vampire. The combination of his sadness and the setting in coastal Maine kept me looking for Dark Shadows books every time we went shopping. It surprised me, given all that, that I had such difficulty getting into Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. I started reading it years ago (it was also a second-hand copy, and, interestingly, the color scheme of the cover nearly matched Dark Shadows novels) and some eighty pages in put it down only to forget about it. Starting from the beginning a few weeks ago, I gave it another try. Although Louis is a conflicted vampire, the pace is languid and it was almost as if the self-pity was overdone. I was determined this time, however, to see it through.

One of the recurring themes of the book, and I presume the Vampire Chronicles series, is that vampires are not evil because of the Devil. In fact, there is nothing Satanic about them. Blame tends to fall on God for their state. The more I thought about it, the more the theodicy of the vampire began to resemble that of Job. Like Job, death for a vampire takes a long time. There is much suffering along the way. Louis can love, in a measure, and can loath himself. He never really understands what it is to be a vampire. The other undead he meets help to define him, but he can’t get too close. His life is a kind of Hell without Satan.

Rice’s vampires don’t fear crucifixes or shun churches. In fact, Louis takes a priest as one of his victims, sacramentally near an altar in a church. Religious imagery and discussion abound in the book. It truly is a vampire theodicy. Perhaps, for its day, it was the next step in vampire evolution. Bram Stoker, while the most famous contributor to the modern vampire myth, didn’t corner the market on defining the undead. When Louis meets vampires of the old world, they are mindless, plodding killing machines that even other vampires avoid. Rice’s vampires feel, think, and yes, theologize. I feel strangely satisfied now that I’ve finally finished the Interview. It was a vampire at my bedside for so long that it feels like an accomplishment to have finally laid it to rest.

3 responses to “Joban Vampires

  1. It’s a long time now since I read it, longer still since I first read it, but I still remember the profound sense of liberation in having vampires that weren’t soulless hell-creatures. But I do think moral conflict is an important aspect of vampire stories, the tension between the desire to be human and the essential monstrous nature.

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    • I agree, Frank. That’s one of the great takeaways from the novel. Part of the problem, for me, is that the rational brain started kicking in at too many places, perhaps because it is a lengthy novel. I’m glad I read it, and I may go back for more down the road…

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  2. Hey Steve.
    I’ve read the entire series, all of the vampire chronicles, several times over, ending with Prince Lestat, her most recent book. All of her vampires have tortured souls, and have specific stories that are sometimes serious, and have specific meaning. I remember the first time I read “Interview” I was mesmerized. The films were ok, but I find that the books are so much better left alone. Trying to recreate the splendor of places and people in her stories is a very tall order. Reading Anne Rice is an art form, whatever she is writing. I also love her religious stories, they are as well written as her vampire stories. Anne’s vampires are a totally different creature than Stoker, and Vlad Dracula.

    There are several vampire novels I have read, (I can’t seem to remember their names) that were totally earth shattering. Elizabeth Kostova’s story, The Historian, is another great vampire novel. Aside from the original vampire novelists, Anne Rice has carved out for herself and her readers, an entirely voluptuous, profane, and artsy, historical study of the vampires all the way back into Egyptian times.

    Jeremy

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