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    Vampire Queen Anne Rice and the Sympathetic Vampire(23 Feb 2015)
    By Ms Leigh McLennon

    Hello, all. I am your February blogger, Leigh McLennon. I'm a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, Australia. My PhD thesis analyses the development of the vampire in contemporary fiction so, naturally, vampires are what I will be blogging about! We’re going to start today with a history of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. The next entry will then follow on to give a review of Rice’s latest book, Prince Lestat, and consider in more critical depth how her vampires have developed over time.

    Anne Rice is arguably the queen of the undead. While the supposedly immortal vampire remains ubiquitous in the Gothic, the longevity of Rice’s “Coven of the Articulate” is nonetheless impressive. The members of this coven, an elite coterie of the rich, beautiful and angsty undead, purportedly narrate their own adventures in Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Rice began the Chronicles with Interview with the Vampire in 1976 and her work continues to play a significant role in vampire literature and lore more than four decades later.

     

    Interview with the Vampire was adapted to film in 1994

    (Tom Cruise as Lestat and Brad Pitt as Louis in Interview with the Vampire, adapted as a film in 1994)

    In Interview with the Vampire, the vampire Lestat transforms Louis, owner of a Louisianan plantation, into his vampire companion. This historical novel thereby brings an Old World monster into the New World of colonial America. Together, Lestat and Louis recklessly transform the child Claudia into a vampire, and for several decades the three live together as a dysfunctional, supernatural family. Eventually, Louis and Claudia turn against Lestat and attempt to destroy him. Louis and Claudia then retrace a journey back to the Old World in search of answers about their history and existence.

    In her sequel, The Vampire Lestat (1985), Rice turns antagonist Lestat into a protagonist in his own right, executing in her own series the move she had more boldly taken with the vampire in general: recasting the monstrous villain as a dark antihero. Lestat’s personal origin story (in eighteenth century France) leads the reader to the origin story of all vampires (in the ancient world). At the same time as it instructs the reader in vampire world history, The Vampire Lestat moves out of historical fiction and into the contemporary era. In the 1980s, Lestat casts himself as a goth and Gothic rock star, seeking popular fame and recognition for his true, monstrous self. His rock music accidentally awakens the first ever vampire, Akasha, the titular Queen in Queen of the Damned (1988). In these two sequel novels, Rice created an influential and original new mythology for vampires.

     

    Stuart Townsend as Lestat in the 2002 film Queen of the Damned

    (Stuart Townsend as rockstar Lestat in the 2002 film adaptation of Queen of the Damned)

    At first, as the Chronicles continued, Rice detailed the further adventures of Lestat in the modern world (body-swapping with a human in Tale of the Body Thief in 1992; and an ambitious, spiritual and literal journey to heaven and hell in Memnoch the Devil in 1995). In the late 1990s Rice then reintroduced numerous other minor vampire characters from her Chronicles, giving them their own autobiographical tales. At this point, her series bordered on the repetitive, retelling and expanding on tales already told more briefly in earlier novels.  Beginning with Merrick in 2000, Rice also began to bring her Vampire Chronicles together with another of her series, the Mayfair Witches trilogy, writing several series-crossover texts.

    In 2003, Rice published Blood Canticle, her twelfth vampire novel, and the novel she claimed would be the final instalment in the Chronicles. At that time, Rice announced her return to the Catholic Church and a new focus for her writing: a fictional biography of no less than Jesus Christ.  Vampires, however, are notoriously bad at staying dead, and if there is one resurrection that Rice’s fans have clamoured for, it is that of her iconic vampire protagonists, Louis and Lestat.  Finally, in 2014, Rice returned to the Chronicles with her first new vampire novel in over a decade, Prince Lestat.

    Rice is often credited as the first author to represent a sympathetic vampire, a vampire who breaks free from his role as the evil antagonist and instead narrates his own story as the morally complex protagonist. In fact, in this sense Interview with the Vampire participates in a broader trend in vampire texts from the 1970s.  For example, Fred Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tape, published in 1975 (a year before Interview), rewrites Bram Stoker’s Dracula, allowing Dracula to tell his own version of events. Like Rice’s Louis, this Dracula speaks to and from a tape recorder, telling a story in which he is not innately damned or evil, but capable of moral awareness and moral choice.

    Similarly, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Hotel Transylvania (not to be confused with the Adam Sandler animated film of the same name!) was published shortly after Interview in 1978. Yarbro’s vampire protagonist Count Saint-Germain has not become as widely known as Rice’s Louis and Lestat, but the series following this vampire has also spanned an impressive forty years. Yarbro’s Saint-Germain novels are partly historical fiction and partly romance. Unlike the traditional vampire, Saint-Germain only requires a small amount of blood to sustain him – blood that he often takes from human women while providing them with sexual pleasure in return.

     

    Yarbro's 1978 novel

     

    And in the early 1980s, novels such as Suzy McKee Charnas’ Vampire Tapestry (1980) and George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dream (1982) continued to explore how the vampire might struggle with its own monstrous identity and its desire to feed on humans.

    These vampires made friends with humans, and even fell in love with them. David Punter and Glynnis Byron have called this the turn toward the “humanised” vampire. The contemporary humanisation of the vampire has been widely noted. It has even been decried. (For example, Jules Zanger, in his well-cited article “Metaphor into Metonymy: The Vampire Next-Door,” lamented that “No longer embodying metaphysical evil, no longer a damned soul, the new vampire has become, in our concerned awareness for multiculturalism, merely ethnic.”) In The Lure of the Vampire, Milly Williamson called this vampire "sympathetic" and "domesticated." Most recently, critical attention on Twilight has also discussed the “domestication” of the vampire, as if the vampire has somehow been tamed in becoming a sympathetic figure.

    The narrative of the vampire’s humanisation in the later twentieth-century has thus become a common one.  Williamson recently noted in her edited collection Screening the Undead that “It is now a truism to suggest that the vampire is no longer a monster dramatising a fear of the Other, but has been rendered sympathetic, knowable, a figure of empathy.”  

    However, just as it is an oversimplification to suggest that Rice alone created the humanised vampire, as Williamson also argues, the whole narrative of the humanisation of the vampire is also often oversimplified. A more nuanced history suggests that perhaps the vampire has always troubled us because it invites us to identify with it. Quoting Margaret Carter, Williamson suggests that the key change made to the sympathetic vampire of the later-twentieth century is that this vampire is sympathetic “precisely because he or she is a vampire,” not despite this. For the first time, the vampires that emerged in the 1970s were no longer monsters first, and sympathetic second, but sympathetic monsters. Becoming a vampire was no longer the act of being made Un-Dead, damned or unholy. In Rice’s parlance, vampirism instead became a “Dark Gift.”

     

    (Lestat bites and transforms Louis in Interview with the Vampire)

    As part of this broader trend, Anne Rice’s vampires have contributed significantly toward new representations of the sympathetic vampire in the later twentieth century, paving the way for self-tortured, sexy vampires such as Nicholas Knight, Angel, Bill Compton, Edward Cullen and the Salvatore brothers. With their mercurial, quixotic tempers, Louis and Lestat may feed from humans, but this does not preclude their loving us even as they drain our blood. As is so common in the vampire narrative today, these vampires enact fantasies of wealth and mobility, traversing the globe in luxury. They wax Romantic about truth and beauty. More often than not, they seek answers to their existential questions about their own nature and their role in the world around them. In this sense, the questions they ask are eminently human.

     

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