By LINDY RYAN
In a 2016 article on Inverse, Anne Rice called Lestat de Lioncourt (the inarguable “hero” of her vampire world): “my soul, my hero, my inner self, my ideal self,” but the first book in The Vampire Chronicles, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, belongs almost entirely to another vampire—Lestat’s fledgling, Louis de Point du Lac. In fact, Lestat is quite the villain of Louis’s tale, a charming if distasteful character pilloried as shallow, conniving, and dispassionate. It’s a damning depiction to be sure, but not one deprived of affection. After all, Lestat is father and long-time companion to Louis, and rarely does the heart hate without loving first.
But first, a brief background on the book that started it all:
Just like Stephen King trashing his first draft of CARRIE or a long line of literary favorites who faced rejection numerous times before their manuscripts found a home, INTERVIEW likewise started from humble beginnings. The novel that would go on to change the world of vampires as we know it began as a 30-page short story, written in the late sixties and told initially from the interviewer’s perspective (rather than the vampire’s). After the death of Anne’s five-year-old daughter, Michelle, from acute granulocytic leukemia, a grieving Anne reworked the story into the first draft of its 338-page novel form over five weeks in 1973. Beyond the perspective change, this expanded story also introduced the character of Claudia, a plague-orphaned darling who is fed upon by Louis before ultimately being transformed into a child-vampire “daughter” by Lestat and Louis. The rights were sold, and INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE first published in May 1976 from Knopf to received mixed reviews from critics and readers.
INTERVIEW, as its title suggests, is the story of a life—a long, vampiric life that begins in the late eighteenth century and winds through to the early twentieth. The interview is given by Louis de Point du Lac in a small room somewhere in New Orleans to a chain-smoking human referred to only as “the boy.” Two hundred years have passed since the devilish and charming Lestat seduced and transformed the indigo plantation owner into a vampire, and Louis is eager to recount the details of his life which begins and ends—at least for the moment—in New Orleans.
Louis’s interview introduces us to a new world of vampires, to the plantations and “luxurious and primitive” cultures of New Orleans and Old World Parisian theatres, to the ravages of plague and the excess of the Gilded Age. It’s a thorough and encompassing emotional narrative of grief, ego, and eroticism, rife with very human issues set in a very non-human world—all of which echo Anne’s interpretation of the vampire as an outsider: “[The vampire] is the perfect metaphor for those things,” Anne is famously quoted as saying. “He’s someone who looks human and sounds human, but is not human, so he’s always on the margins.”
Louis struggles with the loss of his own humanity, with Lestat’s seeming lack of humanity, with Claudia’s distaste for humanity. This friction ultimately comes to a head when Claudia attacks Lestat, and, believing him dead, Louis and Claudia flee New Orleans to Europe. Claudia is intent—obsessed, even—on seeking out more of their kind, of finding answers to all the questions Lestat refused (or was otherwise unable) to answer. This journey takes them initially to the Old World and to vampires that are nothing more than shambling corpses (a nod, perhaps, to more ancient vampiric lore) and eventually on to Paris, where the father-daughter pair meet vampires like themselves—namely four-hundred-year-old Armand, who believes himself to be the oldest living vampire, and his coven.
Armand is everything Lestat was not, and Claudia quickly becomes convinced that Louis will leave her “to be with him.” After expressing her love-fueled-hatred for Louis for damning her to her childish form and robbing her of the ability to be self-sufficient in her own immortality, she demands he turn a mad doll-maker, Madeleine, into a suitable replacement. Louis begrudgingly does so, and only then does he consider his transformation into a monster fully complete, as creating another vampire has stripped him of the last shreds of his humanity.
The new trio lives together for a short time in Paris, but some among Armand’s coven are suspicious and jealous—of Claudia’s beauty, of their secrecy and refusal to discuss their maker—and the three are soon kidnapped. Lestat, who has survived Claudia’s attacks, has come to Paris to levy accusations against Louis and Claudia, which results in Louis’s imprisonment while Claudia and Madeleine are left to burn in the sun. A devastated Louis later finds their ashen remains, and, with Armand’s help, torches the theatre. The two return to New Orleans, where Louis is eventually abandoned by Armand. Louis encounters Lestat once more, holed up in a crumbling New Orleans ruin, but finds that his once dashing maker has been reduced to little more than the revenant he and Claudia dispatched a lifetime ago.
It’s a sad end to a long, sad sorry, for which Louis believes immortality and his monstrous nature to blame—after all, what end does a monster deserve other than a bad one? As the interview concludes, the boy, enchanted by the powers of vampirism, begs Louis to turn him. Enraged and failed in his missive, Louis attacks the boy and leaves him to his fate. Like Lestat, the boy survives, and, assembling clues from Louis’s tale, leaves to track down Lestat in his ruin.
There are themes aplenty in INTERVIEW, leading to many possible interpretations of the novel, its characters, and its ruminations on the concept of Outsider and Other. For all Louis’s heartache and turmoil, his story is hypnotic and enthralling, if sometimes rather self-indulgent. Like the boy, I was swept away in the romance of the interview, both upon my first read and again on what is probably now my fifteenth—mesmerized by the luxury of the language, fascinated by the invocations of the past, seduced by the dream and mystery of the Dark Gift. As a young reader I didn’t appreciate the nuances of love and suffering detailed in Anne’s treatise on the human experience, and frankly I found Louis to be something of a bore. As an adult, I find myself grieving alongside him, mourning the merciless passing of time and the relentless monotony of old aches that never heal. I think that is the most defining quality of Anne Rice’s first masterpiece: it’s ability to transcend time, both in a literal sense and one that is figuratively, unflinchingly personal.
Whether or not you surrender to the magic of INTERVIEW, there is no mistaking Anne’s rich and luxurious treatment of history, her deep insight into the human condition, her empathy toward the monstrous and the flawed, and her unending love for finding beauty in darkness.
Next up, Lestat’s response to Louis in THE VAMPIRE LESTAT.