What is it about Anne Rice’s vampires that resonates so with the LGBTI community? What makes them so different than depictons of vampires throughout history?
Why do we care?
I am reading Book 2, The Vampire Lestat, of The Vampire Chronicles. It is a sequel to Rice’s first book, Interview with the Vampire. There are some 10 books to go last time I checked. Can this story be sustained? Well, these aren’t your grandmother’s vampires. And sexuality and innuendo, the beauty of evil, no boundaries, and the temptation to love the darkness and its creatures—its lovely (and extremely fit) immortal things—well, that’s a strong pull to keep on keeping on, 10 books or not, and it makes for some steamy “wherever has the time gone?” and awfully enjoyable reading.
And in the end, for the book lover, the attentive reader, the horror afficionado, the “searcher after good oldfashioned gothic fiction,”—this is darn good storytelling.
Let’s face it, vampires are hot. I mean, sure, they bite you and drink your blood. The potential for total exsanguination here is pretty high. We know this. And yet, the whole idea of one of these sinuous feline femme fatales or beautiful hunky long-haired Fabians sucking on you, anywhere for that matter, but on that errogenous neck zone? That’s arousing as hell. You know it. And I know it.
Two pricks and you’re dessert.
After the steam dissipates from your cold shower, though, a lot of why we are attracted to the vampires of Anne Rice, has a great deal to do with Rice’s own view of her characters. Rice, from the beginning, is on the side of the vampires, the misunderstod “monsters” in her fiction. One is almost tempted to believe she cares about these vampires. And the real magic lies in the voodoo she employs that makes us, her readers, care about them, too. New Orleans is known for its head-swathed conjurers, and Rice is undoubtedly their Dark Queen.
Rice’s vamps are not bat-winged, black-cloaked Bella Lugosis joined at the hip to a trio of 1930s shadow-eyed wives with over-plucked eyebrows hanging by their clawed feet from the rafters of some rotted hull-of-a-castle.
Nor are they hairy-palmed Gary Oldmans, all crumpled onion skin and yellow-white “updo” and curling fingernails that bring to mind a bastard child of Conficious and a 17th-century cross-dressing Grand Dame draped in a red-silk kimono that slinks along the cold stone floor behind her.
No. These vampires are woven from the tendrils of gray Spanish moss, and their moon-pale skin is powdered from the grave dust of a hundred above-ground crypts shining in unholy silver light just beyond the black iron gate of the Canal Street cemetery, looming like macabre rows of dominoes about to fall.
These are Anne Rice’s vampires. These are debonair, southern gentlemen, silk-brocade-wearing bachelors with luscious locks, perfect grooming habits, knee breeches, buckled shoes, lips that would leave Snow White green with envy, and southern drawls that make the insides of your thighs quiver.
Beginning with Interview with the Vampire, written in 1976, Rice tells us a story about a 3-dimensional character, Louis, the angst-ridden, tortured vampire turned against his will by the vampire Lestat (Rice’s most ingenius creation). Louis is the vampire who is interviewed, the vampire who wants to tell us his story.
Louis, unlike any vampire we as a culture had ever encountered up until that moment he sprang into existence, is a character who moves us as he tells us about his long life. He is a monster, yes; but he is a monster we care about, because he becomes “realistic” to us, “human” even—delightful ironies.
Lestat, is a more complex character, and one we get to know much better as the books in Rice’s Vampire Chronicles show us more and more of the arc of this intriguing tale. Lestat is, at first, a self-entitled, narcissistic, sociopathic, baroque-age parasite whose “life” is in shambles.
However, by the second installment of the Vampire Chronicles, The Vampire Lestat, Rice ratchets up the depth and “humanity” of Lestat de Lioncourt; and, whether we come to be “moved” by him and his story, we definitely take notice of his life, his voice; we are enthralled by his mezmerizations. For Lestat, too, is a conjurer.
New Orleans vampires are not the only vampires in Rice’s work, either. For instance, Louis, searching for the origin of his kind, travels across the Atlantic to France, where he meets a very suave, very sexy, very old vampire (portrayed in Interview, the film, by actor Antonio Banderas; see photo inset) who heads up a wickedly decadent theater company that puts on dark melodramas in which it appears to the audience that naked, entranced human characters are being sacrificed to olde-world vampires. While the viewers go home satisfactorily frightened, but comforted by the fact that it was “only a show”, we, the readers, know differently.
On the point of homoeroticism, it is most sharply outlined in the scenes in the novels that describe “feedings” and “conversions”, for both are interrelated, separated only by a line thin as a strand of spider silk. Themes of lust, gluttony, and restraint are explored here. And, as we see in the words of reflective vampires such as Louis, these activities, for vampire as well as victim, can be sexually arousing, sensually and sadistically pleasureful, and finally climactic.
Gender bias and other prejudices that weaken and easily make fools of real human beings, these seem nonexistent to Rice’s vampires; and, that alone, is monstrously fresh and exciting. Dessert is dessert, in other words, plain and simple…it is to be desired, tasted, savored; not crammed into ridiculously limiting categories.
I like these vampires.
In closing, I leave you with a couple of brief, relevant excerpts from the books that will lend some credence to this post’s primary theme.
I am off to creep back into the crypt of Lestat de Lioncourt. You should come along with me, if you like dessert.♢
“It was as if when I looked into his eyes I was standing alone on the edge of the world…on a windswept ocean beach. There was nothing but the soft roar of the waves…
It was as if the empty nights were made for thinking of him. And sometimes I found myself so vividly aware of him it was as if he had only just left the room and the ring of his voice were still there. And somehow, there was a disturbing comfort in that, and, despite myself, I’d envision his face.”
– Louis (speaking of Lestat), Interview with the Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles, #1)
“In the months since my being made a Blood Hunter…Goblin has has acquired his own taste for blood. After every feeding, I am embraced by him, and blood is drawn from me into him by a thousand infinitesimal wounds, strengthening the image of him, and lending to his presence a soft fragrance which Goblin never had before. With each passing month, he becomes stronger, and his assaults on me more prolonged….I can no longer fight him off….
It won’t surprise you, I don’t think, that these assaults are vaguely pleasurable, not as pleasurable to me as feeding on a human victim, but the involve a vague orgasmic shimmer that I can’t deny.”
– Young vampire, speaking to Lestat (of his doppelgänger), Blackwood Farm (The Vampire Chronicles, #9)