“If I could, I’d deliver you from old age and death, from aches and pains, from the blandishments of ghosts, from the torment of your familiar, Goblin. I’d deliver you from heat and cold and from the arid dullness of the noonday sun. I’d deliver you into the placid light of the moon and into the domain of the Milky Way forever.”
– Anne Rice, Blackwood Farm
Blackwood Farm is the story of Tarquinn Blackwood and his transition from innocent wonder to self-depreciating experience. It is a story unto itself, seemingly, at first, unrelated to any other Rice novel to date, but being the crux novel which combines two very different universes predominantly set in the same city, New Orleans. It is the penultimate novel in the Vampire Chronicles series and unifies the world of vampires with that of the Mayfair witches.
The novel begins with an entirely new blood drinker, one that the reader does not recognise. His tale begins with a letter, a plea, written to the vampire Lestat, begging him primarily not to kill Quinn for trespassing in New Orleans (an area the Brat Prince has proclaimed to be off limits to others), but also to aide him in dealing with what he believes to be a malevolent spirit that has existed by his side from his earliest memories. The spirit, Goblin – as the boy-Quinn dubbed him – was once the child’s only peer and companion in a world dominated by adults, however, when he was turned into a blood drinker, he obtained a taste for blood to match Quinn’s own.
Lestat, naturally, his interest piqued, refrains from killing the younger vampire instantly and offers rather to travel with him to his home on the Mississippi, and listen to what he has to say. Why it was so urgent that he seek out the all-powerful Lestat in spite of the danger such a mission posed against his life. In the old property known as Blackwood Manor, Quinn reveals his family’s secrets to the older vampire through the form of his life’s story.
Blackwood Farm follows an intricate description of family relations on a land so old and vast that its darkest horrors have spawned ghosts and spirits to haunt both its swamps, and its guest-filled halls. The depth of secrecy and the near-rot situated at the core of its existence, and the fact that the family still owns and runs the land, is rivalled only by the story of the Mayfair witches and their own hidden history. Not surprising as, Quinn reveals, the expansive Mayfair genetics have filtered through the Blackwood line from an affair some decades back.
Quinn’s story unravels two-fold, beginning with his education as a child, and evolving into his determination to unravel the mysteries of his family, which ultimately leads to the demise of his innocence.
Affectionately referred to as Sunshine Boy, he was born from a drunken, drug-fuelled encounter between an unknown father, and his mother, Patsy, who he was led to believe until later in his life was, in fact, his sister; due to her age and her incapability to maintain a responsible and secure environment for a child. Quinn grew up with the adults at Blackwood Manor: his immediate family, the grounds’ caretakers, the guests who frequented the Manor for its history, hauntings, and fabulous events, and with his great aunt Lorraine McQueen. As such, he found encounters with children to be troublesome, and only ever maintained a friendship with his own personal spirit, Goblin. A creature that aged and grew exactly as Quinn himself did, reflecting both his appearance, and more than a few of his mannerisms. It is revealed through the course of the novel that very strong psychics can see Goblin but that, for the majority of his childhood, it was believed that he was the boy’s imaginary friend.
Quinn’s place as the darling of the family carried him well into his formative years and then into his late teens. So that, by the time he took stock of his life, began to dig into his family history, and force encounters he may later regret, Quinn was an educated, articulate, and sociable young man. Not to mention well-travelled and, consequently, worldly. Though, somehow, he maintains his endearing innocence. His interest in the depth of his family’s history, and the things which many of those members still in existence at this point in the novel do not know, begins with his own story of a haunting; by Manfred Blackwood’s second wife, Rebecca. A woman that the old man brought into his home and into the lives of his children in order to fill the void left behind when his beloved wife, Victoria, passed away. But, short of being kind to this second love, Manfred is cold and cruel, forging her, through his treatment of her, to be jealous of his affections, his wealth, the adoration of others in the family towards his first wife. Rebecca resents their immediate dislike of her, the manner in which they criticise her, pitting her against the memory of Victoria. It is through Quinn’s inspection of family belongings, Rebecca’s old things locked away in the attic, and the ghost of the young bride, that he uncovers how poorly she composed herself in the face of these challenges. How she balked against the resentment, and, how, ultimately, her petulance became such that her husband, ever more hateful in his own right, dragged her into the recesses of Sugar Devil Swamp – from which she never returned.
Upon uncovering this truth about the ghostly woman, with whom he finds himself enamoured, even sharing intimacies with her, Quinn ignores the warnings of his family and the grounds’ keepers and rows his piroque into Sugar Devil Swamp, trying to find the place to which Manfred would take such long visits. The boy finds a small island in the swamp that the locals swear does not exist. An island containing an old, weather-ruined hermitage and a Roman-esque tomb which, at first, is enough simply by its description to steer the reader’s mind towards Marius. Only, the tomb is engraved with a strange epitaph and the name: Petronia.
“Don’t regret it when you don’t come to see me. I think I’m timeless. You’re here now and you’ve remembered me. That’s what counts.”
– Anne Rice, Blackwood Farm
After a thorough investigation of the hermitage itself, and a cruel visitation from Rebecca wherein the reader is given insight into her fate, Quinn becomes obsessed with the place; determined to resurrect it to some form of splendour. But the dark history of Manfred Blackwood’s fortune and the fate to which he dragged his kicking and screaming young wife do not lie as dormant as the boy is led to believe. It is not long before he begins to receive threatening letters (and even a visitation) telling him to stop his trespassing on what the penman claims as their land. Quinn, of course, baffled by the threat, chooses to ignore it, adamant that the land is his and his family’s.
It is through the course of this story as well, that young Quinn falls in love with Mona Mayfair, the heiress to the vast Mayfair fortune and family legacy. This is the crux at which the Mayfair Witch novels and the Vampire Chronicles overlap. He meets Mona by chance at Mayfair Medical and the two begin an affair which has all the hallmarks of teenaged lust, but flourishes into a doomed, Petrarchan sort of love which is only solidified by them being told they cannot be together. Mona’s medical condition, and thus her family, as well as Quinn’s, virtually forbid any meetings or activities between the two. However, being young, the boy only perceives this as the basis for a stronger love and he continues to see Mona.
As the strings of the novel join together – Mona and Quinn find happiness of a sort together, the building of the Hermitage in Sugar Devil Swamp is completed, and Quinn’s family and those other pseudo-family members he feels close to become stable and enjoy a symbiotic environment with one another – the Sunshine Boy’s life is ruined by the unexpected arrival of Petronia who kidnaps Quinn and exacts what she sees as her vengeance and legacy upon him. She takes his perfect life from him and gives him one like her own through a scene which perfectly defines the character’s careless cruelty and disregard for Quinn’s sweet, unabashed innocence.
Quinn’s life changes, but it does not stop, the final piece of the novel slots into position, as his childhood companion, Goblin, an exact replica of himself, becomes stronger with the blood, jealous of the boy’s affections, even bloodthirsty – tackling and drinking from his counterpart every time Quinn feeds. He turns to Lestat for assistance with the spirit, and the older blood drinker offers his guidance, but not before Goblin causes the untimely death of Quinn’s beloved Aunt Queen.
It is only through the study of Merrick into Quinn’s past, that the boy discovers the truth behind Goblin’s existence, that the creature is his own unborn twin brother, dead and absorbed in the womb, a supposed justification for their mother’s sometime displeasure with the surviving child.
Merrick utilises the spiritual energy of Aunt Queen’s funeral to lead Goblin into the light, stepping through as well and ending her own part in the Vampire Chronicles. The novel closes as Mona arrives at Blackwood Manor, sick from her wasting illness and having spent years in a hospital room on life support, to ‘die’ close to the man she loves. Only, the presence of Lestat is the catalyst as ever to create a new story out of what ought to be the end of an old one – he offers Mona the dark gift, and she accepts.
The tale of Blackwood Farm is claustrophobic, and heated, providing the reader with a wealth of information which delves into issues of incest and devil dealings, revealing the true source of the Blackwood family’s success as being Manfred’s ‘agreement’ with Petronia. When Quinn refused to honour that agreement, the hermaphrodite took what she thought of as his ‘wealth’ away from him. Only, Quinn’s immense optimism remained. His mantle as Sunshine Boy could not be so easily broken as he chose to deny her practices of living with only their kind, hiding from the world he had known, bowing to her as if she were some dark god he owed allegiance to. Quinn took the strong blood offered him and revoked the elder’s rites to his land, choosing to live as long as he was able with his mortal family whom he loved and cherished as ever, and sought to preserve them as they had always been from the earliest memories of his upbringing.
Though Petronia may believe she has taken Quinn’s spirit from him, she fails at such a task, his demeanour endears him to more tutors, and more lovers, and leads him to free himself from his mortal shackles, while still maintaining his mortal bonds.