“Lestat and I are dancing; slow dancing like kids did in the 50’s; he’s holding me and I’m leaning against him as we barely move on the dance floor. The bar’s dark and almost empty. Just the lights of the juke box in this corner. And this is my song for him, funky, old, pure — playing on the Juke Box. “Tonight you’re mine…completely.” Oh, how I’ve missed you. How I’ve longed for you. Oh, how much I love you.”
Anne Rice recently posted these words on her facebook fanpage and immediately my stomach flipped. I’d almost forgotten how much I loved this character, how much he has inspired me and others, and how much I adore Rice, herself, for the man she created.
The character of Lestat is the heroic catalyst of Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series. Originally cast as something of a villainous antagonist in the eyes of his fledgeling, Louis, he soon transformed into the engine propelling the story forward with his incessant magnetism for trouble and his mantle as the ‘Brat Prince;’ a term of endearment granted him by Marius in response to his reckless behaviour. As a hero, he has naturally has the burden of a flaw – or several, if his companions are to be believed – which, most glaringly, is his desire to do ‘good’ and his constant sabotage of his own inherent ‘goodness.’
The character’s first appearance in the series, which is later to become his collected memoir, is not as the protagonist, the primary character, or even the storyteller, as one may have suspected from his virulent presence in subsequent novels. But rather it is as the maker of Louis, the interviewee in Interview with the Vampire. The portrait Louis paints of Lestat in this novel is not a kind one. Rather, the blonde Frenchman is depicted as something of a condescending, greedy simpleton, if one with immense passion. It is substantially apparent that Louis both fears and mistrusts Lestat, for acts which the reader must accept as truth, despite the obvious bias of the first person narrative. Little of Lestat’s history is revealed by his fledgeling, with the exception of commentary by vampires Louis encounters in his travels. At the novel’s close, Lestat has been revealed as, at the very least, powerfully vital, having survived and overcome two ‘murders’ at the hands of his children. Dealing with these betrayals, Lestat sleeps with the intention of putting a close to his mortal life with Louis and Claudia.
Awakened in the 20th Century, Lestat rises to the news of Louis’ tale being a paperback bestseller in a world that has no place to believe in the presence of evil. Vampires are of no consequence to the mortals of this new day and age, but as amusing thrills in a jaded society. A vampire with a desire to be recognised for what and who he is, Lestat plunges into this new time with his own novel in response to Louis, as well as a rock band, intent on taking the stage for one glorious concert and showing the world what he is. Whether they believe him or not is of no relevance to him. But, in displaying himself and the secrets he has come to collect over the few centuries of his life, Lestat strives to do ‘good’ by forcing the world to recognise his evil. This is achingly reminiscent of his early excursions on the little Parisian theatre stage of his mortal youth, as well as his later return to that stage as the Vampire Lestat, during which time he scared the living hell out of the audience with the unnatural pitch of his vampiric voice. In his novel, The Vampire Lestat, the character reveals his fear of evil, of wickedness. This not being the wickedness one would associate with traditional, religious definitions of good and evil, but rather with an ethical scale. Death, the unknown aftermath of death, cruelty, and pain, these things are already forming in his mind as ‘evil.’ Beginning with his childhood experience of what he and Nicolas call ‘the witches’ place;’ where he was told sickening stories of witches being burned for their sins against the church.
In the novel, The Queen of the Damned, Lestat, having awakened the first vampire, Akasha, comes into the closest possible contact with true evil, though his mind does not accept it as such. Akasha is blatantly heartless, cold, and callous, but her visions of grandeur, of altering the world to what she perceives as god-fearing perfection, obscure her wicked nature. This, combined with her undeniable beauty, bedazzles the hero and he strives to control the struggle in his soul. He wants to revel in the cruelty, adamant that it is his nature as vampire to partake of Akasha’s destruction, but ultimately, his human sense of ‘goodness’ wins as he impassively watches Akasha destroyed. This moment is not the victory of his good nature, but the realisation that he, and others of his kind, are capable of ‘good.’ Though he fails to recognise it as such, mourning for the loss of her.
On the precipice of a moral duel with his nature as a vampire, Lestat is manipulated too easily by a mortal man, Raglan James, into giving up his vampire form for a human one. Ultimately he accepts the deal, having attached to mortality the connotation of divine blamelessness. From the character’s perspective, one can infer that humanity carries with it a sense of ‘good’ that vampirism does not, a moral compass that requires conscious choice to set off kilter. It is with this tone that Lestat takes a human body, giving up possession of his own for a brief time, in The Tale of the Body Thief. And while he does find a certain peace in experiencing humanity for the first time in centuries, and seeing the sun, he uncovers pain and dilemmas of the flesh that he had never to contend with as a vampire. This is compounded by the sheer evil of Raglan James, who, despite his mortality, is a vicious minded man with an eroded conscience that allows him free rein as he takes lives at a whim. Lestat is comforted only by his friendship with David, and his love for the nun, Gretchen, who later turns from him in fear and divine revelation as his presence in his vampire body causes her to experience the stigmata. It is a sign to Lestat of the fact that he can only do ‘good’ by being this evil thing that engenders good in humans when they are faced with his unnatural countenance.
In Memnoch, the Devil the character comes to face to face with the true existence of good and evil as he sees it, or, quite possibly, his own interpretations of it – as what he narrates feels so thoroughly like a dream, an hallucination. His journey to Heaven and Hell does feel jarringly like what he would perceive as good and evil, a theist’s interpretation of these realms as if the notion of both were purely black and white. Whatever the case, what he does see so thoroughly dents his mind that he is forced into a coma-like stupor, stepping away from the real world to dream.
For a long period, the illustrious Brat Prince is absent from the series, but for on instance when he wakes to the sound of Sybelle’s beautiful music, a throw-back to his own violin playing which awakened Akasha, and then later when he wakes to aid Louis in Merrick. But finally he is reunited with the reader in Blood Canticle in which it is apparent that he intends to achieve ‘goodness’ from the very first page. Lestat tells the reader that he wants to be a saint. He wants to do good, be good, be the opposite of what he perceives himself as, a creature of evil. At the close of this novel, Lestat makes a choice, the first purely unselfish act he has made, he forces Rowan Mayfair back into the arms of her husband and leaves to be alone with his misery, instead of taking her as he has every other mortal that he had entirely within his immense power. By performing this entirely selfless act, Lestat proves to the reader that he is capable of the ‘goodness’ he has sought, that he is not ruled by the evil he believes has formed him from a mortal man into a vampire. His transformation required no church and no confession, but the confession which he offers the reader. Rather, ‘goodness’ is achieved through simple human compassion.
Whatever the case, and however you feel, I shall now leave you with words which perfectly sum up the melancholic, yet hopeful end to a series of adored novels:
“And then my heart cries out, my heart will not be still, my heart will not give up, my heart will not give in-
-the blood that teaches life will not teach lies, and love becomes again my reprimand, my goad, my song.”