“Heaven would be Hell in no time if every cruel, selfish, vicious soul went to Heaven.”
– Anne Rice, Memnoch, The Devil
Memnoch, The Devil is the novel that should have been expected by every avid reader of The Vampire Chronicles from the inception of the series. Wherever one encounters vampires, one encounters the obvious question, the natural uncertainty, of the religious conundrum.
Are vampires evil?
Throughout literature, vampires differ. Some can cling to a crucifix with no discomfort, whilst others cannot stand to enter a church. Some are struck down by the name of ‘God,’ whilst others have little to no understanding of the monotheistic deity to which mortals now bend their knees. In Anne Rice’s novels, we are constantly reminded of the possible presence of God. Our first guide into this world, Louis, is obsessed with a revelation that he never has; the need to know if he is evil, if God exists. The Children of Darkness are moulded around the presupposition that God exists, and that they have been created by Him in opposition to His goodness.
Memnoch investigates, once and for all (or so it would seem), the presence of God in the universe of The Vampire Chronicles, and attempts to answer the age-old question that becoming a vampire inevitably asks: Are vampires evidence of evil?
Once again, the story is told to us by Lestat. Because, if the devil were to choose one immortal as his quarry, who else would he possibly select? The Brat Prince has been known to call Lucifer out, as they say, on more than one occasion; dare him to a challenge, unafraid of being dragged kicking and screaming to hell. Or so we are led to believe in the face of Lestat’s bravado.
It can be said that the novel is separated into three facets: Lestat’s human interaction, his interaction with other immortals, and his interaction with the spirit, the ‘man,’ the devil, himself.
The story that unfolds in the novel begins with a simple hunt. The evildoer being targeted by our illustrious hero is a big-time crime lord, a symbol of pure evil, if one is to believe that good and evil are nothing more than black and white concepts. Lestat, while stalking his prey, finds himself to be stalked in turn, by an unknown ‘entity.’ A man, but not a man. This person never approaches him, and never makes to injure him, but ensures that his presence is noted by our hero throughout the chase. Things do not unfold as Lestat expects they should, as, when he finally culminates the chase, killing his selected prey, Roger, he finds himself haunted by the man’s ghost. Roger has a request of Lestat, that he care for his daughter Dora, a woman in such sharp contrast to her father that she is the pure white good to his dark, dark evil.
Lestat makes a valid attempt to carry out the task his brief tormentor would have of him, but the thing that has been stalking him all this time chooses this approximate time to make its presence known. The devil, or Memnoch, as he refers to himself, wishes to garner Lestat’s assistance in his battle against God, an entity that he claims to be less savoury than he has publicised himself as.
Employing the assistance of David and Armand in caring for Dora in his absence, Lestat acquiesces to Memnoch’s wishes, allowing himself to be spirited into the realms of Heaven and Hell, and to times and places in history that no mortal (or immortal for that matter) should ever be privy to.
There are a number of questions that do arise through the course of the novel.
“How could anyone love Him? What did you just tell me yourself about the world? Don’t you see, everybody hates God now. It’s not that God is dead in the twentieth century. It’s that everybody hates Him! At least I think so.”
– Anne Rice, Memnoch, The Devil
Initially, the case that Memnoch sets before Lestat holds merit. That God and The Devil have some semblance of an agreement going to assist the process of ushering souls into Heaven, and to ascertain who can claim the greater portion of humanity. The visions Memnoch shows Lestat, and the stories he is told paint a poor picture of God. Certainly not the loving father many Christians believe him to be. He sends his angels to interact with humanity, this strange race of creatures that are blessed with this alien concept known as free will, and then punishes those that try to amalgamate with these humans that he wants them to love. Punishes them for feeling for these creatures being tormented with pain and death. This, combined with the ideas being instilled in Lestat, that God could end the wager at any point, could prevent further evil in the world whenever he would choose to, shifts the perspective from the traditional side of ‘good’ rather drastically.
However, when Memnoch takes Lestat into Hell and Lestat – having seen the crucifixion through the Devil’s manipulation of time, or simply by placing the image within Lestat’s mind – rejects his offer to work against God as an adversary, Memnoch becomes enraged. And his true colours are revealed. In the utter violence and cruelty for which he is famed, he takes Lestat’s eye and crushes it. Lestat finds himself, having fled the battle-field, back in the physical world with David, Armand and Dora, clutching Veronica’s Veil in his hand.
The simple statement herewith being made is that the devil lies. Christians are taught this fact from a young age, but, in this novel, the water becomes murky, Memnoch is a master manipulator. And it almost feels easier to believe him. It is always simpler to side with evil rather than good, especially when evil is so convincing at pretending to side with humanity in the place of an absent God. But in the end, evil is proven false. Eventually, Memnoch is revealed for what he is, and Lestat, a vampire, a supposed monster, rejects him in light of the goodness that is Jesus, a relatable manifestation of the divine.
Another issue which arises through the course of the novel is the presence of menstruation as a temptation and an offering. The character of Dora is experiencing her menses at the point where she meets Lestat. He makes note of it, but it seems of little import until he returns from his sojourn into the metaphysical realm, at which time he takes Dora’s blood, however ‘soiled’ as it may be, into himself. A means of feeding from her, without causing harm to the girl he swore to protect. It is curious that this scene comes so shortly after the incident of the crucifixion, where Lestat witnesses the creation of Veronica’s Veil. There are similarities – Veronica cleans the face of Jesus with her cloth, her veil, as a means of offering herself, all that she has to give of herself at this point in time, to her saviour. In the same manner, Dora, almost as helpless, a young, human girl in the midst of immortal men, offers her blood, the blood that flows freely from her to Lestat, her saviour. And, in a manner of speaking, Veronica hides the pain of Jesus – for a brief spell – with her veil. Dora, too, hides Lestat’s anguish from the eyes of their companions with the veil of her skirts.
The final, and most influential question must still be answered through all of this, are vampires evil in this universe?
The only acceptable answer is that, as with mortals, vampires are varied, and their decisions create their whole. If a vampire chooses evil, then evil they shall become. Lestat could have opted to side with Memnoch in the end, as an adversary of God. But he does no such thing. He chooses goodness. And that is what detracts from his ‘evil,’ if, indeed, he ever was such. Armand is also touched by the goodness with which Lestat returns. He snatches the Veil from Lestat and runs into the sun, believing he will find goodness in death, or salvation, perhaps, or even an offering of faith to show those that stand by him that God does exist, that goodness is apparent.
As with mortals, these vampires are constantly searching for a sign of the divine, an answer to the questions of their existence, an indication of a higher power. Of all vampire literature, Anne Rice has created the most human of any blood drinking monster. Thus, it stands to reason that they would progress spiritually as humans have; constantly searching, and disbelieving if something resembling the truth should ever appear to them. Lestat believes he went to Heaven, and he went to Hell, but many of the others do not believe his mad ravings, as he should have known they would not.
Whether or not he did go to these metaphysical realms, and conversed with the very core of good and evil is irrelevant. What does matter is that the sense of good and evil carried back with him, altering or affirming the beliefs and certainties of his fellow immortals.