“All my life,I’ve been afraid of things, as a child and a woman must be. I lied about it naturally. I fancied myself a witch and walked in dark streets to punish myself for my doubts. But I knew what it meant to be afraid.”
– Anne Rice, Merrick
Merrick is one of the culminate novels in The Vampire Chronicles series, the first novel truly set in the beautiful city of New Orleans since Interview with the Vampire, and it introduces a vibrant and compelling new character, a member of the Mayfair line, though indeed their lesser known and not as wealthy relatives. The story, as most of Rice’s great tales, is told on two planes, the present, where the action constantly unravels, and the past as Merrick’s life is unfurled to provoke a sense of familiarity with her from the reader.
This novel is not only unique for reintroducing the damp heat and blossoming provocation of Louisiana, but it also offers a visitation of the first vampire ever glimpsed by the reader as its pivotal focus; Louis de Pointe du Lac. Told by David Talbot, formerly Superior General of the Talamasca, and recently body snatched to possess the form of a much younger man, the primary tale begins.
For centuries now, Louis has pined over the loss of his beloved Claudia, however her death was a point of grievance, and never an impetus for him. He mourned her in solitude, but he never made a concerted effort to find her spirit or ensure she was at peace. Not until Jesse Reeves uncovered items belonging to the dead child in the flat once shared by Lestat, Louis, and Claudia in the Rue Royale. Having discovered this knowledge, that his beloved daughter may still exist in one form or another, in the novel The Queen of the Damned, Louis becomes obsessed. As Merrick opens, the reader eavesdrops on this very conversation between David and his once pupil, Merrick Mayfair, as they discuss Louis’ obsession, how it has reached its pinnacle, and how she, this excessively gifted witch, could possibly aide the tormented vampire. A seer of spirits, Merrick is more than capable of putting his mind at ease, but the point is raised that, seeing the ghost of a loved one does not necessarily put the mind at ease, rather it can inflame and destroy.
As the primary tale unravels, so too does Merrick’s history, and through this history, the reader is granted insight into more of the full existence had by David Talbot before Lestat came to visit a new life upon him. As a child, Merrick’s powers became known to the Talamasca, upon the death of her guardian. It was David and his colleague and friend Aaron, who brought her into their fold, never suspecting how much of a danger as well as an asset she would become. Merrick was a haunted child, gifted with the abilities of the women of her family, blessed by the Loa, and haunted by the ghost of her dead – and very angry – sister, Honey In The Sunshine. She would frequently become possessed by this spirit who felt she had been wronged, felt her voice deserved to be heard, so that the quiet, calm demeanour of Merrick Mayfair would snap to the wilful, seductive nature of Honey.
With the help of the Order that took her in, Merrick gained more than a modicum of control over her abilities and became an avid pupil, close friend, and – at one regrettable point in their history, at least in his eyes – lover of David’s. The history between these two characters is highly personal, and intimate, leading into a favour asked by David, Merrick’s friend and mentor. Rather than a favour asked of an agent of the Talamasca, by an estranged vampire.
She agrees to help this vampire, Louis, that she does not know but from what she has studied of him. Her abilities as a witch, a seer and manipulator of spirits, as well as those of an archivist, working with the Talamasca and all the esoteric items they possess, are compiled to lay the ghost of the child vampire, Claudia, to rest.
Merrick, herself, has her own story to fulfil, as she sees it, manipulating the two vampires to obtain something that only they can give her. As a child, she begged and pleaded with her Oncle Vervain for his pocket watch, an old family heirloom. But he refused, giving it instead to her sister, Honey, with the seemingly flippant words to the younger sister, that the watch is simply not meant for her. This old man also gave her a series of other items which she later used to achieve her bewitchment of the two vampires. When Honey in the Sunshine is killed, the watch stops at the time of her death and the meaning of her Oncle’s message becomes clear to her, that she is not meant to perish as her sister did. Thus, when she is reacquainted with David, she sees an opportunity to fulfil this notion. She uses her witchcraft on him, trying to bespel him, though the experienced former Superior General instantly recognises it for what it is and destroys her little altar.
When her attempts to bind David fail, she turns her attentions instead to Louis, who is far more susceptive, in light of his own debilitating grief for Claudia. When the little girl’s spirit is gone, the vampire feels none of the traumatic sense of loss he had been anticipating. Instead, Louis finds himself entirely too taken with Merrick. In love with her in a way he had never been with Claudia.
This is, of course, painful for David. He rails against it. At first he insists that she has enthralled his friend with her magic. And then he simply concedes defeat, too broken-hearted that the woman he loves would choose Louis over him.
What Merrick did not account for is that Louis’ self-destruction and self-hatred is not tied to the people he loves, but, entirely to his own person, his own being as a vampire, as a ‘monster’ that kills in order to thrive. The presence of a lover in his life would hardly be enough to quell that urge to do away with himself. In fact, if anything. He sees this culmination of events, his love for Merrick, and the final loss of Claudia, as the chance to free himself of the body that traps him. In a wilful act reminiscent of his destruction of the Theatre of the Vampires, Louis turns Merrick into something like himself and then attempts to end his own life by laying his body out in a coffin in the garden and waiting for the sun.
He is only saved from this fate by the combined efforts of Merrick, David, and a very tired, recently-awoken Lestat, who yanked himself out of his catatonia to aide his fledgling.
It is this novel which ushers in a settlement again of the vampires of New Orleans. Mostly, once-again, at peace in their city and in one another’s company, with Lestat leading their coven in his own peculiar way. However, it also portends an uncertain and dangerous future in the form of retaliation from the usually peaceable and silent Talamasca, who have now lost their third member to the vampires. The tale ends on an ominous note with a letter from the order, outlining how they wish to see the vampire Lestat and his coven leave the city of New Orleans, insistent that, should they return, the order will be forced to take action.
‘”Nothing. That I had ever lived in any shape seemed unreal.” His eyes were shut tight. and he brought up his hand to hide his face from us. He was weeping. “Nothing,” he said. “Nothing at all.”‘
– Anne Rice, Merrick
It is also note-worthy, that this novel sees Louis finally acquiescing to Lestat’s urging. That he takes blood from his maker which strengthens him. Aspects of vampirism which had, before, eluded him, such as telepathy, are now in his purview. The question arises as to whether this will make him less human or not. The reader does not have time to uncover the answer to that question as, sadly, this is the last novel in which Louis makes an appearance. However, it is safe to assume, that he remains just as gentle and human as he ever was, as some of the last we see of the vampire is his weeping that, when he had thought he was dead under the harsh light of day, he still did not see the sun.