I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
The relationship between the signifier and the signified rules the world. Most specifically, the literary world. To create meaning, is to derive meaning, from pre-existing concepts, artwork, music, threads and woven metaphors, and to subvert that meaning, into something new and profound. When I first picked up Prince Lestat, and was flipping through those first few pages lovingly, remembering having done just that with every other instalment of the Vampire Chronicles, one of the chapter titles particularly piqued my interest. Of course, they are all beautiful, descriptive, and promising, but, this one…
The Garden of Love.
I have been a fan of William Blake – at least my poetic self has – from as far back as I can remember. Lines from his poems speak to my mind, and, they stand out, in every aspect that I find them. Of course, then, I would draw correlations between this chapter, and Blake’s poem by the same depiction. Naturally, a reader would pursue knowledge within that chapter, with the image of Blake’s words emblazoned upon her thoughts. These four words carry weight, and, there are those that would state that readers, oftentimes, place more emphasis on the signified, than on the symbol as being little more than a literal interpretation. However, if not intentionally, then subconsciously, writers will almost always draw from past knowledge to create a deeper wealth of meaning in an image forged through their words.
Bearing all of this in mind, it is important to remember that, every word, however seemingly random, in any piece of prose, has its place in creating a wholly unique image. And it is that image that leads to discussions and questions on a novelist’s work.
One question that remained of primary concern through the initial reading of Prince Lestat was, is this really Lestat?
He’s moody, sullen, and he chooses to sequester himself away from the world, as opposed to his usual modus operandi of living large in the limelight. Dissonance dictates that, even though the reader has seen these kinds of mood swings in Lestat before, never have they been this pronounced, and never this long-lived, and, so, the concern arises again, what has happened to Lestat? Perhaps he is just seeing the world through the eyes of age, jaded as he is, he is passing on from his youthful exuberance and childlike wonder, and has entered the sombre realm of adulthood. There was a time, when seeing more than one of his own kind, sharingtime with one another, would have bolstered the Brat Prince. But now, it seems to drive him further away form them, and out into the cold, into the arms of strangers, or, just over to solitude. Lestat feels like a stranger, but, maybe that is simply due to the fact that, the world he used to call his Savage Garden, the world that he used to take such gratification and pleasure from, now feels like an unknown entity to him.
Of course, it is not just Lestat who is acting “other” to what the reader is acquainted with. Elders avoid interaction, avoid passing judgement and criticism, familial lines refuse to interfere with one another, for the sake of some misguided attempt at civility or compassionate distance.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not. writ over the door;
So I turn’d to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.
It could even be argued that, the author herself, feels something of a disconnected uncertainty, with this world of Blood Drinkers, and, it is reflected in Lestat’s uncertainty. Can he, conceivably, after everything that has passed between them, re-enter their lives as if nothing’s changed? Would they even accept him?
What if the disappointment of their reunion, relationship, and love, not being as it once was, is too much for him to bear?
Oh, and, worst of all, what if they don’t really want him anymore? Or… what if they don’t need him? Lestat thrived, to now, on being the centre of the universe. On transcribing himself into the lives of others of his kind until they could not imagine a world without him in it, but, what if somehow, all that has changed in the time that he has lost contact with them, and they find that, ultimately, they are somewhat let down, by him?
Even to the reader, that idea must chill, a little. Everyone wants to be wanted, and needed, and welcomed, with celebration, tears, music, laughter, dancing – we picture it in our minds, seeing ourselves as if from a bird’s eye view and knowing that, a reunion, is always going to be more beautiful in our heads than in reality. If Lestat is feeling such a fear at this point in his journey, it stands to reason that his voice, the author, is feeling something similar. Twelve years have passed between the last of these novels, and this new instalment. There must be an inherit fear there. What if it is not what is expected? What if those voices no longer speak as they once did?
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires.
The Garden of Love, by Blake, is a poem of becoming. It stems from his Songs of Experience, and, as such, it dictates how he sees the world through the eyes of one who has seen too much. One who has seen the ravages of religion, but, importantly, one who can recognise them, for what they truly, are. There are levels, at which one can discuss the symbolic impact of this idea on the Vampire Chronicles as a whole, and, on Prince Lestat as a stand-alone novel. In the chapter by the same title, Lestat sits in the garden with Rose (his mortal, that he has, somehow, been keeping secret, wrapped close to his heart, all this time), and his “biological son,” Viktor. As is Lestat’s custom, he is more than a little disconnected from the emotion that this scene might evoke. He sits in the garden and studies the surroundings with more clarity than he hears the words spoken. It is possible, that, it is this point in the novel that has him stunned by the shape that the world he once knew so intimately has taken in his absence.
There are aspects to it, unrecognisable, a voice screaming in his head, and, his hidden mortal, his familial son, and the mute queen of his tribe, all sit together in this one garden. It must seem to him, for a fleeting instant, like the start of a bad joke.
One the nature of religion, and, order, affecting something once-loved – “Thou shalt not. writ over the door” – as stated, there is an argument for the negative effects of rules, regulations, and misguided belief systems on the world of the Blood Drinkers, and on the childlike enthusiasm of a previously manically-humoured hero. It is reasonable to assume that, the Voice, Amel, was the engine that drove Akasha to acts of cruelty, and a near genocide. It is even more reasonable to assume that Amel, not only believes itself to be the god that these creatures must bend their knees before, but, that he is set up to be such. They cannot live without his presence, and, in the end, he can never be punished for his actions. He can only be reasoned with, IF he chooses to value reason at any given time. He is the only true constant among them. And only when each and every single one of them is gone, will he too fade into nothingness. Unless, of course, he somehow finds solace in a new life form. His presence, colours the new world that these vampires inhabit. Not so much of a new world, but, an old world, that they may have, at one time, thought that they knew. And loved. But, now, is strained and unreasonable, and filled with death, fear, and unknown things lurking in the darkness.
The Garden of Love, though, on the surface, seeming to refer to something sweet, and beautiful, and, as magnanimous as an entity whose arms may reach around the world and gather all to his bosom, also hints at something darker with this reference to a poem revolving around the notion of denial, and pain in disappointment and limited expectation. It also promises more grottos, more coves, and more beds in the Savage Garden, moving the boundaries that once kept this garden safe and known, into the realm of the unknown. What is promising, is also, often, to be feared. Is this a hint that, as Prince Lestat ends with such a sense of civility and closeness, the reality of its following instalment may not be as sweet? But of course. Because without conflict, there will be no story.