“So we reach into the raging chaos, and we pluck some small glittering thing, and we cling to it, and tell ourselves it has meaning, and that the world is good, and we are not evil and we will all go home in the end.”
– Anne Rice, The Tale of the Body Thief
The Tale of the Body Thief is a thematic story that is retold by the author in a manner so utterly different from others of its style that it entirely revamps the notion.
Most body snatching stories are horror-inclined: a mysterious individual or creature, or even spirit, forces a subject from his body against his will and takes up residence in the husk, walking amongst his friends and family as if nothing has changed until he is routed by a small slip-up. Something he could not have foreseen; perhaps a strange inflection in tone, or the absence of a nervous tick. This is the primary element of body thievery which sets Anne Rice’s The Tale of the Body Thief apart from other similar works.
This novel plays towards what we already know of the character of Lestat. Where there is no trouble, he will find a means to create some. It is both an endearing and frustrating trait of a beloved individual, to be impulsive so far as to be blinded by the seeming motives of others. Making decisions without thinking them through. Yes, Lestat makes a great spectacle of having considered this (possibly) devastating, universe-altering decision before him, but really, everyone knows that his mind was already made up the second that the possibility for such action arose. We know that, oftentimes, Lestat’s motive for doing something reckless is simple: he wants to see what will happen.
At the onset of the novel, Lestat is disillusioned. He is still reeling from the incident with Akasha, the council, the threat of his loved ones’ death, and the very real death of the queen that he loved. It would seem, to the reader, that he has everything he could desire; he has companionship in both Louis, and his new mortal friend David Talbot, but still he is dissatisfied. And it is also the first time that the reader must deal with a very real side to this character, that Lestat would consider ending his own life, a suicidal Lestat. Our feelings are reflected in the character of David at this point. Lestat offers David his blood one last time, insisting that he does not have long to live and that he should take the gift offered him, before leaving David afraid for his friend’s state-of-mind. He knows that Lestat may commit a selfish deed in the vein of ending his life, but he is helpless to stop it. The impulsiveness of the Brat Prince, combined with his inordinate physical strength leaves David to simply wait out the trauma of possibly losing a friend. Until Lestat sweeps into his office one night in agony, and tanned to a lovely bronze colour.
“The evil of one murder is infinite, and my guilt is like my beauty – eternal. I cannot be forgiven, for there is no one to forgive me for all I’ve done.”
– Anne Rice, The Tale of the Body Thief
Being unable to kill himself should have settled matters for Lestat, and in a way it does, but he does not gain a sense of enlightenment from his excursion to the Gobi desert. Rather he becomes even more deeply introspective and depressed. He continues as if it never happened, despite the obvious, and deserved, dismay of both David, and Louis – as they know what he has done.
It is this core unhappiness which drives the story forward. Without Lestat’s clear misery at being what he is – the monster that he is that cannot even end its own life – the villain of the piece would have no means to attain what he desires.
And so enters Raglan James, offering a deal that Lestat, in his impulse, could never ever turn down.
The unique opportunity to be human.
Of course Lestat takes the deal (naturally, despite warnings and the reasonable arguments of others), relying on the incentive of money to be enough that James will not be inclined to renege. As is to be expected, he does just that. He takes any money he can find, as well as Lestat’s distressingly powerful body, and leaves his victim to die, as Lestat (now in the body of an utter stranger) lies unconscious in an open doorway in the midst of a devastating winter.
Lestat instantly regrets his decision. Being human is not half as entertaining as he had hoped when he took on this endeavour. His body is heavy and sluggish, and constantly demanding one thing or another: relief, food, sex, and all manner of other simple functions that humans regularly take for granted. Most of these desires get him into a fair deal of misfortune; such as his rather selfish sexual misconduct with the waitress who served him his first meal.
But, being Lestat, he does find some beauty amidst the wreckage of a failed adventure. He has one magnificent day, seeing the sun and being mortal, before he returns to the house where he is to meet the imposter to retrieve his body. By this point it is quite clear to us that the deal is no longer in effect, but Lestat still, trustingly, believes that greed for cash is what drives James.
Raglan does not deliver Lestat’s body as promised, and the harsh reality of his situation crashes down on him. Combined with his illness, he is now utterly at the mercy of other mortals. Strangers.
In hospital, he is cared for by a nun, Gretchen, who is fighting her own disillusionment, her own dissatisfaction. She listens to his ravings of being a powerful vampire in another body and takes him home with her to care for him there. Gretchen’s motives are strange, at this point, but not so unusual, really. As a member of the church, it is natural for her to go through this crisis of faith, and to want to experience what her faith has prevented her from doing thus far. And who better to do so with than a man babbling of being a demon? She nurses him back to health and allows him to take advantage of her curiosity (or perhaps it is the other way around?), and, as is Lestat’s way, he comes to love Gretchen. But he finally leaves her to attempt to retrieve his body.
It is to Louis that he turns first, who – after a scrap in which Lestat is almost killed as Louis has no means of ascertaining that he is who he says he is – turns him down, not wanting to ruin his chance at being human again. This should have been expected, Louis would no sooner take away Lestat’s chance to be a mortal again than he would resubmit himself to being turned from humanity.
Petulantly, Lestat burns Louis’s little shack down. And in the haze of smoke, he sees the disapproving figure of Marius; ever the paternal disciplinarian. He could have assisted Lestat at this point, but where would the lesson have been in that?
As a last resort, Lestat turns to a rather unsettled David, who has been tracking reports of murders and strange scenarios, as the imposter Lestat rampages in his new body. David instructs Lestat on how to shunt another out of his body, and the truth also comes to light, that Raglan James was a member of the Talamasca, before he was ousted due to misconduct and abuse of power.
In a confrontation, Lestat retrieves his body. But the body thief is not done with his insanity, and in being expelled from his form, takes over David’s body while his guard is down. It does not take Lestat long to figure that his friend is not his friend anymore and he kills the old David in a rage. David now finds himself trapped in the younger body, though the feeling of imprisonment is short-lived as he comes to realise that having this younger, athletic figure grants him possibilities he had thought were long gone in the form of an old man.
As Lestat himself says, the story should have ended here, but there is a lose-end to tie up in David. And, as has already been stated, Lestat’s decision to perform his next action was made a long time ago, even if he seemed to be deliberating over it. He tracks David down and forces the blood on him, turning him very much against his will, and creating a distressingly powerful vampire in the process.
Lestat attempts to make amends for his behaviour en route to, once more, being the Brat Prince. But, in truth, though he terrifies others, and engenders the stigmata in his lovely Gretchen, he does not balk at the notion any longer that he is monster. He revels in it. As only Lestat can do, he bounces right back from the trauma that transpired, all at his own whim.