The Tale of the Body Thief

“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.

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“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.

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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.

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21 Comments

  • Reply A. June 9, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    Trying to resist the urge to send Lestat a roll of toilet paper for his birthday every year…

    • Reply Carmen Dominique June 11, 2013 at 7:08 am

      😉

    • Reply Hold the Heathen Hammer High April 24, 2014 at 9:46 am

      Trying to resist the urge to send Armand a spool of thread.

  • Reply Teddy C Peugh June 11, 2013 at 6:07 am

    I enjoyed every word and agree completely . and Now when will it be put on Film ? I am already cuing up for a Wild Ride into possibilities.
    Don’t keep us waiting for long.

    • Reply Carmen Dominique June 11, 2013 at 7:05 am

      Sadly, as far as I understand it, the battle has been lost on that front. No more Lestat films for us 🙁

      • Reply Rozyve May 14, 2014 at 4:04 am

        At least there’s a new book. 🙂

  • Reply Mandy Spray June 11, 2013 at 6:26 am

    this was my favorite book, I can’t honestly explain why but it is a wonderful action story and I just love it! great job! I loved this one!! I can’t wait to read more from you! 😀

    • Reply Carmen Dominique June 11, 2013 at 7:04 am

      Thanks for the comment 🙂

  • Reply Kathy Harwell June 11, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    Maybe it’s due to a kind of naivete on my part, but I could never understand why Lestat felt he had to “turn” David, let alone to do so in such a violent manner as I saw depicted. Perhaps it was his usual impulsiveness gone completely overboard, further warped by his own “loan” by the body thief and then trying to redeem himself by making with the nun that had him under her wing.

    Maybe I’m totally mixed up?

    • Reply Carmen Dominique June 11, 2013 at 5:10 pm

      Hmm, I wouldn’t say Lestat ever needs a reason to do as he pleases. He wanted David as an afterthought in the beginning, and then David became his friend, so he he wanted to save him from the death of old age. And when David suddenly was found in this new body, Lestat decided that he was not going to let it go to waste. He wanted David. Plain and simple. Generally what Lestat wants he takes, unless it will severely damage the life of the person he is taking from. It was violent because Lestat wanted David to fight in order for him to be strong. Louis didn’t fight back and he was weak, the same with Claudia, and even with Gabrielle and Nicki to an extent. He needed David to be powerful.

      • Reply Rozyve May 14, 2014 at 4:03 am

        I’d say Nicolas did not fight at all bc he wanted it.

  • Reply Devika Fernando June 27, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Yay yay YAY, you have reviewed another one of my all-time favourites by Anne. Along with Memnoch and Interview it makes of my list of 3 ever loved Vampire Chronicles. I must have read this novel between 10 to 20 times by now, which also makes it one of the most-read books I earn…
    What I love so much about this book – and which you have once again managed to pinpoint so well in your awesome review – is the HUGE change that Lestat undergoes without actually ever stopping to be typically himself. His development in so many ways is perfectly credible, which is an admirable feat by Anne’s writing.
    I also love how Lestat sees the world as a human, how he finds evil in what we consider normal and beauty in what we ignore. I’d have expected it of him.
    Apart form that, after Lestat, David has always been and will always be one of my favourite Rice protagonists and I love the change that he underwent, too.
    There’s everything in this novel which I have come to adore Anne Rice and her Vampire Chronicles for!

    • Reply Carmen Dominique June 27, 2013 at 9:27 am

      I agree whole-heartedly, of course. I do believe that Anne perfectly turned Lestat’s character in this novel from the man we have known to be self-destruct at times up to now, to a vampire that loves being immortal.

  • Reply Hold the Heathen Hammer High April 24, 2014 at 9:45 am

    How would ending his life be selfish?

    • Reply Carmen Dominique April 24, 2014 at 9:55 am

      Lestat? Well, I often find suicide to be selfish, so many people depend on the person taking their life. Because said individual never realises how much they mean to others. And, as we all know, he is much loved.

      • Reply Rozyve May 2, 2014 at 11:28 am

        I feel like the common belief that suicide is selfish adds to stigma of the mentally ill and gets in the way of people with mental health issues getting help. I also don’t get why so many people are called “wastes of space” or told they don’t contribute enough but at the same time we as a society also think suicide is selfish, slowing that we actually do think people have lives of value.

        I’m sure being alive for that long would be hard on mental health, to see the world changing while you stay the same. Lestat said the Old Ones go crazy and forget who they are. Of course you know all this.

        I was very mentally ill through most of my teen yrs, luckily counseling in my province is free through public health and both my parents had insurance so we don’t even have to pay for psychiatric meds. I literally cannot function properly without psychiatric medication. If I had not had the help that I did I would have probably killed myself by now. People with mental health issues need support, not to be told they are personally flawed bc of it.

        It was interesting how the vampires in VC killed people sometimes based on “will to live”. I feel this is an inferior method of finding victims as opposed to the damage they have insulted on others (human traffickers, hard drug dealers, gangsters etc). Will to live can be very different at different times in your life. Maybe its bc a lot of them are old, and in their day no one gave a damn about mental health or even had a concept of it, I don’t know. I might have been a victim at one time in my life. 😉

        #yupiammoralizingfictionalcharacters

        • Reply Rozyve May 2, 2014 at 11:37 am

          showing* we actually do think people have lives of value.

          Sorry for my typos I find my posts easier to read when they are posted for some reason they stand out better when posted.

          I don’t know if you read the site xojane but its mostly female writers, maybe you could submit a post about the new VC coming out or write something about the vampire genre since you are clearly good at this topic.

          I think you would get published on xojane. They have a lot of different perspectives. It would be cool to see you on there. It’s a cool site.

          • Carmen Dominique May 5, 2014 at 6:09 pm

            I will check it out. Though I like to keep my opinions mostly to myself here where they are unlikely to offend anyone outright.

        • Reply Carmen Dominique May 5, 2014 at 6:13 pm

          I knew that comment would be trouble when I wrote it, but I was overwhelmed with some other things that needed to be done and had no time to expound.
          So here goes…
          Honestly, there are two modes of “suicidal”. Firstly, I myself have felt suicidal before, and I have known many a dear friend who has taken their life. But they did it in secret with no attempt at attention creation regarding their issues and how badly they were feeling. No attempt to haul others in to “prevent” them from killing themselves.
          But then, I have known yet more people, one very close and dear to me, who have screamed suicide whenever it suits them to.
          Here, in this instance, Lestat admits that he is planning on ending himself to David, knowing David can do nothing to prevent it. It is selfish and harmful to the mortal’s well-being. He ought to have simply done it if he wished it done so badly.

          • Rozyve May 14, 2014 at 4:02 am

            Don’t worry no trouble. I don’t see telling someone as selfish, it just means they need help and compassionate understanding and also to be medicated and get therapy though that’s not possible with vampires. I’m sorry you lost your friend. You don’t have to write an opinion piece for xojane you could write one about The Vampire Chronicles. Anyone that is seriously offended by a differing opinion should go back under their rock. 😉

  • Reply Hook in Mouth May 24, 2014 at 6:02 am

    The Talamasca seem to be fond of misconduct and abuse of power so he must have been quite the scum rat.

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