“Beauty is what drove it, don’t you see? It was the mystery of Beauty.”
—Anne Rice, Prince Lestat
In her latest book, Prince Lestat, Anne Rice has gifted us with another installation in the Vampire Chronicles, rendered in her characteristically beautiful prose. This cast of Nosferatu, perhaps long rendered silent by the recent plethora of vampiric tales, has always been painted by Rice as lovingly as if they were fairy-tale princes and princesses, and this book is no exception.
Prince Lestat is the eleventh book in the series and picks up the overarching tale of Rice’s vampire tribe. It has, in fact been nearly forty years since the series began in 1976 with Interview with the Vampire, and the author kindly provides a brief synopsis at the start to refresh our memories of past key events. For those who are new to the series this may suffice, but you would be better served by at least reading the first three classic books—Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and The Queen of the Damned—prior to this one.
The events of Prince Lestat take place in the nominal present, some 25 years after the events of The Queen of the Damned. The novel begins with narration from Lestat, whom we discover has reached new depths of despair and loneliness.
Lestat is tormented by an undisclosed Voice which continually harangues him and tempts him into destructive acts. During his ceaseless wanderings, he encounters a novel pair of vampires, the ancient physician/healer son of Akasha and his fledgling companion, a brilliant scientist dedicated to studying the animating organism of the undead. In doing so, Lestat realizes how completely unequipped he is to deal with the modern age and its science and technology. The interaction deepens his anguish and, prompted by the Voice, he retreats to the 18th century castle of his birth.
Those familiar with the lively, mischievous Lestat will be saddened by his current mental state. It is the struggle of an individual who is wholly driven by romanticism to adapt to a fundamentally rational age. One is reminded of the story of Phaedrus in Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, only in reverse. In Pirsig’s book, the narrator, driven insane by a rational mind trap involving the nature of reality, seeks healing through a cross-country motorcycle trip with his son. The key to healing, in his case, is to embrace both the rational and the romantic and, in doing so, achieve a higher quality of life. In Prince Lestat, Lestat must come to terms with the rational, or risk the path to insanity followed by some of Rice’s other completely romantic beings, such as his long-dead friend Nicholas.
While Lestat is trying to heal, Rice provides a series of stories regarding other members of the tribe. These are presented as a lovely series of vignettes, woven together to create a picture of the present state of the vampire tribe. And for Anne Rice, the resulting creation is always that of an elegant tapestry; never the more homespun quilt by the hearth such as that of a Dickens novel. However, speaking of Dickens, it would have been an enchanting experience to have been offered these stories as a Dickensonian serial: each story a small completion in and of itself and creating an anticipation for the next.
In this epoch of Netflix binge-watching, the pleasure of anticipation is something that is often in short supply. Remember how much fun it was waiting for and hypothesizing about the next Harry Potter novel? I would suggest lingering over these stories, taking your time with them and enjoying them slowly and thoroughly. Your favorites are all here: Armand, Marius, Pandora, and many others, the old and the new intertwined.
The stories of this cast of vampires contain and represent the great cultures and mythos of the great ages of humanity, e.g. ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, Renaissance Europe. etc.. The question is, how can these myths survive in the modern human imagination? How can the modern age preserve not only the mere knowledge of the myths but also integrate the beauty, hope and sentiment contained within them? The haleness of vampire and human alike depend upon it. And our beloved Brat Prince must save the day.
Thank you, Anne Rice, for sharing another wonderful, mythical story with us.
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
—Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth