Anne Rice has covered the gamut of the metaphysical in her writings: vampires, ghosts, witches, mummies, angels, demons and even, during a period of rekindling her childhood Catholic faith, a series of controversial fictional accounts of the life of Christ. In her latest series, The Wolf Gift Chronicles, she has taken up the subject of lycanthropy.
With her earlier Vampire Chronicles, Rice rewrote the textbook on vampirism and imbued the species with an unparalleled passion and sensuality, and has now done the same for werewolves, which she refers to as Morphenkinder. While the bloodsucking crowd is almost always portrayed in literature and on screen as erotic (think: True Blood), the morph from human to werewolf is typically depicted with growling, snarling and more of an air of pain and violence. Only Anne Rice would attempt to describe lycanthrophy as a viral infection that transforms the body’s muscle into a sort of erectile tissue, and then draw parallels between the transformation and the physiological process of arousal and climactic release. Rice’s wolf experience is a full-blown orgy of all the senses described with her characteristically florid prose.
The first of the two installments, The Wolf Gift, published in early 2012, introduced us to our hero Reuben Golding and related the tale of his “infection” and transformation.
Book 2, The Wolves of Midwinter, was just recently published and begins to introduce us to the global community of Morphenkinder. Of the two books, The Wolf Gift is endowed with a great deal more action, from the attack which transforms Reuben, to his vivid initial wolfen romps, and his discovery of the overarching purpose of Morphenkinder to seek out and punish human evil.
Indeed, these werewolves share much in common with comic book heroes: superhuman athletic abilities, special powers such as immortality and rapid healing, and Reuben’s escapades end up saving a woman from rape, a busload of children from kidnapping and other good deeds. Morally, and in consultation with his brother the priest, he struggles with his bestial enjoyment of the hunt and the question of where the power to exercise judgment ought to lie.
The Wolves of Midwinter is much lighter on plot movement to the extent that some might come away from the book feeling that nothing of consequence happens. Irrespective of this, the book is well worth reading even just for the engrossing portrait of the Yule festival held in the Morphenkinder town and mansion headquarters on the Northern California redwood coast, which takes up a large portion of the text. In fact, without some hard thought, I am at a loss to think of another literary example where I’ve encountered this extent of detail and description (at one point we even follow Reuben into the WC, not for any plot purpose whatsoever, but just because we’ve been milling about in the crowds for a long time and dang, it’s time for a pit stop!). Hemingway and other aficionados of terse and streamlined prose are no doubt rolling in their graves, but I found it an amusing and refreshing perspective.
Unlike the Vampire Chronicles, these books are not written in the first person so we do not get to see things through Reuben’s eyes as we did Louis’ and Lestat’s. Rather, an interesting effect of the third-person narration in The Wolves of Midwinter is that we’re walking with Reuben, arm-in-arm, with an odd but pleasant sort of intimacy. We also meet some old Morphenkinder from medieval England and Russia and are promised their back stories in future books. I look forward to these very much as Lestat and Armand’s stories were some of my favorites from the Vampire Chronicles.
These works are also the author’s first books since her recent renunciation of Catholicism. Rice remains, in her own words, a “secular humanist” and encompasses a broader definition of God and spirituality which shows in these works. This return to a more inclusive philosophy in her writing is likely to renew earlier criticisms of her ideas as being too diffuse and imprecise. I, however, enjoy what I see as her humility to refrain from didactics and often limit herself to the questioning alone. I also admired her ability to eschew the clichéd “Catholic guilt” stance and replace it in her characters with more of a striving, not just to be “good” but to define and refine the term itself.
Anne Rice has always been one of those authors who follow her own literary inclinations despite some rather harsh criticism, and this affords her books a distinction and a uniqueness that I quite cherish.