(1941- ) US writer of historical novels, erotica and fantasy, three genres which in her hands often blend into each other to a remarkable extent. Her first story was "October 4, 1948" (1965), published in a college magazine, Transfer; it has hints of the supernatural. Her first straightforward fantasy (debatably Supernatural-Fiction) novels were the Vampire Chronicles – Interview with the Vampire (1976), The Vampire Lestat (1985), The Queen of the Damned (1988), The Tale of the Body Thief (1992) and Memnoch the Devil (1995). Interview with the Vampire was filmed as Interview with the Vampire (1994); there is also The Vampire Lestat Graphic Novel (graph 1991).
AR was responsible, if not for creating, at least for popularizing and in many respects crystallizing the mythology of the Revisionist-Fantasy version of the Vampire. Interview with the Vampire, a book which AR has explicitly linked to a period of alcoholic excess following the death of a daughter in childhood, is charged with an extraordinary and perverse eroticism in its description of the relationship between the new and reluctant vampire Louis, his begetter Lestat and the eternal child Claudia, whom Lestat creates as a vampire in order to trap Louis into a version of family life. The struggle for power between these three has elements of sexual ritual and family romance; Claudia's position, trapped in a child's body for decades of unlife, is a particularly poignant working-out of one aspect of the Immortality theme attached to vampirism. The settings – 19th-century New Orleans and Paris – are gloomily atmospheric.
The Frame Story, in which Louis tells of his past to a contemporary journalist, is an interesting authenticating device in that Louis is giving an Awful Warning, but the journalist's immediate reaction is to try to become a vampire. Perhaps Rice's major piece of revisionism with the vampire legend was to reinvent the vampire as a sexual Icon for a period of polymorphous freedom.
Rice's free way with the vampire mythology continued its journey into the inventively rococo in The Vampire Lestat and its immediate sequel The Queen of the Damned. Lestat, himself now subject to revision once he becomes narrator, and revealed as a countrified aristocrat rather than the mere peasant boor mocked by Louis, acquires a new career as rock star and investigates the past of vampirism, tracing back the lines of begetting until he discovers transfigured, godlike and seemingly petrified Egyptian vampires and learns of vampirism's demonic origins. Lestat takes to restricting his depredations to criminals, a major revisionist trope, and we hear a certain amount of the bars where vampire groupies hang out in the hope that they will be visited there – another Rice invention from which other writers, notably Laurell K Hamilton in her Anita Blake sequence, have productively drawn.
The Tale of the Body Thief involves Lestat and his elderly lover, a member of the Talamasca order of Secret Guardians featured rather more extensively in the Mayfair Witches sequence (see below), in a complicated tale of Identity Exchange in which Lestat is briefly returned to human status. In Memnoch the Devil, Lestat finds himself taken up by God and the Devil and subjected to an extended revisionist history of humanity and its religions. As with Rice's other series, these books have become subject to the law of diminishing returns and repositories for whatever notions take her fancy; but it would be a mistake to let this reduce one's sense of the important contribution to the vampire mythos represented by the first two.
Less popular but probably more interesting has been her Mayfair Witches sequence, to date comprising The Witching Hour (1990), Lasher (1993) and Taltos: Lives of the Mayfair Witches (1994). The first is for much of its considerable length a cross between a Dynastic Fantasy and a straightforward Supernatural Fiction. The Mayfair family – a huge clan whose genealogical ramifications are much complicated by incestuous and quasi-incestuous, often pederast, couplings – are today based mainly in New Orleans, but their ancestry can be traced back to a Witch burnt in the Scottish Highlands during the Witch Craze. Not all Mayfairs are possessed of special powers, but all subscribe to the system whereby in each generation there is one woman who will be their ruling witch. They are under investigation by a secret society of scholars, the Talamasca, whose motives are obscure. Many Mayfairs are aware that one of their mansions is haunted not merely by ancestral Ghosts but by a weird and evil Spirit, Lasher. When the new leading witch, Rowan, weds a non-Mayfair (who proves much later in the saga to be a scion of a lost branch of the family), Lasher takes advantage of their union to bring himself into existence. Clearly nonhuman, he reaches adulthood in minutes and abducts his mother, upon whom he wishes to father a child, another "Taltos" like himself. This he succeeds in doing in Lasher, although eventually both he and the child are destroyed by Rowan and her husband. In Taltos – conceptually although not literarily the most ambitious (the writing becomes progressively sloppier during the series) – much more is revealed to us, through the discovery of another of the Taltos species. These quasi-immortal (> Immortality) benevolent beings, gifted with an enhanced racial memory and older than humankind, came to a virtually uninhabited Britain when their insular Lost Land erupted and vanished beneath the seas. There they built megaliths like Stonehenge before incursive humans began to slaughter them. The Taltos retreated to a remote Highland glen, but, unable to keep their secret forever, eventually passed themselves off as an unusually tall human race, the Picts, discovering they could on occasion breed with humans – usually disastrously, unless with "witches" (it is by now clear that AR is not using the term in its conventional sense) – and, successfully producing further Taltos, with the Little People (> Faerie), a species perhaps even older than themselves. (King Arthur was maybe a pure or hybrid Taltos.) Modern "witches" are those humans who possess the genes so that they can, under correct circumstances, mate successfully with a Taltos to produce another, or achieve the same result between two humans if the pairing chances to be ideal. The seduction by a 13-year-old child-witch of Rowan's husband brings yet another Taltos into being. Clearly further sequels are in store.
AR's sole fantasy singleton is The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned (1989), which sees Ramses the Great (1304-1237BC) brought back to life in Edwardian England, where – and later in Cairo – he naïvely wreaks havoc. It has some interest but suffers from a tendency to descend into bodice-ripper mode. Cry to Heaven (1990), nonfantasy, is about 18th-century castrati and their erotic entanglements. Two singletons, both soft pornography as by Anne Rampling, are Belinda (1986), about a middle-aged man's affair with an underage girl, and Exit to Eden (1985) – filmed as Exit to Eden (1995) – about sexual slavery.
The topic of sexual slavery and the idea that fulfilment can be found only in the dominance of one partner by another, generally through sadistic acts, is taken emetically further in AR's much less soft-core pornographic fantasy series, the Sleeping Beauty trilogy, as by A N Roquelaure: The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty (1983), Beauty's Punishment (1984) and Beauty's Release (1985). The 15-year-old Sleeping Beauty is awoken not by a kiss but by rape and is taken by the rapist prince to a pornotopic Fantasyland where a Queen and her aristocrats subject high-born youths from neighbouring lands to humiliating and sadistic degradation on the basis that only such a regime can "train" the unfortunates – through perverting them absolutely – to rule their own lands well. Improbably, the men are forced to sport perpetual erections.
AR's protagonists are typically impossibly beautiful, dwelling in a world of fabulous glamour and vast riches; characterization is not her strength – her characters are those of a high-budget Hollywood movie, and as remote from both empathy and reality. This may be part of her popular appeal. The themes of pederasty (with either boys or girls and often as forcible rape) and sadistic sexual dominance – both of which could be regarded as a nonsupernatural form of vampirism – are in the Roquelaure novels made explicit; they are never far from the surface in much of the rest of AR's work. There is no doubt that AR is a compelling storyteller – though often the first 100 pages or so of a novel are heavy going – but it is concerning that her preoccupations should be thus. [RK/JG]
further reading: Prism of the Night: A Biography of Anne Rice (1991) by Katherine Ramsland.
Anne O'Brien Rice