Anne Rice’s use of the Bible in her literary output falls into three periods, each marked with personal tragedy that influenced her fiction: an early period (1960–2005) during which she is influenced by the aesthetic and numinous experience of Roman Catholic ritual and practice, rather than Catholic institutional structure—these events informed Rice’s literary explorations into the problems of abandonment, loneliness, and a personal tragedy (the death of her daughter, Michelle “Mouse,” 1966–1972); a middle period (2005–2010), during which Rice returned to her Catholic roots and began intense and structured Bible study as she continued to examine the problems of abandonment, loneliness, and a second set of personal tragedies (her diabetes and, later, the death of  husband, Stan Rice)—this period is best shown in her Christ the Lord novels; and a Recuso (“I refuse”) period (2010–present), having studied the Bible and having written the (reimagined) life of Christ, she suffered a third personal tragedy—her Recuso to the social stance of the Roman Catholic Church that negated her fundamental personal beliefs. The rejection was so complete that Rice abandoned not only her Catholicism but Christianity itself. She returned to writing supernatural literature.

Early Period (1960–2005).

Anne Rice’s exposure to the Bible began in her early childhood, but the exposure was indirect. Reared in a devout Roman Catholic milieu in the 1940s, Rice attended the Chapel of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in New Orleans, Louisiana. Rice’s later lush and precise description of the chapel, as well as her attendance there, suggest that the Bible was more a part of a total aesthetic experience that included “flickering candles” and “lingering incense” (Rice, 2008, p. 7). Certainly, the aesthetic of the church ritual had a memorable impact on Rice, since she remembers the “taffeta, … thick embroidery, … and … lovely white lace-trimmed surplice” (Rice, 2008, p. 18). Rice recalled that “our religion was interesting, and vast, and immensely satisfying … ” (Rice, 2008, p. 70).

The author does not mention hearing the Bible read during the mass, but every Catholic mass has an Epistle and a Gospel read aloud. Furthermore, most of the Mass, itself, is made up of biblical sources. Hence, most Roman Catholics are well grounded in biblical phrases and stories, even if they cannot identify the precise biblical chapter and verse.

In a church that presented saints as living and helpful persons, the young Rice “talked all the time” to St. Therese of Liseaux, St. Joseph, and St. Mary. The author writes that this Roman Catholic world was the one she “knew before I was taught to read” (Rice, 2008, p. 12) and that “all of that ended up influencing my work tremendously.” Rice’s “divine dialog” spiritual practice later played an important role in her middle period when she again embraced the church. Entering college at Texas Woman’s University in 1960, the author recalls the freedom and happiness that college independence brought her (Rice, 2008, p. 74). In the same year, after having a conversation with a priest who told her that she would never be happy outside the Roman Catholic Church, the young Anne Rice decided that she was not to be held captive by Roman Catholic dogma: she revolted and became an atheist (2008, p. 121).

Despite her departure from faith, Rice maintained her deep interest in religion and her desire to discuss religion and its mysticism, as well as the “quest for meaning” (Riley, 1996, p. 280), all of which also plagued her character Lestat throughout the Vampire Chronicles. For Lestat, the “quest for meaning” is the question of self-identify—is he “evil” or not? Indeed, as Rice works through the Chronicles, the essential question has to do with defining evil. A major source for that definition for Rice was the American historian and religious studies scholar Jeffrey Burton Russell and his four (of five) books on evil and the devil (Riley, 1996, p. 296).

Middle Period (2005–2010).

Just as the death of her daughter, Michele, in 1972 may have spurred Rice to begin a creative journey with her vampires Louis, Lestat, Armand, and Claudia, so her near-death diabetic crisis of 1998, and then the 2002 death of her husband, Stan, appear to have played a combined role in the author’s return to the Roman Catholic Church and to Bible study (McEwen).

Rice says (2008, p. 207), “From the summer of 2002 through the spring of 2005, my life was consumed with research.” This time period (2002–2005) includes the completion and publication of the novels Blackwood Farm (2002) and Blood Canticle (2003), both of which were planned to be the concluding novels of the Vampire Chronicles set of 10 works (Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned, The Tale of the Body Thief, Memnoch the Devil, The Vampire Armand, Merrick, Blood and Gold, Blackwood Farm, and Blood Canticle).

Yet, in 2002, Rice had begun her close reading and study of the New Testament. She writes, “I studied not only the ancient historians Philo and Josephus, and all the New Testament scholarship I could lay hands on, but scripture itself, reading over and over again the Gospels until the language, to which I’d grown so dead in childhood, came alive again, and the vital story of Christ’s life flowed through chapter and verse” (2008, p. 207).

Rice used scholarly texts such as John A. T. Robinson’s The Priority of John, but she especially brought to the Gospels her professional writer’s ability to determine the text and subtext of plot, character, and story (2008, p. 217). Based upon her writer’s aesthetic, Rice concluded that the Gospels were what they claimed to be: “first-person witness … and … our earliest and most accurate knowledge of Christ Himself” (2008, p. 218). Leland Ryken (1992, p. 53) writes that an ability to empathize with the characters in a Bible text allows a biblical text to succeed.

Because of the narrative presentation used in the Bible, the book is more like a literary work than a theological proof text (Ryken, 1992, p. 11). In literature, the exercise of imagination allows the merger of our current time and place with the time and place of the literary (or biblical) text. This imaginative approach, familiar to every writer, was used by Rice in her study of the Gospels, and the result was profound. In December 1998, Rice returned to the Catholic Church of her childhood, having experienced a flood of “complete love” for Jesus and a sense of awe and reverence for the texts that depicted him—the Gospels.

Rice believes that her novels reflect her “longing for God” and that the longing is best presented in her Memnoch the Devil (2008, p. 168) in which Memnoch offers Lestat an opportunity to enter God’s plan for salvation. Lestat declined, but Anne Rice did not. Of course, Rice’s research into and reading of the Bible added much to the theological plan and plot of Memnoch. In 2009, Rice opined that “angels are the new vampires” (Flood), and the reverse would also appear to be true: that Rice’s vampires are actually angels in the tradition of Milton’s Satan and, ultimately, of the Satan of Matthew 4. Lestat appears to be Rice’s mirror image to Christ who, unlike the vampire, accepts his part in God’s plan of salvation.

In 2002, Rice was sitting in church “talking to [the] Lord” as she did in childhood when she realized that her work had to be consecrated to God (Rice, “Christ the Lord”). She decided to “do violence to my career” and take on the task of writing the life of Christ. She wanted to write the book in first person, and she wanted to “consecrate the book to Christ” (Rice, Out, p. 325). She also knew the difficulty of hagiography, writing at her website that she agreed with Dorothy Sayers that “it was impossible for anyone to ever write convincing fiction about Jesus, since the real character in the Gospels utterly dwarfs the best literary character we could ever possibly imagine” (Rice, “Christ the Lord”). Yet, Rice, one of the most successful novelists in the United States, knew at that time that she had to turn away from the darkness of Lestat to the light of Christ; hers was to be a “journey into intense Biblical study, intense historical research, and intense effort to write novels about the Jesus of Scripture, the Jesus of Faith, in His own vibrant First Century World” (Rice, “Christ the Lord”), and the journey resulted in Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and, later, Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana.

Retelling the story of Jesus, especially the young Jesus, generally proves to be especially difficult for any writer. A major challenge would be that, until the launch of his ministry, the gospel presents Jesus only twice: Jesus as infant (and even then, only indirectly through the action of his parents and the first worshippers) and then, once more, as a typically thoughtless 12-year-old who leaves his traveling extended family to talk to the rabbis at the Temple during Passover. That is, the Gospel is silent about an approximately 11-year gap and an 18-year gap in the life of Christ.

Rice meets the challenge with close research (including the scholars Mircea Eliade, Jeffrey Burton Russell, Karen Armstrong, Carlo Ginzburg), gleaning the details of the everyday life and belief of a Jewish family of Christ’s time. Such research provides close particulars that give verisimilitude to historical fiction, but the research does not provide plot material (that is, character movement and motivation). The great spaces in the early life of Jesus have to be filled in. To meet that challenge, very early Christian writers produced gospel pseudepigrapha (also called gospel “apocrypha”), meaning works written by others but attributed to the apostles. Such works were considered useful for study by early Christians, as long as they did not contradict the received New Testament canon in circulation at the time. Rice chose not to write her own “apocrypha,” but turned to pseudepigraphical ancient texts such as the Gospel [book] of Enoch (170–64 B.C.E.), the Gospel of Mary (second century C.E.), and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (40–140 C.E.?) (Riley, 1996, p. 283). Rice is quoted in Riley as saying that she used the Gospel of Thomas, but she actually meant the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (150–190 C.E.?) (Rice, Out, p. 336), a pseudepigraphic work about the imagined childhood of Jesus. In the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, we twice see the young Jesus causing harm to playmates. Rice says that she “chose to embrace this material, to enclose it within the canonical framework as best I could” (Rice, Out, p. 336).

Out of Egypt begins, strikingly, with a single pronoun, “I.” The reader knows immediately that Jesus is the narrator and a boy of seven, with limited understanding of the events he presents. The secret of Jesus’s birth and role as Messiah is kept from the boy until revealed by Jesus’s uncle, Cleopas, “always the talker.” The first chapter presents the child Jesus as haunted by his unintended causing of the death of a young bully. In gang roughhouse, Jesus is rushed and hurt by the bigger boy. Involuntarily, Jesus shouts a prophecy (“You’ll never get where you’re going!”) at the bully—and Jesus, following Mark 5:30, felt the power flow out of him as the boy falls dead. Later, following Acts 9:40–41, Jesus goes to the dead boy’s home where the family is grieving, and the playmate is brought back to life and presented to his parents (Platt, 1963, loc. 1047). As the novel continues, Rice weaves Bible text with historical research and speculative narration.

The next installment of the Christ the Lord series is The Road to Cana. The novel begins with the most important of all questions: “Who Is Christ the Lord?” Then follow two quick accounts of the Nativity and the Purification, followed by the “I”—the narrator who is now the adult Jesus, aware of who he is and what he must do. Rice is careful to show Jesus’s humanity, even giving him a sweet, loving relationship with a woman, his cousin, Avigail, whom he wishes to marry, yet will not because he knows marriage is not part of his calling. Later, Avigail marries Reuben (the “Cana” of the title is a reference to the marriage miracle at John 2:1–11). After the wedding, Jesus selects followers and goes to his ministry.

The most important section of The Road to Cana occurs immediately after Jesus’s baptism when he is confronted by “Ahriman, Mastema, Satanel, Satan, Lucifer” (Rice, Cana, p. 186). This confrontation resembles the theological discussions that Rice mastered in her earlier work, as, for example, in the intense discussions about evil and self-identity between Louis and Lestat in Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat.

Rice’s historical and biblical research shows in that interesting and nuanced verbal contest between Jesus and Satan. Jesus is not mocking the Adversary when he says “Careful … If you become too angry you may dissolve in a puff of smoke” because Jesus does not need mockery as a defense against “Azazel,” but he does know that humor is disarming. Following the biblical text, the devil takes Jesus to great heights, where, surprisingly, the discussion continues about Time itself. Jesus makes it clear that to truly understand Time is to understand God and the divine plan; what comes out of the discussion is that Jesus understands Time, but the Lord of the Flies does not. While at least one reviewer (Miller) thinks that Rice is trying to be too “literary,” the skill and understanding that Rice demonstrates in the cosmic debate, without the shouting or posturing that a lesser writer might have used, is both interesting and thoughtful.

Finally, in the last chapter, Jesus’s beloved Avigail marries Reuben, not Jesus, although he is present at the wedding. Immediately after the matrimonial, Jesus gathers followers, and off they go on the journey that should have led to the next Christ the Lord, the novel that was not to be.

Recuso Period (2010–Present).

On 28 July 2010, Anne Rice published on her public Facebook wall her Recuso, her “I refuse”: “I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life.” Rice continued: “For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

Rice’s Recuso mirrors her first rejection of Catholicism during her freshman year of college. The young Anne Rice did not wish to be captured by dogma, both religious and doctrinal; the mature Anne Rice fled the Catholic prohibitive stance on social issues in which she held deep belief: gay rights, women’s rights, women’s health rights, political liberalism, and life itself.

Her description of Christianity as “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous” describes the Satan of Road to Cana. Rice chose to align herself, not with Lucifer, but with the life-affirming Jesus of Road to Cana. She rejected the Roman Catholic Church as an institution, although the aesthetic of the church continued to inform her life (Riley, 1996, pp. 144–145). Angels are the new vampires (as in the novels of the series Songs of the Seraphim), and werewolves (the Wolf Gift series) are the new outsiders asking the eternal Anne Rice question: Who am I?

Bibliography

References

  • “Catechism of the Catholic Church—‘and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord’.” www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s2c2a2.htm.
  • Flood, Alison. “Angels are the new vampires, says Anne Rice.” The Guardian, 26 October 2009.
  • Miller, Laura. “Review-a-Day—Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice, reviewed by Salon.com—Powell’s Books.” www.powells.com/review/2005_11_04.html.
  • Platt, Rutherford Hayes. The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden. Cleveland, Ohio: World Pub. Co., 1963.
  • Rice, Anne. Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt; A Novel. New York: Knopf, 2005.
  • Rice, Anne. Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession. New York: Knopf, 2008.
  • Rice, Anne. “Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt Editions Introduction.” www.annerice.com/ChristTheLord-Profession.html.
  • Rice, Anne. “Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana by Anne Rice.” www.randomhouse.com/book/153672/christ-the-lord-the-road-to-cana-by-anne-rice/ 9781400043521.
  • Riley, Michael. Conversations with Anne Rice: An Intimate, Enlightening Portrait of Her Life and Work. New York: Ballantine, 1996.
  • Ryken, Leland. Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible. 2d ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1992.

Further Reading

  • Chung, Debbie Joyce. “Such Blood, Such Power: The Lot Complex in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.” Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 6, no. 2 (2000): 173–181.
  • Landsberg, Mitchell. “Anne Rice Discusses Her Decision to Quit Christianity.” Los Angeles Times, 7 August 2010.
  • Ramsland, Katherine M. Prism of the Night: A Biography of Anne Rice. New York: Dutton, 1991.
  • Rout, Kathleen. “Who Do You Love? Anne Rice’s Vampires and Their Moral Transition.” Journal of Popular Culture 36, no. 3 (2003): 473–479.
  • Worley, Lloyd. “Anne Rice’s Protestant Vampires.” In The Blood Is the Life: Vampires in Literature, edited by Leonard G. Heldreth and Mary Pharr, pp. 79–92. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University, 1999.

Lloyd Worley