A Conversation with Anne Rice about Christ The Lord Out of Egypt
What led you to the idea of writing this book, and then to the actual
writing of it?
Obsession led me to write this book, and it's been that way with every book I've ever written. I become completely consumed by a theme, by characters, by a desire to meet a challenge, and the book begins to grow. With Christ the Lord, the obsession began in my earliest childhood in pure religious devotion. Though I broke with my religion in college, I was still obsessed with religious questions, the basicsWhy are we here? Why is the world so beautiful? Why is it so important that we lead good lives, even when we don't believe in an afterlife? I never stopped with this obsessive thinking and exploring, and the idea for the bookJesus in his own wordswas always there. I went back to the Catholic Church in 1998, completely. In 2002, when I was sitting in church before Mass one Saturday evening, I made the declaration to Christ that I would do this book and nothing else. And the entire purpose, shape, toneall of that came together.
Those familiar with your work will immediately recognize this subject matter as a departure for you. Assuming you agree, why head down this particular road?
This subject is in no way a departure from that of my previous works; no one who knows my work could possibly think so. The whole theme of Interview with the Vampire was Louis's quest for meaning in a godless world. He searched to find the oldest existing "immortal" simply to ask "What is the meaning of what we are?" I was always compelled to seek the "big answers."
Jesus Christ narrates this book. Explain your decision to make him the narrator.
Jesus is the first-person narrator of this book because the use of first-person narrators is the way I know how to write a book with the greatest power and chance of artistic success. The intimate voice of the narrator in earlier novels worked powerfully for me. My first novel was written that way. Though I've written many novels in the third person, I've never felt as close to the characters as I felt to Louis, Lestat, Marius, and, finally, to this character, this fictional "creation" of Christ the Lord.
The Author's Note in the book touches on the research that you did. What did that research comprise? What types of texts did you consult?
Research was as total as I could make it. As I explain in the Author's Note, I explored the ancient authorsJosephus, Philo of Alexandria, the writings of the sages, the rabbis, the Evangelists, the Bible itself relentlessly. But I also studied as much as I could of current archaeology having to do with first-century Palestine. I read as much as I could in New Testament scholarship, reading books by cynical critics of Christ, skeptics who wanted to debunk Him, and also great scholars. I read the great Catholic scholars Meier and Brown, and others. The field is far too vast for me to be comprehensive, and my work is ongoing. I do not read the ancient languages, but I am beginning to study Greek.
How did you sort out issues of artistic license when it came to a story the basics of which are almost universally known (if not universally believed to be true)?
When it comes to this book, artistic license does not really exist. What I did was take the Jesus of the Gospels, the Son of God, the Son of the Virgin Mary, and sought to make Him utterly believable, a vital breathing character. Of course I created fictional scene and dialogue. But it is all within an immense and solid frame. This was a huge challenge. I had to move in His world, and know His world, and that took the immense research. But license? I took as little as possible. I worked within the strictures of what we have been taught about Christ the Lord. That's why I used the title.
Would you hope that readers would come away from this book understanding and knowing more about Christianity and the figure of Christ, or did you write it for people to simply enjoy as a novel?
I wrote this book to make Christ real to people who had never thought about Him as real. I wrote this book to make the readers care so much about Him that they see him perhaps as never before. I wrote it for all my readers and for all readers.
Re-telling the Christian story is the essence of my vocation. And we re-tell that story so that it can be heard anew. That has been going on since the Evangelists in one form or another. I am no Evangelist. But I am an artist who wants to make the most significant art I can make. And for this art to have value, it must be utterly true to the spirit of Christ as I have received it from multiple sources: the Gospels, my church, my prayers, my meditation.
For people who are not coming to the book from any particular religious background, what do you hope they'll take away from it? Put another way, do you think an atheist could ever like this book?
I hope readers will come away caring passionately about this character, Jesus Christ, and wanting to know infinitely more about Him. We have become so desensitized to language pertaining to Jesus. I've tried to reinvent Jesus for those who don't want to think about Him or know Him. I hope that readers who do not come from a religious background will take away a sense of Jesus, the Jew, and Jesus, the child of miracles. And I hope that the book will give pleasure and satisfaction for those who do know Him and care about Him, and that does seem to be happening. I hope biblical scholars will see something here they can recommend. I hope atheists will feel a part of the world inside the book, and say "I was there!" I hope my oldest readers will embrace this character as they have Marcel, or Tonio, or Lestat or Louis in the past.
Of course I think an atheist could like this book, because it brings to life the period, the milieu, the people who brought about one of the greatest religious revolutions in history.
I tried to do justice to Jesus in every conceivable way I knew in this book. I can't give any more to anything than what I've given to this book.
Were you nervous about writing this story, either from a personal standpoint or because of any concern about how closely or intensely it would be scrutinized?
No, I wasn't nervous. I was scared to death. I was so scared I couldn't do it, yet I felt so compelled to. I went almost out of my mind as I sank into this material and as I prayed and studied and wrote. I was terrified. But I knew I had to do this. I felt strongly that no one had done it in the way that I was doing it. There have been many novels about Jesus Christ, but there has not, to my knowledge, been one like this, one that accommodated entirely all the knowledge we are given about Jesus while maintaining that Jesus is who He said He was: The Son of God.
I was scared to death of being attacked and misunderstood, and pre-judged. Above all, I was and am scared of being dismissed. But it does not matter. I will go on writing the best books I can possibly write about this subject no matter what happens to me.
Will you ever write another Vampire novel?
I can't see myself doing that. My vampires were metaphors for the outsiders, the lost, the wanderers in the darkness who remembered the warmth of God's light but couldn't find it. My wish to explore that is gone now. I want to meet a much bigger challenge.
The book ends when Jesus is still a boy. Is there a sequel on the way?
Yes, there are sequels on the way. I feel that keenly and can't deny itI don't want to deny it. But this book must stand on its own. And I did what I set out to do in so far as I talked and walked and saw with my character within the Gospel framework, and in light of the latest research in many fields. I feel a great satisfaction in having done that.
What do you make of the current religious climate in this country?
I wish that we had more visible Christian and Catholic leaders who talked about love. We have many, but we could use more. It is tragic that many in America think of usthe Christiansas being people who hate others. We need leaders who open their arms to others. We need leaders like Fulton Sheen and Billy Graham and Rick Warren and N. T. Wright. We need to love one another; we need to acknowledge the goodness and the good intentions of our brothers and sisters; we need to stop fighting Christian against Christian. I have no time now for anything but trying to love other people. That is a full-time job. To fill my writing with that will take everything I have. I want to love all the children of GodChristian, Jew, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhisteveryone. I want to love Gay Christians and straight Christians.
But the point is, we need people to make visible the great embracing and compassionate message of Christianity, people to continue the revolution started by Christ Himself, people to bear witness that the story of Jesus Christ is going on and on without end, gaining power with each century, and reaching more and more people. We need saints. We have to become saints. We have to become like Christ. Anything less is simply not enough. The world doesn't need any more mediocrity or hedged bets.
Reproduced by permission of Random House, 2005
A Fan's Interview with Anne Rice
What areas of classical mythology are you
most interested in, and how do you go about incorporating them into a new novel?
Well, the answer is that I'm fascinated by almost any mythology that I can get my hands on, but I guess Greek and Roman mythology really enchants me. And I don't know that I've consciously incorporated mythology into my novels--I did explore very deeply Egyptian lore when I created the characters of Akasha and Akeel, the eldest of the vampires. But I'm usually working on my own mythology, my own realm of created characters. But again, I'm in love with all sorts of mythology, and obviously stories in mythology inspire my though I may not be conscious of it.
What literary works do you believe most influenced your novels?
That is a very difficult question to answer, because I read so widely and so much--even for a non-reader. I think the Brontë sisters--Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, two books that I read before I ever wrote Interview with the Vampire--I think they had a terrific influence on me. I recently reread both of those books and I loved them, and I think they continue to have an influence on me. I am in love with Emily Brontë's Heathcliff--I absolutely adore him. But I did a lot of reading when I was in college. I read Virginia Woolf, and Hemingway, and Shakespeare, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, and I read some very pure horror fiction from England that I really loved--in particular, J. Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla, a vampire story that was written in the 1870s and is a very wonderfully sensuous vampire story. I think it's influenced many movies. And I also read the stories of Algernon Blackwood, a very distinguished Englishman--I believe before he died he was reading ghost stories on BBC radio. And I also read the stories of M.R. James, a very distinguished English gentleman. And I loved all that fiction--I absolutely loved it. So everything went into the mix. I'm definitely more influenced by European writers than I am by American writers, there's no doubt about that. I lean toward English writers. And for Merrick the novel that's going to be published in October of 2000, I read a lot of Conan Doyle to get the British voice that David needs to tell that story.
Your attitude toward Christianity seemed pretty dim in your early Vampire books, almost as if you were saying God doesn't exist. However, in your more recent books--especially Memnoch the Devil--that view seems to have changed. Has your outlook on religion changed?
Well the answer to that is I'm always looking, and I'm always asking questions. I mean, if you go all the way back to Interview with the Vampire, which was published in 1976, the vampires are really talking a lot about God and the Devil. Louis's quest--my tragic hero Louis--his quest is to find the oldest vampire in the world, and to find out if that vampire knows anything about God and the Devil. The answer was, of course, rather tragic in Interview with the Vampire, but I go on asking, I go on seeking answers. Now in Memnoch the Devil, which happens by the way to be my favorite of all The Vampire Chronicles, we don't know really whether Memnoch told the truth to Lestat or not--it's left as a mystery, and that's very deliberate. I'm going to keep on asking these questions, I'm going to keep on dealing with the supernatural in a lot of ways, and I can't get very far away from Christianity, I can't get very far away from the angels and the saints. I work them in always, in some way. In Merrick, Merrick's voodoo incorporates Catholic saints and statues of the virgin--it's in my blood, all of this, and there's no pun intended there.
After hearing of the time you were transported in a coffin in a horse-drawn carriage across New Orleans, I was wondering what plans, in any, you might have for your own funeral when your time comes. I'm fascinated to know!
Well, my own funeral! All I know is that I'd like to be laid out in a coffin in my own house, right here where I live. I would like my coffin to be put in the double parlor, and I would like all the flowers that are brought to the funeral to be white. And that's about it. If I could then be transported to the nearby cemetery, Lafayette #1, that would be wonderful--that's the cemetery where all my fictional Mayfairs are buried, but I don't actually own a plot or a grave in Lafayette #1, so I don't know how far that hearse is going to have to carry me. It may be to someplace out in the suburbs--the rest is unknown. Of course I would want the most joyous music at my funeral--I'd love people to sing a hymn called "I Am the Bread of Life", but after that hymn is sung, then it can be Dixieland bands, all the way. And merriment. And lots of wine served, certainly.
With all the talent in your family--your husband being an artist and poet, your son a published novelist--is living in your house different from any other American household? Do the three of you ever sit around and share ideas? I would love to be at the dinner table with the three of you and listen to the conversation.
You know, I don't know if our conversation is all that exciting. We do talk about what we are doing to each other. We do, I don't know--kind of report to each other what we're doing. And at this point of course I am so proud of my son Christopher. I am so proud of his novel A Density of Souls--I thought it was really, absolutely wonderful. If I didn't think it was wonderful I just wouldn't mention it, so I can assure you I'm telling the truth. I was just blown away that he could write something at the age of twenty-one that was so intense and so good. But many times our conversation is just about family matters, just trivial things: where are we going to go out to dinner? What's the food like? When are we going to have a family reunion? What's going on with my mother-in-law? What's happening with our cousins? It can be very mundane, very ordinary.
How does the beautiful artwork for your book covers come about? Are you involved in choosing them?
Well, it's a pleasure to answer this question. The artwork on the book covers is chosen by my editor Victoria Wilson. Victoria Wilson has been my editor for twenty-five years. She has a knack for coming up with absolutely beautiful artwork. She just has a real intuition where that's concerned. She finds exactly the right thing. I think that the readers of the books very much appreciate the artwork that she chooses. I've loved it.
I've been excited about every cover that Victoria has ever created. And I'm very glad that I'm at a publishing house that allows Victoria to have a free hand with that and to choose what she thinks is good.
I've read: Rice fans identify with the Vampires because we feel like outsiders. Do you see yourself as an outsider after all these years of your writing and your fantastic success?
First of all, thank you for referring to my success as fantastic. Yes, I feel like an outsider, and I always will feel like one. I've always felt that I wasn't a member of any particular group. And I think that writers in particular as they gain success feel like outsiders because writers don't come together in real groups. You can look at the New York Times Bestseller List and you can be pretty sure that the writers on that list don't know each other very well. Maybe two or three know each other, but it isn't like we all go to a party every weekend and we talk about our experience as best selling authors. That doesn't happen. I also think that process by which you become a writer is a pretty lonely one. We don't have a group apprenticeship like a violinist might training for an orchestra, or a ballet student might being in a company that does ballets. We don't have any of that. We write on our own time, we write when we can. There may be writing groups where people meet but its occasional. You really do it all at your own computer or your own typewriter by yourself.
Thank you for all your wonderful stories. Do you personally visit the places you write about, such as Brazil or England or Paris? Or do you just extensively research. I love reading about all the places visited by the Vampires and Witches in your books, every location just seems so alive and I feel like I'm really there too.
I do visit most of the places that I write about. I have been to Brazil and I have been not only in Rio de Janeiro but also in the Amazon, and I really loved it. I wrote about it with great passion afterward in the book Violin. And I have been to England and to Paris. I love both places. In England I went to Glastonbury and I visited the supposed tomb of King Arthur. I also went to Canterbury because I wanted to see the cathedral there. I went to Stonehenge of course. I wish I had spent more time in England. I really do. I've been to Paris more than once, I'm not sure if it's three times or twice. The Paris that I describe in my books is something of course that I have to envision because it is the Paris of the eighteenth century, but when Lestat goes to Paris now, and he sees things, those are the things that I saw. Some of the places I've written about I have not been. I have not been to India yet, and I hope to go to India, I want very much to do it, and so there's some research involved when I describe those places. In Merrick, for example, I describe the Guatemalan jungle. I haven't been there. But as I've said, I've been to the Amazon and I've been to the rainforest in the middle of the city of Rio, and that prepared me very much I think to write about that Safari in Merrick. By the way, I hope that safari was a lot of fun for readers. It was fun for me.
What is the most difficult novel you have had to write to date?
The most difficult novel I have had to write in terms of just getting it done was The Vampire Lestat. That's the second one in the Chronicles. It took a year to write. I had a very difficult time with it. Right up to a little over halfway through. Then, when the character of Marius entered the novel, I wrote the last 300 pages in eleven days. So I really felt terrific about that. But that novel was very hard. Now, there's another way of looking at this question. The most painful novel for me to write was probably the novel Violin, which involved a ghost named Stefan and a heroine named Triana. And was about the supernatural and also about music. All of the novels involve some kind of pain and some kind of special difficulty. But I think those were the two most difficult.
The atmosphere and history of wonderful New Orleans imbues your work and setting. It feels so essential to the story of the Mayfair witches. Do you feel any of it could unfold in any other location?
Well, I am not sure. The Mayfair witches really were born to be in New Orleans. And I do love New Orleans with my whole soul. And I wrote The Witching Hour, Lasher, and Taltos, the three novels in that trilogy right in the house in New Orleans. It's in this house that the Mayfair witches live. This house on Chestnut and First Street is the home of the Mayfair witches, and people know that. And I don't mind people knowing that at all. This house is a character in the novel. The setting of Merrick had to be New Orleans, and I feel that Merrick is a very special New Orleans character.
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, 2000.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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