Tuesday, October 25, 2011

All Hallow's Read #3: Vampires on the Fence

"Perfect! That's just perfect! Burn the place! Burn everything we own! Have us living in a field like cattle!
"You thought you could have it all."
"Oh, shut-up, Louis!"

Lestat and Louis
The film: Interview with the Vampire

I feel a few lines from our friends in New Orleans only fitting in light of the approaching weekend.

Lestat de Lioncourt
These lines were not in the novel. This scene was rather condensed for the film. In the novel, the plantation house, Pointe du Lac burned after it was sacked by slaves. Louis had just finished forcing Lestat to make peace with his father (which speaks well enough to Lestat's character in and of itself) before Louis mercifully--if a bit against Louis' will--ended the old man's suffering. These lines, however, are the sum of Louis and Lestat's relationship. Louis lived always existentially, even before he was turned. Lestat had been trying to live a normal life ever since he was turned by Magnus (The Vampire Lestat) and his abandonment by Marius. Everything Lestat ever strove for was to be as extravagantly fabulous as possible. His attachment to Louis was fortuitous, in that he managed to attach himself to a wealthy land owner. The argument that Louis and Lestat must constantly play out revolves around their differing opinions of their existances: Lestat maintains throughout his relationship with Louis that Louis cannot hope to continue to deny his true nature as "a killer"; Louis cannot live on rats alone. However, the flip-side is that Lestat's constant need for material wealth to create his smoke screen  (when it would be much more discrete to hide among the thronging poor) illustrates Lestat's own continued denial.  

Louis de Pointe du Lac
Anne Rice's vampires play many roles, not the least of which is trying to appear human. As I mentioned, Lestat, when he could, often lived behind a smoke screen of opulence. His attachment to a plantation owner, for instance, which you would think would be a completely opaque title ended up being as transparent as plate glass. In our modern society, this would be accomplished much easier; you could stick yourself in a huge mansion, never come out and people would call you a recluse, but not think much of it. In the late 18th century in New Orleans, a plantation owner had slaves, duties and obligations which the inability to appear in day-light alone would have aroused suspicion. And it did. Louis' existentialism probably would have served him better. Louis was trapped in his caste. Short of suicide, he did everything in his power to escape it, even gambling it away. He did not have to wait long before his own slaves revolted, seeing through the smoke screen created by Lestat, which he also thwarted, as his lack of restraint led to questions, and eventually dark suspicions. Lestat and Louis are not the only vampires in the novel that must act the part. Claudia, after her initial change wore off, eventually grew into a woman in a girl's body. In the movie she was about ten or eleven--in the book she was only just five years old. She often had to act the part of a child in public to withdraw attention from her high manners and uncharacteristically high vocabulary and diction. Well educated and rich, she did not take long to mature in everything but form. Louis described Armand's cast of vampire actors as "vampires pretending to be humans, pretending to be vampires." However, Armand succeeded with his coven where few others had, in that the truth was also their lie. By shrouding his brood in  mystery, he actually drew attention away from himself. He had been successfully doing whatever he pleased without censure for hundreds of years. 

The basis behind the role-playing is laid out in Claudia: vampires do not change--she can never grow older, and even her appearance cannot be altered for long. The fact that vampires are always aspiring to be human is evident in Lestat's talents: he can play the violin and piano, sing and dance, but only through imitation (The Vampire Lestat). Louis, though deeply troubled, is the only stable vampire in the entire novel, simply because he is more down to earth. He was always unwilling to be what he was, but when he accepted his fate, he was never willing to play the part. He would do so to survive, but he never fooled himself into thinking that he would ever pass as anything more than a monster in men's clothing. By the time he encounters the interviewer, he is fully reconciled, while Lestat has trouble adapting. 

The entire novel calls the morality of the vampire into question: are vampires evil and unholy? Where do vampires come from anyway? Has our world finally become so amoral that vampirism is "the only real evil left?" Can a vampire be a good person in spite of what must be done to survive, or are vampires truly evil, playing the role of genteel citizen in order to eek out a baseless existence? 

I am not a fan of Anne Rice--despite whatever idea I might have given you to the contrary. I do not have much of an appreciation for her novels in general, but I do appreciate what Anne Rice has done to contribute to our current vampire lore, especially with regards to existentialism and morality, and I haven't even touched the homosexual tendencies of her characters. I will say this: when all the boundaries of existence have been broken down, can we honestly expect to be shocked by anything? Anne Rice's vampires are moody, in denial, existential, even a little "emo", but they are the original emo vampires, and that I can almost put up with. What a vampire does through imitation in fiction is merely another way in which fiction imitates human nature. Anne Rice's vampires are real people disguised as fictional characters pretending to be real people. This is a level of realism that Stephanie Meyer only wishes she could posses. 

Countdown to Halloween

Louisiana is breeding ground for dark urban legends about vampires. Its superstitious legends are kept alive even today by the Creole population, who even still speaks a dialect of French patois. There are any number of vampire stories and novels set in New Orleans, where we will eventually wrap up this year's Halloween activities. Unfortunately, I had to change gears for  my costume this year--literally. I'm now going as a steam-punk mad-scientist, if for no better reason then that I already had most of the costume put together without spending more money or time than necessary. I hope everyone continues to have an amazing All Hallow's Read, the new and inspiring tradition made-up by Neil Gaiman only this year. I have the honor of continuing that tradition here. 

Until next time, readers.  

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