Called Out of Darkness

By

Some twenty-years ago a friend gave me a book called The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice.  It’s a lushly written tale about man involuntarily damned to an eternity outside salvation and his struggle to define his own morality in a world he believes is beyond the reach of God.  He’s a rebel, a braggart, and a murderer but he’s also a man in search of his soul, a monster grieving his lost humanity, a sinner longing for an absolution he knows he doesn’t deserve and is convinced that no one can ever provide.

Called Out of DarknessI was a young man at the time, rebelling against much of what I’d been taught and questioning everything.  I suppose I saw something of myself in Lestat.  But what caught my attention more than anything else was that I had the sense that the heart and soul of the book, and indeed much of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, which I would go on to read for years, was the author’s struggle with questions of the divine as she used her characters to inch toward the truth.

To this day it’s a book that shapes the way I write and the way I think about story and character and despite Anne Rice’s public façade as an atheist and staunch opponent of the Church, I’ve always felt that there was more to her story than she led the world to believe.

A few years ago, I was startled to discover her book Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt in a bookstore.  My first reaction was, “Ah-HAH!  I knew it!”  But I never read it, in part because I was afraid I’d find out it was just a gimmicky way for her to capitalize on some controversial new idea.

Since then that book has received a sequel called Christ the Lord: Road to Cana, and I’ve heard here and there that she’s accepted Christianity.  As much as I wanted to believe it, I was still very much a skeptic.  Such was my mindset when I cracked open her ‘spiritual memoir’ Called Out of Darkness.

I am a skeptic no more.   Her memoir is equally a confession, an explanation, and a proclamation.   Her own words describe it best:

“What I must do here is convey to the general reader—the member of the mainstream who is my brother or sister in the mainstream—how the Incarnation has become the central overwhelming and sustaining mystery of my life. “

Such an about face of worldview surely came as a shock to some fans her vampire mythology and there is a sense that she wants to lay out the pieces of the puzzle to provide insight for those to whom the final image was a surprise.  She also aims to lay to rest the suspicions of those that may think her conversion is flighty, shallow, or spur of the moment.

It’s a rare pleasure to hear an author whose work you’ve loved talk about her life and career as she looks back on it from the wisdom of her years.  She recounts memories from her childhood as a Catholic in an edenic New Orleans and her eventual falling away as a young woman.  Anyone familiar with her writing will be thrilled to see how the events, people, and places of her formative years have shaped her stories for three decades.  Not only did I gain a wealth of understanding about why she wrote her books but I found myself thinking, “Of course she wrote these books, how she could have done anything else?”

And all the musings I’ve had over the years about the questions and longings bound up in her stories, about the struggle of her characters, finally found an answer:

“These books transparently reflect a journey through atheism and back to God.  It is impossible not to see this.  They reflect an attempt to determine what is good and what is evil in an atheistic world.  They are about the struggle of brothers and sisters in a world without credible fathers and mothers.  They reflect an obsession with the possibility of a new and enlightened moral order.

Did I know this when I wrote them? No.”

What a joy to hear her tell the world how she came to the realization that her entire life and work were pointing toward Christ, and better yet, to hear how she has embraced the challenge of the cross and is proclaiming it to the world.  Truly, this is a rare thing in popular culture.

There are certainly points where I disagree with her but she is a woman of fierce intellect and much like C.S. Lewis she has come to Christ after years of scholarship and critical thought.  In the years before her conversion she says that she was hounded and even “haunted by Christ.”  She makes clear in her writing that her faith is something she has accepted with the utmost sincerity and seriousness.  There is no lightness in her undertaking and she makes a point of rejecting any form of ‘prosperity gospel’.

What drew her finally to Christ was, I think, the story: the sense that God is the Author and Christ the eternal hero.  In the loving of that great, universal, and infinitely personal narrative she has committed herself to using her own sub-creative gifts in the service of the Creator.  She intends to write for Christ, and only for Christ, and the outpouring of that commitment is the Christ the Lord series, a realistic narrative of the life of Christ.  There is no gimmickry involved and no scandal.  She intends her books to be absolutely faithful to the Gospel in word, deed, and doctrine.

I have not read these books yet but reading Called Out of Darkness has convinced me that I must.  If you are a longtime fan of Rice’s work you owe it to yourself to read the memoir and if you have never read a word of her writing, I suggest that it may well be a fine place to start.

Anne Rice’s books and characters often fail to find the answers they seek, their stories are invariably tragic and full of longing, grief, and brokeness, they often refuse to resolve in a way that is comforting to the reader.  In that context it is incredibly moving to me that those tattered threads seem to have at last found resolution, not in the arc of the story, but in the life of the author.

Profile photo of Pete Peterson

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


19 Comments

  1. Loren Eaton

    Rice conducted a fascinating interview with Focus on the Family’s Jim Dobson back in October. You can listen to it here. Listening to her talk about the theological and philosophical changes in her thinking was facinating. I was frustrated, though, to hear her say at the end that faith in God basically meant that she had repudiated all genre fiction and to imply that the only appropriate art for Christians to make was recasting Bible stories.

  2. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    What I took from the book was that that was a choice she had made for herself. After spending thirty years writing books that people often considered profane she made a very deliberate decision to devote all of her talent to Christ.

    If she contends that such specificity is an obligation for all Christians then I’d certainly disagree with that.

  3. Chris Slaten

    Great review. Thank you for bringing this to light. Like you I’ve been dragging my feet on reading her Bible based fiction. As important as I believe it is to retell the gospel story and explore its depths, I am often intuitively hesitant about fully involved pieces of Biblical fiction. Even with Buechner, whose work I’ve fed on since High School, I even occasionally feel uncomfortable (not the good kind of discomfort either) with what I feel like he has brought into the old stories. Maybe it has to do with growing up in the Bible belt where Scripture is often treated with superstition rather than holy reverence? I may need to start with this memoir first.

    By the way, you might enjoy a fascinating piece that my friend wrote about her for the Burnside Writers Collective. It includes an interview and brings in a variety of perspectives on her work:

    http://www.burnsidewriterscollective.com/general/2007/01/illumination_and_darkness.php?page=1

    He did an audio interview with her for Relevant magazine too, though I haven’t listened to it:

    http://www.relevantmagazine.com/issues/19/RiceInterview.mp3

  4. Sid

    Very interesting. I wondered about her faith after I saw the last 2 “Christ the Lord” books. Would anyone recommend reading the Vampire Chronicle books?

  5. JTS

    Pete,
    Very compelling review. The idea that we all cry out for God even before we know we are doing it is something I keep in mind when I am praying for others.
    I am beginning to fear the amount of influence you have over me. I’ll try to explain it after my copy of Viva La Vida arrives in the mail.

  6. Terry K

    Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana was one of my favourite books from last year. It’s beautifully written, almost devotional. Not gimmicky, but amazing to have it in the first person voice of Jesus.
    The first one (Out of Egypt) is wonderful as well, especially the insightful apologetics included in the afterword.

  7. Andy S

    I was interested in her conversion as well which led me to read Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. It’s a fascinating book which has changed my perspective on the culture and context in which Jesus grew up. There is not much biblical groundwork to go by when writing about the childhood of Jesus so she did use some extra biblical texts including the apocrypha. It was fascinating to delve into the mind of the young Christ and think about how his fully human side may have interacted with his fully God side. It is evident that Anne Rice heavily researched in preparation and it is well written but it should probably be regarded as fiction.

  8. Tony Heringer

    Pete,

    Thanks for the review. I had read of Rice’s conversion as part of the publicity for her Christ the Lord series. I certainly did a double-take the first time I saw her name connected writings dealing with the life of Jesus.

    What I have been seeing in the paper matches up with what you are sharing from the book. I guess she wrote it to give fuller treatment to a story that I’m sure had most of her fans dumbfounded. Awesome!

  9. Tim McCarthy

    I have read both of her Christ the Lord novels and found them deeply thought-provoking. I especially loved The Road to Cana, especially the scenes in which Jesus’ purity in the face of temptation to give into his desire for the love of a woman is depicted, and the temptation in the wilderness, and Jesus’ conversation with his new disciples at the wedding, after he turns water to wine. She has obviously reflected very deeply on the mission and identity of Christ, and every Christian (especially comfortable, prosperity focused Christians) would gain much from her insights buried within the life of Jesus. It is a wonderful (in some cases, superior) addition to the canon of novels depicting the life of Jesus, including Wangerin’s “Jesus” and “The Book of God.”

    Don’t wait, get right to reading these novels. You’ll be very pleasantly surprised. I got her biography for Christmas, and I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

  10. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Sid, I highly recommend the books of hers that I’ve read.

    I never read Interview With A Vampire. I started the chronicles with The Vampire Lestat (which is still my favorite).

    I recall being a bit put off by Queen of the Damned (ignore the movie) but it was necessary to the storyline.

    The Body Thief and Memnoch the Devil are excellent however. Memnoch the Devil is particularly interesting as it deals with Lestat basically being given a tour of Creation and the heavenly realms by the devil and at the end is offered a place at the devil’s side. I won’t spoil the ending but I’ll say that it will make you wonder why an atheist would write it.

    I lost track of the series after that book but I really enjoyed some of her other stories. While I do recommend them, I need to mention that they are certainly not for everyone. They stretch some boundaries with the way they play with issues of religion and gender, but they are beautifully written books that are far deeper and more profound than the weird gothic vampire fan culture that they have inspired.

    My best advice is to read The Vampire Lestat. If you enjoy that, you are likely to enjoy the others. If it is too much for you, then you’ll probably want to stay away.

  11. Seth Ward

    So glad to see that she has written this book. Thanks for posting that terrific review. I’ll be sure to check it out. I’m also a big fan of Lestat and the scene with the wolves is one of my favorite scenes in any book.

    When she wrote Christ The Lord, Out of Egypt, I read the epilogue first at Barnes and Noble and I found it deeply moving. I went home and wrote her on a whim to thank her for being so open about the whole experience and we ended up having a few email correspondences. She was very gracious and open about her journey back to faith. I think she was truly stunned by the outpouring of response to her epilogue.

    There is something about all this with Anne Rice and her perspective that is very refreshing.

  12. Loren Eaton

    Chris,

    Thanks for the link. A fascinating article.

    Pete,

    I wouldn’t say that Rice explicitly claimed that only recasting Scripture made for good Christian art. It was more implicit, her sole examples of such art being those kind of pieces. And at the end of the interview, she outright said that she wouldn’t do any more vampire novels. That being said, she has obviously gone through some very dark times in her life. I understand wanting to take a break from it in one’s writing.

  13. Ginny

    Read it, believed it, loved it…the story of Anne Rice’s life is a story of God working outside of the box we put Him in…who could have imagined such a tale…only God.

  14. Profile photo of Randall Goodgame

    Randall Goodgame

    @randallgoodgame

    Pete – thanks for bringing these up. I devoured “Out of Egypt” and I can’t believe I haven’t bought the second book yet. I’m going to order it today. And you are so right that this is such a rare thing in popular culture. I was telling a friend recently that Ms. Rice devoting her full powers to the subject of the true Christ bids me to consider what a Sting record or a Ryan Adams record would be like were they captured by the Gospel in the same way.

  15. Travis Stewart

    I’d have to agree that her two books on Christ are good reads. From both a theological and fictional perspective they were solid and enjoyable. Of course with any historical fiction the author has to fill in blanks but she does to faithfully and we obvious research.

    Now, I think I will have to read The Vampire Lestat and her memoir. Thanks for the recommendations.

  16. Profile photo of Curt McLey

    Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    Somehow, I missed this thread. Rice’s quest demonstrates—once again—that a fervent, devout search for Truth can be prefereable to a sleepy faith, devoid of passion, mystery, and wonder. The journey for Truth is often vital, alive, and leads to a strong infrastructure of Belief. Meanwhile, the later is lazy, and subject to being tossed about in the wind, like a piece of litter. Thanks for a top shelf review, Pete.

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