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.
I 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.
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.