Anne Rice, the bestselling author who created the Vampire Chronicles, passed away at the age of 80. Her son, the writer and frequent collaborator Christopher Rice, made the announcement on her Facebook page that she had died due to complications resulting from a stroke. Rice’s novels sold over 150 million copies and remain some of the most popular and truly iconic works in modern gothic fiction. If you’ve read a vampire novel over the past four decades or so, then the chances are it owed a major debt to Rice. While critical reactions to her early novels, including 1976’s Interview with the Vampire, were initially mixed, readers flocked to her work with passion and commitment. Rice’s fandom has endured for decades. I should know because being an Anne Rice fan has defined a solid majority of my own life.
Like the passing of Stephen Sondheim, another of my creative heroes, Rice’s death was a shock in a way that reminded me that no human can ever truly be immortal. It would have made sense for the vampire queen of the 20th century to live forever, of course, just like the beautiful creatures she created who radically rewrote the genre in a more baroque and sensual manner. As a former weird teen girl who liked gory crime novels and Darren Shan’s vampire series, I felt primed to be welcomed into the world of the Vampire Chronicles. There are few reading experiences in my past as singular as me checking out Interview with the Vampire from my high school library (once my parents signed a permission slip allowing me to check out adult books, something I’d been doing for years up to that point.) The relatively plain cover concealed a startlingly vibrant realm told through the words of an undead interviewee with a gripping story to tell. How could I not immediately be hypnotized by it? I wanted to know everything about these characters and the wider society of eloquent, romantic, and intensely moral vampires who seemed more human than many people I knew in real life. I hungrily devoured several more of the novels before my various local libraries ran out. It took me until my 30th year and a bout of pandemic-induced lockdown for me to conclude the tale: 13 books, plus two spin-off titles, plus the three connected novels of the Mayfair Witches. It still doesn’t feel like enough. It never will.
To be a fan is to deal with myriad emotions and complicated asides that are seldom easy to dissect in the moment and often way harder in hindsight during a time of grieving. Being an Anne Rice fan could be tough. Rice’s initial stance against fan fiction made her deeply unpopular, although she did soften her views as she got older. She could be immensely generous with her time and attention towards fans, utilizing social media long before it became an authorly norm, but she could also be brutally cruel to those who disliked or critiqued her work. I know more than a few people who faced the wrath of her fans via her implicit directions.
I never read the Vampire Chronicles in real-time but going through the entire series in one year was an emotional rollercoaster. She could be dazzlingly varied in her literary styles and wildly ambitious with her thematic studies. One novel in the saga, Memnoch the Devil, is essentially a hyper-real rewrite of the origins of God, Satan, and morality, and it’s kind of amazing. Many of her novels offered sharply detailed historical explorations of iconic cities over the centuries. She just straight-up changed the origin story of her vampires 12 books in and added aliens and it was the best thing ever? Crucially, her work was unabashedly queer, populated with vampires who rejected smothering norms of gender and sexuality. When you’re a teenager, seeing the unashamedly melodramatic love-hate marriage of Louis and Lestat be presented in such a matter-of-fact manner is exciting, a breath of much-needed fresh air. For many LGBTQ+ people, Rice’s work was a gateway, a guiding force at a time when depictions of queer lives in pop culture were oft-hidden or dismissed. Rice remained committed to supporting LGBTQ+ causes throughout her life.
You can’t read modern vampire fiction without seeing Rice’s fingerprints all over them. She’s the most influential vampire writer of all time aside from some guy named Bram Stoker. The image of the emotionally driven vampire, the figure of high class and charm who embodied humanity’s best and worst qualities so achingly, is everywhere nowadays but felt shockingly new in the late ’70s. To be a vampire in Rice’s world is a double-edged sword. Eternity can inspire immense ennui, as it does for Lestat over several novels, but it can also be a fruitful gift that allows one to create new families, expand your horizons, and be yourself in a way that the human world would never allow. Lestat’s mother Gabrielle, for instance, decides to reject the constraints of polite femininity and become a semi-feral vagabond in men’s clothing once she is turned, which makes her one of my favorite characters in the saga. Rice’s vampires can be monstrous but they’re never devoid of depth. She devoted hundreds of pages to densely crafted backstories for many of her most adored characters, constant reminders that even the most beastly among us (*coughArmandcough*) are not born that way.
Her work is complex, often in ways that aggravate or remain deeply problematic. Louis’s human life as a slave-owner is barely dealt with in Interview with the Vampire and one could argue that her work was pivotal in creating that painfully familiar trope of the rich white vampire with the barely discussed history in racist exploitative practices. In creating creatures with no qualms about abandoning human notions of ethics and morality, Rice’s work could often feel uncomfortable to engage in. There’s a definite Lolita complex at play with some characters, most notably Mona Mayfair in the Mayfair Witches trilogy. Blood Canticle opens with a pages-long tirade from ‘Lestat’ about entitled readers that would make Rice’s later rant on how people were ‘interrogating the text from the wrong perspective’ rather hilarious in retrospect. You could never engage with Rice’s books and not come away with tangled emotions, for better or worse.
It breaks my heart that one of my heroes is gone, but the work will always live on. How could it not? Vampires never truly die, and Rice’s have already outlived many fads, hot takes, and insistences that the genre is past its sell-by date. A long-awaited television adaptation of the Vampire Chronicles is on the way in 2022 as well as Rice’s last novel, Ramses the Damned: The Reign of Osiris. Aside from that, Lestat and company are eternal. I return to those books a lot and it’s always like having the doors opened to a familiar place with limitless opportunities for further exploration.