The setting: a dimly lit room, with a wingback chair upholstered in black and white striped fabric, next to it a small table holding a silver tea pot and a delicate china cup with a pattern of black lace and roses painted on it. The silence is broken by the sound of a door creaking open, and the Lady of the Manners walks into view, carrying a candelabra full of flickering candles. Even though she is wearing a floor-length, high-collared, and extravagantly ruffled white Victorian-style nightgown, her black eyeliner and burgundy lipstick are impeccable.
Goodness, it has been ages since I’ve visited the Nocturnal House, hasn’t it? It was so quiet and peaceful in the crypt that I must have dozed off for … much longer than I had planned. But no matter, I’ve returned to the library of vampire books just in time for Halloween to talk about one of my favorite books of the past year: Interview With The Vampire: Claudia’s Story, adapted and illustrated by Ashley Marie Witter.
As some of you are no doubt aware, I harbor an enormous fondness for the first three books of The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. They’ve become a touchstone for modern gothic literature, in both the classical and subcultural definitions of “gothic”, and many of the “romantic and angst-ridden vampire” cliches that riddle current vampire fiction first blossomed in the lush and overwrought prose of those books. In times of stress or chaos, they are among the books I turn to for comfort reading. My favorite character is, unsurprisingly, Lestat. (In his Brat Prince, handsome fiend incarnation, not who he eventually turned into after The Body Thief and Memnoch The Devil.) But my next favorite character from The Vampire Chronicles is Claudia, poor doomed Claudia, cursed with an immortal adult mind in the never-aging body of a child.
I have no idea how Ashley Marie Witter was able to convince Anne Rice to let her do an adaptation of the story of Interview With The Vampire, but I’m delighted she did. For not only is this book from Claudia’s point of view, it’s a gorgeously illustrated graphic novel. I have longed for an illustrated version of the stories from The Vampire Chronicles. Yes, I know about the comics from the 90s – in fact, I used to own some of them. (Those issues may even still be lurking somewhere in a box.) But the art wasn’t quite to my taste, and every time I saw a piece of manga-style fan art for The Vampire Chronicles, I’d flutter my hands and sigh. But Claudia’s Story is the sort of illustrated adaptation I’d always hoped for, with delicate, dreamlike art full of intricate details, in shades of black and sepia with some artful touches of blood red.
The book opens with Lestat feeding the dying little girl some of his blood, turning her into an immortal companion for himself and the always-brooding Louis. As soon as Lestat’s blood changes the child, he begins training her as a predator, summoning a servant to slake her hunger.
Hunting and seduction were Lestat’s lessons for me and I came to know and relish death’s many moods. Lestat was the perfect tutor, and I absorbed all that he was willing to offer. At the time, I gave no thought to what I had become. I was still a child, though clearly not. Lestat nurtured the killer inside me, but Louis was the father to the child.
Over the years, Claudia’s mind grows to a keen and incisive maturity, while her form stays that of a golden-haired innocent. Presented in the original novel, it’s an unsettling idea. But told from Claudia’s perspective, her anger at being so trapped is even more apparent. For example, her musings on Louis’s unease at her request for a child’s coffin:
I’d asked Louis if he understood, but how could he? Even this beautiful man whom I loved was, of course, incapable of grasping the pervading sense of confinement I experienced within my own frame. Had I not already been consigned to a child’s coffin?
The coffin turned out to be merely the beginning of my new-found fascinations. Squalor and decay suddenly offered an allure heretofore unknown, and I begged Lestat to take me to the riverfront where the immigrants lived.
Claudia’s discontentment with a perpetual childhood that is a brittle shell for her force of will sets her at odds with Lestat, who wants nothing more than adoring fledglings to play Happy Vampire Family with him. Claudia takes matters into her own hands to free herself and Louis, but still seeks the answers she couldn’t get from Lestat.
Despite Louis’s doldrums, my spirits were jubilant at the prospect of finding others of our ilk! When Louis and I gazed across the waters for the first time at the coastlands of Europe, it was with reverent awe at a dream nearly realized.
It was only later, as we began exploring the villages, that I would be forced to grapple with the disappointment of so much promise unfulfilled.
It is only once they go to Paris that they find other vampires like them, vampires who flaunt their monstrousness behind the guise of morally ambiguous theatre performances. The Theatre des Vampires, led by the mysterious and charismatic Armand (another character I’m terribly fond of) draws Claudia and Louis into their orbit.
How did I fail to see that the mind responsible for this doughty wickedness might be capable of similarly stripping me bare? Of orchestrating my own undoing with equal showmanship?
For Armand wants Louis to be his immortal companion, to be the only creature Louis feels a connection to. And Armand is all too willing to play a game that includes the maker that Claudia thought she had lethally dispatched. Accused by the other vampires of attempting to destroy the vampire who created her, condemned by the words of a resurrected Lesat who is a weak shadow of what he was, Claudia and the fledgeling that Louis created to look after her are sentenced to death by burning in the sun.
True gothy confessions time: out of the first three books of The Vampire Chronicles, Interview With The Vampire is the one I reread the least, because while I’m fascinated by Lestat and Claudia, I find Louis to be … well, whiny. There’s only so much soulful musing on immortal angst I can read before I want to shake Louis and tell him to snap out of it. A retelling of those events from Claudia’s view is something I treasure, even if it makes the fate that befalls Claudia that much more immediate and horrific. Which, I suppose, is what I always seek from a vampire novel: I want the lush, decadent beauty that is found in the night-blooming garden, but I also want the stark horror of the life of an immortal predator to be shown. I don’t require Good to Triumph in the fiction I read, but I do want a sense of consequences fulfilled. This reframing of Interview With The Vampire fulfills those cravings with beautiful art, language that matches the opulent, almost purple-prose style of the original book, but doesn’t try to gloss over the fact that Claudia is a remorseless killer. Even at the moment of her tragic death, she does not seek forgiveness, but instead thinks on her rage:
Was this a life cut short? A passing to be mourned? Had my dark fathers not given me an existence far in excess of a mortal allotment?
Ultimately, though, that existence was untenable, the rancor within me overspilling that dainty vessel. I would suffer no longer.
Are any of you fans of Anne Rice’s vampire books? If so, why? Or why not? Comments are open! (But, as always, moderated. Be polite, Snarklings!)