As It Happens·Q&A

Anne Rice used vampires to show people they belong, says son 

Anne Rice used vampires, witches and werewolves to explore “great cosmic spiritual questions” about identity and belonging, says her son. The beloved gothic fiction author — best known for her novel Interview With The Vampire — has died at the age of 80.

The gothic fiction author, who wrote Interview With The Vampire, has died at the age of 80

Author Anne Rice, pictured here in 2012, has died at the age of 80. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Story Transcript

Anne Rice used vampires, witches and werewolves to explore "great cosmic spiritual questions" about identity and belonging, says her son. 

Rice — bestselling author of the novel Interview With The Vampire and its many sequels, known collectively as the Vampire Chronicles — died late Saturday from complications from a stroke. She was 80. 

Her son, author Christopher Rice, spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off, about his mother's writing and the deeper meaning behind it. Here is part of their conversation.

She really defies categorization, doesn't she, as a writer? I mean, they say she's the vampire writer, the gothic stories writer. But you must be getting so many people responding to her work and her passing with their own views on what she contributed to their lives.

I like to say she was a one-woman army against mediocrity and convention. 

The people who are reaching out to me, and the public outpourings of grief — all of which have made this easier for the family because most of it is so loving and respectful — [say] that she articulated this way of being different in the world.

My best friend, [writer] Eric Shaw Quinn, who was also a very close friend of hers, said she brought an answer to this question that was particularly resonant to queer people, of: How can I be in this world and not be a thing of God? 

That was what she used the vampire for. But it's also what she used witches for. And then later it was what she used werewolves for. She used paranormal, supernatural gothic tales to pursue what she saw as these great cosmic spiritual questions.

And in the long arc of the Vampire Chronicles novels, we see the vampires coming to that understanding. And there is a moment in Prince Lestat, which was her return to the series, where she has the character, Louis, who begins Interview With The Vampire in total dread and alienation and despair over both the grief of having lost his brother and then the horror of being turned into a vampire creature that must take life to live. By the time he arrives at Prince Lestat, where he has a moment in the garden of this home where other vampires are gathered, where he realizes: I belong. If I was created, I belong.

I think that is why her work transcends for so many people.

Anne was about defiance. She was about defying the things that could hold us back and hold us down- Christopher Rice, author, son of Anne Rice

I was reading the obituary in the New York Times, and they go back to one of their own earliest reviews of your mother's work. They say [it's] ... "self-conscious soliloquizing out of Spider-Man comics wrapped in pompous language." … And yet, almost immediately, Interview With The Vampire and the Vampire Chronicles became bestsellers, right? They just defied the critics, didn't they, these works?

She always saw herself starkly at odds with whatever the literary trends of the moment were. 

The accomplishment of Interview with the Vampire that I think we all see now, which was not seen in the moment by many critics, was that she had completely flipped the point of view. She had taken what was previously considered to be … the unknowable monster, and she went into their point of view and she showed us: What does the world look like through the eyes and the heart of the character we have dismissed in these terms? 

There were so many people who identified with that shift, you know, not the least of which was her.

Rice, left, and her son Christopher Rice, right, who followed in her footsteps and became an author. (Submitted by Christopher Rice)

You wrote a beautiful piece on Facebook about your mother after she died. And so I just want to ask you: What was Anne Rice like as a mother?

Fierce. She was a fierce mother. She was a fierce advocate for me. But she was also a fierce advocate for what she saw as my artistic potential.

As a young child, I was in this almost Montessori-style school with no letter grades. We would sit in circles every morning and the students would share their feelings. It was so California through and through. But they brought her in once because she had allowed me to watch the movie Jaws as a young boy and I had become sort of both terrified and obsessed with its imagery the way young children do. 

And I was drawing these photographs and the teacher showed her the pictures and they said: "Look at the fear in these photographs." 

And she said: "Look at the talent."

There was not an attempt to lock me away in a bubble or to keep the world sanitized for me. I was treated like an adult. I was conversed with like an adult fairly early on. I think one of the kind of milestone moments for us was that I discovered by accident in that same school that [my parents] had had a child before me.

We were making family trees. It was a sort of school project and using construction paper and cutting out, you know, squares for different relatives. And this student in class … made a joke about what we did for a relative who had died. Did we use a dead apple? Did we draw one on our tree?

And the teacher scolded him and said, "We're not going to talk about it that way. Many people in this class have had relatives who died, including Chris, who had a sister." 

I was stunned. And I remember I looked up at the teacher and I said — very prim and proper, as was my way back then — "I most certainly did not."

The teacher's face fell, and my father came to pick me up from school later that day, and she took him aside and told him what had happened. And from then on, they opened up this aspect of their lives to me that yes, they had had this other child, she had become gravely ill. The drawings on the walls that they had said were from a neighbour in an old neighbourhood were actually by her. And they didn't hold back. And they let me ask questions about who she was and who she had been and how she had died.

Anne Rice, pictured here with a black bob and gothic choker, used the paranormal as a tool for exploring questions of identity and belonging, says her son. (Reuters)

The celebration of her life will be open to the public. I expect there are going to be a lot of fans there. She has said in the past that when she would go to signings, there would be all kinds of people there with dead roses, wrapped in leather, handcuffs and lace and velvet. But do you expect just an extraordinary array of people who will want to celebrate her with you?

I certainly hope so, and I think we're going to build something that welcomes them and invites them because I think the thing that's important to remember about all of those wild theatrical book signings is that they were a lot of fun. You know, there was a sense that we weren't mocking death, but we were embracing the gothic in a way that was loving and about the splendour of it.

Anne was about defiance. She was about defying the things that could hold us back and hold us down. And we're going to build an event that celebrates that. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Abby Plener. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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