Cover Story

Into the light

Novelist Anne Rice leaves the vampire Lestat and embraces Christ, "the ultimate supernatural hero"

Issue: "Into the light," Dec. 3, 2005

Though she is a novelist, Anne Rice sees the world the way a painter might, in subtleties of light and shadow: the pale edge of dawn, the flat ink of a starless midnight, goodness for some an elusive beacon, evil an alluring shroud.

She was known for shrouds. Mrs. Rice spent nearly three decades sculpting a reputation as literary queen of the damned-and now, at age 64, she has declared that canon closed. After rejecting her Catholic faith nearly half a century ago, she says she is reconciled with God and dedicating the rest of her life to writing only for-and about-Jesus Christ.

Her first novel of this kind, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (Knopf), hit stores on Nov. 1. The first-person narrative of Jesus as a young boy follows Jesus from His family's hiding in Egypt back to Jerusalem and Nazareth, where He slowly learns His true identity. The story emanates the light of nascent majesty, in stark contrast with the gaslight gloom of Mrs. Rice's earlier work, and is the first in a projected series.

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Mrs. Rice's previously celebrated series began in 1974 with Interview with the Vampire, in which a young reporter interviews Louis, an eloquent and introspective vampire who has been seduced by the cunning master-vampire, Lestat. Louis relates the tangle of desire, moral struggle, and grief that marked his transition from humanity to the undead, and other books populated with erudite witches and vampires followed.

In Mrs. Rice's books-she's sold 50 million worldwide-characters who are undeniably evil also search for significance and long for God, sometimes narrowly missing a chance for spiritual redemption. Still, her sensual and unflinchingly graphic writing is a marketer's delight: In one book, for example, Lestat drinks the blood of Jesus. That's why her literary turnabout has sparked a national discussion. As for her return to faith, Mrs. Rice said she is surprised "people are so interested, that they really care about this. I didn't know that they would."

Some longtime fans of her occult literature care so much that they are attacking Mrs. Rice's new literary direction: One complained online about "the most disturbing angle on religion that I've ever heard in my life. Anne Rice? Writing as Jesus? Would someone please commit this woman?" Another fan assured Mrs. Rice in an e-mail that he wouldn't be in line at any Christ the Lord book signings.

But those signings-in Miami, Birmingham, Chicago, and elsewhere-remain crowded as they have for decades. "The old readers are still showing up," she said, "but new readers are coming in all the time, and more with each signing." Many in the latter group are Christians, discovering Mrs. Rice and her history for the first time.

The history began with Roman Catholic commitment. Born in New Orleans in 1941, she was named Howard Allen O'Brien, after her father. But on the first day of Catholic school, she told the nuns her name was Anne and it stuck. The O'Brien family lived on the edges of the city's fabled Garden District, where young Anne attended daily Mass at a cavernous and opulent church and went to a school where boys and girls, in separate classes, studied catechism, Bible, and church history.

Her father worked for the post office. Her mother, Katherine, was an alcoholic who died when Anne was only 14. At age 18, while attending San Francisco State University, Anne broke with her childhood faith. Her apostasy, she says, resulted from exposure to a wider world: "I stopped believing that [the Catholic Church] was 'the one true church established by Christ to give grace.'" She also stopped believing in God.

In 1962, in a civil ceremony in Denton, Texas, she married Stan Rice, a poet, painter, and committed atheist whom Mrs. Rice calls "one of the most honorable and conscience-driven people I ever knew." In 1972, the couple suffered through the loss of their first child, Michele, who died of leukemia at age 5. Six years later, their son Christopher, now a Los Angeles novelist, was born.

In the early 1990s the Rices returned to New Orleans, where Mrs. Rice continued to write, often one novel each year. But in 1998, she gradually began to feel again the press of God: "I began to be more and more concerned with my relationship with God in my books. I wanted to be in the company of God, in the company of the drama . . . what we can know, what we don't know, what we believe."

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