Anne Rice, famous for such erotic novels as The Vampire Chronicles , has in recent years returned to the Catholicism of her childhood and begun work on a series of novels about the life of Jesus Christ. The first volume, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt , received a less-than-positive review in the pages of First Things . But the second volume, Christ the Lord: On the Road to Cana , was better received . Here is an interview she gave to Fr. Dwight Longenecker exclusively for First Things .
Fr. Longenecker: How did writing your vampire books prepare you to write Christ the Lord ?
Anne Rice: Writing all my earlier books prepared me for the task of the Christ the Lord books. I experienced an apprenticeship in creating stories, in forming characters, in finding convincing voices, in writing dialogue, in learning how to pace.
I wrote twenty-seven books learning these things, learning with each book to do it just a little better than before. By the time I reached 2002, I was accomplished in ways I didnt fully understand myself until I sought to structure and create a probable fictional world for Christ.
I studied the intimate first-person voice, and how to use it without revealing everything in the mind of the storyteller, the narrator of the tale. I put this to use in my Christ the Lord books. Also all my historical research, my methods of research, my study for history¯all of this went into the Christ the Lord books.
Your earlier body of work is pretty, well, wicked. Did you include the erotic elements to sell books?
I recently posted an essay on my website on my earlier work. I think this essay has answered quite a few questions from my Christian readers who are unacquainted with the books. Basically I see the entire Vampire Chronicles as a search for God, a search for the light. The vampire was a metaphor for me, in the atheistic world, grieving for a lost faith, for the lost possibility of grace. I think that vampires are powerfully metaphorical for people, especially young people because the vampires (in my work, at any rate) are always in rebellion, refusing to be shut out of life, trying desperately to see deliverance through love of one another, through painting, through music. All my earlier work is united by these themes. The erotic element in the books was never there to sell books; it was something that came naturally to me, especially in my younger years.
How have the fans of your vampire books responded to your reversion and Christ the Lord ? You have been very public in your consecration of yourself and your work to Christ. How has this been met in the secular forum?
Fans fall into three categories: those who love all the work; those who read only the new Christian work; a few who dont want the new Christian work and feel betrayed. My public statements about consecration to Christ have been met with terrific receptivity because many interviewers and journalists, and TV personalities are on a Christian journey themselves. I am surprised at the level of interest.
Before you began Christ the Lord , were you already familiar with the world of the first century?
Yes, before I wrote Christ the Lord , I had done extensive research on the first century for the novels, Pandora , and Blood and Gold . I was powerfully intrigued with Christianity and how it had managed to conquer the Roman Empire. All this I did before I returned to the Church in 1998.
Did you simply research the history and archeology of the period, or did you also have theological and biblical interests?
My biblical interest had been growing since the mid 90s. I read the Bible constantly, and read books on the Bible. I was powerfully intrigued by the survival of the Jews. As I came closer and closer to conversion, the story drew me in very much. My novels required extensive archaeological research and I loved it. Id been doing this for years.
As you did your research, what was your impression of modern biblical scholarship?
As I plunged into modern Bible scholarship, I assumed the skeptics would be right, but I soon discovered that their late date theories of gospel creation were flimsy, full of assumptions, and that a dislike of Jesus ran through many of their arrogant and pompous books. The field came across to me as a huge scandal. There were believers and non-believers claiming to be Jesus scholars, and the skeptics, the famous Jesus Seminar, had been throwing out some outrageous nonsense to get the attention of the public. I have never seen sloppier scholarship in any field of study than what I saw in so-called biblical scholarship.
I soon realized that the skeptical scholars had very little evidence at all of their extravagant theories and they were anti-supernaturalists.
But let me mention my discovery of solid scholarship by believers, especially N.T. Wright and John A.T. Robinson. These men worked a miracle on my thinking as they offered brilliant response to the non-believers, and, perhaps because of the attacks of the skeptics, these men wrote very solid and convincing books.
How did your scholarly research affect your personal quest for Jesus the Lord?
My own biblical scholarship has drawn me closer to the Lord. I have found the gospels to be utterly convincing first-person witness to Jesus, and my studies have led me to conclude that the tradition regarding the writing of the gospels is in fact the truth.
John bar Zebedee wrote the books attributed to him; Matthew the tax collector did write Matthew; Luke is the physician who traveled with Paul; and Mark did transcribe Peters sermons. My evaluation of this involved intense study of the Scripture itself for the voice of the person writing the document, and studies of the work of Bauchkham and Hengel and John A.T.Robinson as mentioned above.
The time I have spent reading Scripture has deepened my sense of obligation to our blessed Savior and my intense desire to write books for Him. He is alive for me in the pages of the Bible, far more than I ever dreamed he would be when I began my own quest in 2002.
I feel that my meditation on the gospels and my reading of ancient historians have all deepened my sense of the world in which Jesus likely moved from day to day. I feel myself drawing closer and closer to our Lord as I work, which is both a good thing and also a frightening and sometimes intimidating thing.
Ever since the gospels, those who write or produce versions of the Life of Christ are blamed for simply producing a self-portrait or a tract to further their own agenda. How have you avoided this pitfall? How do we know that the Jesus we are getting is not just Anne Rices Jesus?
It has indeed been said that every fictional portrait of the Lord reflects more the person who is writing about him than anything about him. I try desperately to work against this tendency, to reach back, as best I can, into an informed view of the first century and portray a Jesus who is the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Some projection is bound to happen. I am after all a person of the twenty-first century with certain specific concerns. But I think I have a better chance of producing a credible portrait of Jesus than some in that so much research backs my project and so much conscious restraint.
I work diligently not to cheat, not to make him something that the gospels dont say he is. For example, I cannot dream of having him approve of things we approve of today. But I can emphasize his mercy and compassion as revealed in the Sermon on the Mount. I also have tools earlier novelists did not have. They didnt know a lot about first-century life. Hence portraits in ink, oil, and words of the Holy Family often show them isolated in a dreamy rural setting. We now know people in the first century lived in big clans, prized cousins and other relatives, that life was communal even for the very rich (people just didnt get time to be alone unless they went into the wilderness to do so), we know that travel was common, and that news traveled fast. Even biblical scholars are often uninformed about this.
Some conservative Catholics are worried that you are a dissenter in the area of abortion, homosexuality and womens ordination. How do you answer them?
Some very conservative Christians have voiced concerns about me personally because I am a prolife Democrat. But there are many other prolife Democrats. I am an old-guard Social Justice Roman Catholic and must vote for the party that I believe will do the most good on earth. And we have only two parties¯just two. I was prolife when I was an atheist. My recent youtube videos make clear my stance as a believing and loyal Catholic.
Do you feel that your life is being completed somehow in your Christ the Lord series?
I feel I can somehow perhaps redeem my life by putting any and all skills that I acquired to use in these books on the Lord. This is keenly important to me, but I have to remain humble in the face of this, and never stop being afraid. Fear Not. Yes, I have to hear that when I write, but I have to be afraid too. I pray to follow in the footprints of the Lord in the desert and up the grassy hills of Galilee.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker is Chaplain to St Josephs Catholic School in Greenville, South Carolina. He is author of many books, and editor of The Path to Rome— Modern Journeys to the Catholic Faith. His website is http://www.dwightlongenecker.com .