Anne Rice's "Memnoch The Devil"

annerice

Anne Rice, author of 28 books, which have sold nearly 100 million worldwide is one of the most widely read novelists in modern history. I have read nearly every book she has published. My first inclination was to discuss the themes predominant throughout all of her writing; however, a second thought, has prompted me to focus instead rather on the book that influenced me the most – leading me to the Catholic Church for the first time as Rice herself journeyed home.

Memnoch the Devil describes the vampire Lestat’s encounter with the Devil, who calls himself “Memnoch.” He is taken on a journey through the ‘whirlwind’ into Heaven, Helll, and the main epochs in the evolution of the universe. It is a radical retelling of the entirety of biblical history from the devil’s perspective. The devil’s charge is that he is not evil; in fact, he despises it. Rather, what he opposes is God’s tolerance of the existence of evil and suffering that plagues mankind and that in the beginning God, allegedly, had no interest in inviting man into His company in heaven. Memnoch – in a long story short – becomes the servant of humanity (and God) working to usher lost souls into Heaven. He invites Lestat to join him in the fight against evil and to bring all human souls from the gloom of Sheol to the paradise of Heaven.

This is an oversimplification of the book’s plot and all that it contains. It is a wonderful book and is hard to understand out of the context of how it completes, as it were, the four books that proceed it in the series (though it is readable by itself; you’ll just miss a few points here and there).

Nevertheless, whether one loves or hate this book, I think the vast majority of people miss the point. The book is pure genius. Anne Rice – whom I have had the honor of corresponding with via email – was not trying to attack Christianity or give a preview of her own personal religious beliefs or use the Vampire Chronicles as a personal soapbox to attack God.

The point isn’t that God is evil or Memnoch is good. She isn’t attempting to shock us with her visions of Heaven and Hell, which were intriguing to say the least. Rather, the book – at least for me – offers a reminder of the role of faith in our lives. In this life, we cannot know by unaided reason alone the truths of God, creation, the fall, the devil, etc. Man has disputed over such theological questions before and after the birth of Christianity.

Lestat himself is there, he is told the “truth,” and has heaven and sheol unveiled before him. By the end of it, it’s all yanked out from under him and we’re left to wonder what was real, or if any of it was. Memnoch does not like the title “devil,” but he curiously applies to himself at various points of the novel. This further demonstrates how eager we all are to believe in something, as is the case with Lestat, even if it’s coming from the Devil’s mouth. I first read this novel as an atheist, but I almost believed in God to believe that this stuff was true; it was so compelling. We’re left wondering, moving back and forth between faith and doubt. One of the greatest lines of the book is this: it’s not all lies, not all of it, that’s the age old dilemma.

This goes back to the previous books in a way. Anne Rice explains that the whole purpose of her first novel Interview with the Vampire was to use the vampire as a metaphor to describe the human condition – the vampire represents the alien, outcast in us all. The vampire upon becoming a vampire seeks the oldest one of his kind to find out what is the meaning of what they are. Why are their vampires? What are our origins? Is there meaning or hope of redemption in this tragic condition of having to kill and do evil with the moral desire not to? It is a metaphor for the moral compromises we make everyday due to the reality of sin.

Rice herself having entered the life of an atheist was struggling with the post-WWII nihilistic modern world. She struggles with the relativism and the lack of meaning and the clash of good and evil. I think the manifest desire for some sort of salvation is compelling; it certainly grasped me. In other words, it speaks directly to our humanity. As the novels continue, we find that the origin of the vampires is more or less a catastrophic accident. No purpose, no meaning. This is clearly addressing the question of evolution without God and its implications. Surprisingly, there is little joy in knowing that your existence wasn’t intended and that it was the result of casual, arbitrary events. To some point, Lestat loses reason for existing. It seems that the truth of the story is not the interest, though the search for truth is. The greatest concern is the human experience and what is the meaning of it – why is the world so beautiful, but a “savage garden?” Why is immortality, what we Christians hope for, such a wretched gift if the state our condition does not change? That is, if we don’t leave the fallen world and enter into some new redeemed state away from the sorrow and misery that the immortal vampires cannot escape. This is why becoming a vampire, which in a theological context is like opposite of becoming a Christian — the vampires enter death, but for them, there is no new life; hence, it is called the “dark gift.” Vampires are angels going in the opposite direction into self-hatred, despair, and loneliness and not faith, hope, and love. The struggle to come to grips with Catholic theology, on a human level, in terms of experience is manifest with the story of the vampires’ origin imaging so much from Christianity, with the obsession with the body and blood, with the evil in the world, but it’s undeniable beauty (sacramental reality), etc.

What makes this series different from Twilight – don’t ever read it – is that it invites the reader to ask those fundamental questions of human existence: Who am I? Where am I going? What is the meaning and purpose of the human condition? Why is there suffering and evil?

These questions are heavily pushed to the forefront in Memnoch the Devil and its lasting impression on me still lingers: Wait a second, this is a novel, this is Anne Rice. This isn’t the truth. Memnoch doesn’t exist! It’s just fiction…

I believe that the genius of the book, both in the spirit of her intentions and the eternal providence of God. I remember my first real “encounter” with the devil – which, I didn’t believe that there was such a being – was that whoever he was, he tricked me, he tricked us all. That’s the genius, the emotion that it stirs, not the alleged religious truth that Memnoch proclaims.

Any Rice fans? Thoughts?

  1. I too first read Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles as an atheist. I have since returned to the Catholic Faith.
    Yet, as an atheist I never did finish Memnoch. Looking back, i think i was resisting (God) the examination of the ultimate truths. It was much easier to read the first novels in the series, especially relating to the narcissistic Lestat (and to think characters like Louis weak for having vestiges of a moral compass).
    Anyway, thanks for the review of the book, and thanks for the Cthulhu video the other day ^(;,;)^ it was so horrific i had no words to describe it ;-)
    (I heard that Archbishop Chaput also enjoys horror flicks…)
    Any thoughts on Stephen King’s Dark Tower series?

  2. I don’t recall reading Memnoch, but I knew Anne some years ago, and her son Christopher. He and I moved in the same social circles during high school.

    From my recollection of the books and my conversations with her, I think your analysis is solid. Many of us were searching for something more than the pabulum we’d been handed.

  3. I’ll run this past my wife, our household’s Rice scholar. I’ve read only the first three of the Vampire Chronicles, so I missed out on this one. I suspect I’ll be requesting it from Heather’s shelf now.

    I said once that I thought the Vampire Chronicles could be read as parables of Original Sin in a world without redemption, and I stand by that.

  4. tradCath,

    I’ve never read any Stephen King, but I hear he has some pretty decent work.

    On a second note, I always identified with Louis and his world of despair and hatred of evil, while he, arguably, was sometimes the most brutal and indiscriminate in the mortals he killed, i.e. hates evil, but sins liberally. That’s me.

    Dale,

    The Vampire Chronicles is precisely a search for hope in a world that has none. It’s why Rice herself she couldn’t write anymore. When she realized that redemption exempted no one, she didn’t know how to write about a life of darkness and alienation anymore, when what she knew was salvation for all that hoped in God.

  5. Now I feel compelled to put in a good word for the Twilight Series. It explores different themes than Rice’s series, but there is plenty there, too, if you look under the surface. The Hogwarts Professor has some interesting posts on the subject.

  6. Read a lot of Anne Rice, but not this novel. Her recent spiritual biography certainly backs up what you are saying though. I was also surprised that her two books on Jesus were very good, I thought she would overreach with that project and look forward to the next in the series.

  7. Just finished reading this book for the first time, last night. I’ve been reading Ms. Rice’s books in order and was really looking forward to reading this one, for it is my best friend’s favorite book by his favorite author. It did not disappoint.

    Your quote, “Wait a second, this is a novel, this is Anne Rice. This isn’t the truth. Memnoch doesn’t exist! It’s just fiction…” pretty much sums up my thoughts through a good bit of the book. I had to keep reminding myself that this is a work of fiction, not to take it literally, because it is so brilliantly written.

    It was truly interesting to see this different take on what a lot of us have been taught since birth about the devil. Believing that God is love, I’ve wondered about the possibility that God will eventually even forgive him and let everyone into heaven. I know I have to be careful with this line of thinking, because he is a trickster and might be playing up to my sympathies but I also believe that God’s love is endless and has no boundaries.

    This book is inspiring me do a little bit of research to see what others have got out of it. Thank you for your post!