de Lioncourt, Lestat

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A graveyard set from the movie Interview with the Vampire.

de Lioncourt, Lestat

(pop culture)

Lestat de Lioncourt was the central character in the “Vampire Chronicles”, several novels by Anne Rice that have become key works in the revival of interest in vampires in the 1990s. In the first two novels treating Lestat, Rice gave a detailed description of his two centuries of existence, except for the several decades of childhood and youth before he became a vampire. His physical appearance was summarized in the opening paragraphs of her second vampire book, The Vampire Lestat (1985). He was six feet tall with thick blond hair. His eyes were gray (not red) and easily picked up blue or violet from the environment. He had a very expressive face capable of conveying his wide range of strong, even exaggerated emotions, with a mouth that seemed to be a little too big for his face. His skin was white and had a slightly reflective quality. It changed noticeably while he was feeding. When he was hungry, his skin was tight with his veins protruding. After feeding, it appeared more normal, and Lestat had little trouble passing among “normal” humans. The most striking aspect of his physical appearance were his fingernails, which looked like glass.

Elsewhere, Rice revealed that Lestat, like all vampires, experienced a significant increase in strength from his human form. He developed a pair of caninelike fangs. He had some unusual abilities, both telepathic force and hypnotic power, but could not change into animal forms (a bat or wolf, for instance). He could still see himself in a mirror but lost the ability to engage in normal human sex and hence could not procreate. He normally slept in a coffin. An atheist before his transformation, Lestat had no problem with holy symbols or being in consecrated places. Traditionally, sunlight and fire hurt vampires, but Lestat communicated his doubts that they could ultimately kill him. He even believed that a stake in the heart had little effect.

Lestat’s Life: When Lestat first appeared in Interview with the Vampire (1976), he was in New Orleans. However, his story really began (in The Vampire Lestat) in France around 1760 during the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Lestat was about 20 years old, the youngest son in a royal family whose estate was in the Auvergne, in rural France. The family was relatively poor and had no money for their sons to attain proper vocational training. Lestat wanted to escape this life and go to Paris. Shortly after finally realizing his dream, he was kidnaped from his sleeping quarters by a vampire named Magnus. Magnus turned Lestat into a vampire and then forced him to oversee the elder vampire’s apparent death. In return, Lestat inherited Magnus’s fortune.

The first phase of Lestat’s vampiric existence centered on Paris. It included a visit by his dying mother, Gabrielle, whom he turned into a vampire. She took to the nocturnal life well, and together they challenged the vampire community of Paris, which had trouble accepting their new way of integrating into human life. After this intense encounter, they traveled around Europe as Lestat sought a senior vampire named Marius. Meanwhile, France was rising in revolt (1789). Lestat’s family estate was mobbed and his brothers killed. His father escaped to New Orleans. He and his mother parted and he buried himself in the ground to rest.

A short time later Marius found and revived him and related the account of the beginnings of their lineage of vampirism. Marius’s account took Lestat back into ancient Egypt, long before the first pyramid. Egypt was ruled by a couple, Akasha and Enkil. For the good of their people, they were forced to encounter a demon and became vampires. Marius had brought them out of Egypt to save them from total destruction. They were alive, but sat motionless. Lestat had a private encounter with the pair, including sharing blood with Akasha, who moved for the first time in several centuries.

Lestat then left Marius and sailed to Louisiana in 1789. In New Orleans he met Louis, whom he turned into a vampire; he wanted Louis’s plantation as a home for his father. Lestat also found Claudia, a child whom he turned into a vampire. She could grow mentally but not physically, and her situation became the focus of intense conflict. After several decades of adventures and fighting, Louis and Claudia attempted to kill Lestat.

Lestat was hurt but not killed. He could not get help from the old vampire community in Paris and lived out the nineteenth century in seclusion. In 1929 he buried himself again and had no motivation to awaken until 1984, when he was attracted by the sounds of a rock band, Satan’s Night Out. He arose and introduced himself to the group. They handed him a copy of Interview with a Vampire, Louis’s story of their life together. He reacted by writing his own autobiography, published as The Vampire Lestat, the same name adopted by the band. Concurrently, he found success as a rock idol. As a rock performer, he could appear in public as a vampire; people accepted it as part of his public persona.

The sound of Lestat the rocker soon drifted into the frozen northland where Marius had eventually taken Akasha and Enkil. In 1985, Akasha awoke in response to the music. She killed Enkil and left the sanctuary to dominate the world and create a new Eden inhabited primarily by a select group of females. She intended to kill off most of the males, though Lestat was a favored individual. She initiated the killing almost immediately, but as Halloween approached, her activity increased.

Lestat had a concert set for San Francisco. Many of the living vampires headed for the concert. After the concert, Akasha forced Lestat to accompany her on one of her massacres. They then journeyed to Sonoma County, California, for what became a final confrontation. Akasha was killed, and her threat ended. The surviving vampires, including Lestat, went to Miami for some rest and relaxation.

In the meantime, Lestat had learned of one David Talbot, the aging leader of the occult research group, the Talamasca. His organization had taken an interest in vampires and had sent a researcher to New Orleans to research the truth of the story recounted by Louis in Interview with a Vampire. Lestat traveled to London to meet Talbot and the unusual pair became friends, though Talbot refused Lestat’s offer to become a vampire. While developing his relationship with Talbot, Lestat received an offer from an unusual individual, Raglan James, who wanted to swap bodies with Lestat. Talbot advised against it, but Lestat was intrigued with James and agreed to a temporary exchange. Too late, he learned that James planned to assume his identity and life.

Lestat enlisted Talbot’s assistance to track James, and once they found him, they devised a scheme to force a new transfer. In the process Lestat got his body back and Talbot found himself in James’s body. In his new relatively young body, Talbot reconsidered Lestat’s offer of a vampire’s life. The widely traveled Lestat’s next adventure took him into the supernatural realms of heaven and hell. Guided by the devil, he found himself confronting the nature of evil, the significance of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and the often-bloody history of the Church. He traveled backward in time to watch Christ’s passion and crucifixion, including the legendary moment when a young woman, Veronica, wiped the sweat from Christ’s face and his visage miraculously appeared on her veil. Lestat responded by drinking Christ’s blood, stealing the veil, and fleeing back to earth. Memnoch, the devil, tried to prevent him and in their struggle, Lestat lost his left eye.

Lestat returned to Earth where, in Manhattan, he met up with several of his old acquaintances. Talbot listened to him recount the story of his adventure. Dora, the daughter of one of his victims who happened to be a televangelist, took the veil and showed it to her audience as a miraculous sign. Lestat eventually found his way back to New Orleans where he encountered one of the ancient vampires who returned the eye he had lost. He knew that his adventure had been real, but he could not explain the meaning of it all.

As Lestat’s story continued in Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles”, the books themselves became part of the vampire mythology. The first book, Interview with the Vampire, was published as Louis’s memoirs of Lestat. Lestat then countered with his version of the story in The Vampire Lestat, his “autobiography.” In the third volume, The Queen of the Damned (1988), the modern Lestat had to deal with the situation of becoming a public figure when his story becomes known. The Tale of the Body Thief (1992) recounted the story of his adventure with Raglan James, and Memnoch the Devil of his adventures in the supernatural realms. After Memnoch, Rice announced that he had left her, and that she would not, at least for the near future, be writing about him again.

As a character Lestat caught the imagination of a new generation of vampire enthusiasts in the 1990s. He successfully combined the popular image of the vampire derived from books and movies (e.g., Lord Ruthven and Dracula) and his own distinct personality. Rice described that uniqueness in terms of androgyny, implying the movement away from culture-bound gender designations and the development of a whole personality that combines strong elements of female and male traits regardless of physiology. In practice, given the intense gender assignments common in Western culture, androgyny is often expressed by a person adopting obvious attributes or expressions of the other sex. Thus, women may adopt male hairstyles, and men may wear feminine dress and makeup. More significantly, androgyny may lead people to develop aspects of their personality that have generally been assigned by the culture to the other sex. Thus, women may develop their assertiveness and men their ability to express their feelings. The current gothic subculture has taken the lead in living out an androgynous lifestyle, which is largely owing to Lestat.

Although emphasizing Lestat’s androgynous nature, Lestat fans have also emphasized their attraction to his embodiment of typically male attributes. He is a man of strong will and action. He lifted himself up by his own bootstraps; given only a minimal knowledge by his vampiric creator, he taught himself to be a vampire. His discoveries left him with little need of traditions, and he made his own way in the world according to his own rules. “My strength, my refusal to give up, those are the only components of my heart and soul which I can truly identify,” he definitively states in The Tale of the Body Thief. He faced the problem of his vampiric situation, a condition for which he did not ask, and which imposed a blood thirst upon him. He had to kill to survive, which was evil by human standards. His evolved ethic, though infused with self-interest, led to the choice to feed on the worst of humankind and thus find some moral justification in the necessary search for food.

Lestat in the 1990s: Lestat’s central role in the 1990’s revival of interest in vampires is illustrated by the numerous places he can be found. He inspired the creation of a gothic rock band, Lestat; a role-playing game, Vampire: The Masquerade; and Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat Fan Club. His story has appeared on audiotape and in comic books, has been translated into a number of languages (from Romanian to Japanese), and was finally brought to the motion picture screen in 1994.

Lestat in the Twenty-First Century: After Memnock, Rice turned her attention to developing the story of other vampires such as Armand, Pandora, and Victorio. While Lestat was never far from the storyline, he returned to the center of attention in Blood Canticle (2003). This book also integrated his story with that of the Mayfairs, a family of witches about which Rice had written several books. In the story, Mona Mayfair is in love with Lestat’s close friend, the vampire Tarquin “Quinn” Blackwood. She is, however, dying of a wasting disease. In what she believes is her last hour, she visits her lover’s home, where Lestat turns her into a vampire. He also falls in love with the already married Rowan Mayfair.

As a vampire Mona has great strength and manifests anger over the child she bore that had caused her illness. The child is a Taltos, a member of a supernatural race that once inhabited parts of the Scottish highlands. The child has disappeared, and Lestat promises to find it if it is still alive. It is finally found on a remote island, where the Taltos now reside. As the story concludes, the remaining Taltos move to New Orleans where Rowan’s husband runs a large medical center, and where they can survive in a relatively happy family situation. Mona and Quinn are able to resume their relationship. In the end, Rowan asks Lestat to turn her, but he refuses.

Blood Canticle was the last of the vampire novels written by Rice, but Lestat has lived on in the movies (Queen of the Damned appeared in 2002), and singer Elton John wrote the music for the 2006 broadway production of Lestat the Musical.

Sources:

Ramsland, Katherine. The Vampire Companion: The Official Guide to Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993. 507 pp. Rev. ed.: 1995. 577 pp.
Rice, Anne. The Vampire Lestat. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985. 481 pp. Rept. New York: Ballantine Books, 1986. 550 pp.
———. Interview with the Vampire. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986. 448 pp. Rept. New York: Ballantine Books, 1987. 346 pp.
———. The Queen of the Damned. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. 448 pp. Rept. New York: Ballantine Books, 1989. 491 pp.
———. Tale of the Body Thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992. 430 pp. Rept. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993. 435 pp.
———. Memnoch the Devil. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. 354 pp. Rept. New York: Ballantine Books, 1995. 434 pp.
———. Blood Canticle. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. 360 pp.
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