"The Tale of the Body Thief"
"The Queen of Gothic Horror"
"The Tale of the Body Thief," by Anne Rice, is the fourth book in a series entitled "The Vampire Chronicles." Published for the first time in October 1992, "Tale" soared to number one on the best seller list and proved to be one of Rice's top selling novels of all time. It was joyously received by her loyal fans and critics alike, and was said to have been a welcome addition to the previous three chronicles. An examination of "Tale's" reception in the literary world and the reasons for its success provide insight into the workings of the novel as a whole as well as its place in literary history. In addition, a look into the often paradoxical, public persona of Rice offers potential readers a glimpse into both the woman and the writer behind this gothic tale. And finally, it seems essential to provide an overview of the ways in which Rice (and her novels) effect a growing number of people around the world--from "goth kids" to professionals.
Qualities Reviewers Praised
When "Tale" came into print, book reviewers responded with enthusiasm. As reviously mentioned in Assignment Four, critics from the Chicago Tribune, The Atlanta Journal and The L.A. Times wrote about the novel in their columns. For them, "Tale" is "brilliant," with prose that are "silkenly sensuous." Carolyn See from the L.A. times remarked that the book was a whole lot of fun. She especially liked the "good sex, great food, sun shine seen a hundred ways and even a cruise on the QEII" (9). Each of the reviewers believed that Rice writes elegantly and truly delves into her characters' lives and the plot encompassing them. Some said that Rice had written her strongest plot yet with "Tale,"--one which would inevitably engross the reader. Also, these reviewers noted the novel's "hypnotic eroticism" and "blood-racing" speed. (Atlanta Journal & Maclean's) In addition to these reviews, three [recently found] articles in Newsweek and Time magazine further illustrate critics' responses.
In two Newsweek issues, Tom Mathews called the characters "irresistible," while David Gates referred to the main character, Lestat, as the "James Bond of the vampires" (74 & 62). Finally, John Skow of Time magazine sums up these attitudes when he described his own appreciation of Rice's work, and particularly the novels' "private recognitions and ironies. . .tireless naughtiness. . .forbidden seductions and ultimate sterility." He continued: "[t]hese sly borrowings, more evident than ever in this fourth of the author's vampire tales, have worked brilliantly" (71). All in all, "Tale" became Rice's third critically acclaimed novel, which was evidenced in some of the most respected news magazines and newspapers across the country.
While it is clear that the novel was well-received by critics, one must ask how the greater public responded. Obviously, "Tale's" hitting the best-seller list is evidence of Rice's success in that realm as well. According to Bookwire.com (an on-line source for information on author's, novels, etc.), "Tale" became number one in its first week on Publishers Weekly Hardcover Fiction Bestseller List on October 19, 1992, and remained on the list for ten weeks, with its average position at approximately 2.1. By December 28, 1992, however, the novel had fallen to fourth place, where it remained for an additional three weeks. Interestingly, "Tale" dropped again to the tenth spot on January 25, 1993 which proved to be its last week on the Bestseller List. The book's performance in 1993 was remarkably lower than the previous year, averaging 6.7 in position, thereby creating an average position of 3.4 overall.
Reasons for "Tale's" Popularity
The reasons for "Tale's" being fixed at the top of the Bestseller List and then suddenly dropping off after ten weeks may be explained by the timing of the novel's publication. As is the case with any book, a great review produces increased interest for both the author's loyal fans as well as potentially new readers. Since the book was released at the end of October 1992, the immediate surge of buyers appears to be associated with this phenomenon (i.e. loyal fans + influential reviews). One may suppose that this surge lasted a month or so, which would have brought the success of the book solidly into the beginning of December. Though the exact reasons for its continued success is unclear, it is possible that the previous buying frenzy of October and November influenced the shopping lists for the upcoming holidays. Wouldn't "Tale" have been an excellent Christmas or Hanukkah gift? As a matter of fact, it probably was for (seemingly) thousands of people. This logic squares with the fact that after the new year, the position dropped three spots to number four. It is further evidenced by the book's activity in the following weeks, during which it quickly fell off the list altogether.
In the larger picture, "Tale's" popularity may be explained in the context of Rice's previous books, their popularity, and the gothic genre to which "The Vampire Chronicles" belong. Prior to the 1992 release of "Tale," Rice had succeeded in bringing at least two novels to Bestseller fame: "Interview with the Vampire" (1976) and "The Witching Hour" (1990). Of note is the placement of these books on the "Book-of-the-Month Club's" main and alternate selection pages. As the "Club" is a well-read and widely circulated publication, its influence is of significance (Bookwire.com, 2 and Bio. & Geneo. Master Index, 2). The popularity of these two works undoubtedly marked a place for Rice in later Bestseller lists. Though her other novels, ranging from the sadomasochistic to the erotic realms, did not become bestsellers, Rice seems to have gathered a loyal audience with them. Interestingly, she has written under her own name as well as two pseudonyms: A.N. Roquelaure and Anne Rampling. The books written under her own name include: "The Feast of All Saints" (Simon & Schuster: New York, 1980), "Cry to Heaven" (Knopf: New York, 1982), "The Vampire Lestat" (Ballantine: New York, 1985), "The Queen of the Damned" (Knopf: New York, 1988), "The Mummy": or, "Ramses the Damned" (Ballantine: New York, 1989 [Book-of-the-Month Club: main selection]), "Vampire Chronicles" ([contains "Interview," "The Vampire Lestat" and "The Queen of the Damned"] Ballantine: New York, 1989). Under A.N. Rouqelaure, Rice wrote: "The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty" (Dutton: New York, 1983), "Beauty's Punishment" (Dutton, 1984), and "Beauty's Release: The Continued Erotic Adventures of Sleeping Beauty" (Dutton, 1985). And lastly, Rice's novels written under the pseudonym, Anne Rampling, are as follows: "Exit to Eden" (Arbor House: New York, 1985 [made into movie in 1994- -was on Roger Ebert's "Top Ten Worst Movie List of 1994]) and "Belinda" (Arbor House, 1986).
In addition to the potentially large readership of Rice's earlier works, there may be other reasons for "Tale's" popularity--namely a connection between the sexual preference of the main character and a growing acceptance to alternative lifestyles in society. Before I go further, however, it must be understood that this is only a theory and there has been nothing written about the possible link thus far. Having said that, I theorize that Lestat's being homosexual became more acceptable in the late 1980's and early 1990's, when gay pride movements and sexual discrimination laws were rising to new heights. These changes, in turn, may have opened the minds of many more conservative readers, who might have previously discarded the book, labeling it "unreadable." If this were the case, book sales would have risen as well. Though I have little direct evidence of this correlation, I was struck by an article that, at the very least, reflects a growing acceptance and appreciation for alternative lifestyles and the arts during the period surrounding "Tale's" publication. The November 23, 1992 issue of Newsweek published (one week prior to NW's second review of "Tale") "A Seven-Hour Gay Fantasia: A daring and dazzling play for our time." The article gives raving reviews of "Angel in America," a two-part, seven-hour epic by Tony Kushner. According to Newsweek's Jack Kroll, the play was the most ambitious play of our time. . . .that ranges from earth to heaven, focuses on politics, sex and religion. . . [and] switches between realism and fantasy, from the tragedy of AIDS to the camp comedy of drag queens. . . . (83)He continues, calling the play "sensational," and completes the article with the final lines of the epic: " 'We won't die any secret deaths anymore,' he says with quiet defiance. 'And we will be citizens. The time has come. Get used to it.' " (83) For me, these last lines are reflective of the early 1990's as a whole. That "Tale" was the first Rice "Chronicle" to hit the bestseller list within a week of publication, ("Interview" is a bestseller, but became one over a period of years) appears to reflect a growing interest and acceptance of alternative culture, whether it be a homosexual community or a gothic trend.
Another hypothesis for "Tale's" fame stems from the massive "underground" gothic culture in American society. For the purpose of this paper, "gothic culture" refers to anything from organized "devil" and "vampire cults" to "goth pages" on the internet, and finally to your basic "goth teen (and adult) communities" which parade the streets of every city in America. While I am not suggesting that all satanists and "vampires" read Rice, I will hypothesize that media coverage of satanic and vampire rituals, like sacrifices, blood drinking etc., lead to increased interest in the subject, which in turn may influence a person's buying strategies.
According to the Anderson County Sherif's Satanism Page, the first satanic "church" was established in the 1960's by Anton Lavey, and has continued to lure followers into its grasp for the past three decades, with a resurgence of satanic activity during the late 1980's and early 1990's. On September 13, 1991, for example, an article entitled "A Stake in the Vampire Biz," appeared in "Guardian" magazine. The author of the piece, Richard Benson, profiled a purported "vampire hunter" named Sean Manchester, who was convinced that vampire/satanic cults were "gaining a firm grip on the minds of the young. . . ." (1) Whether Manchester's argument was completely valid is at this point, unclear, as I had difficulty locating specific incidents of devil cults around that period. However, I (as well as a number of my colleagues) remember having read about incidents of vampire-like activity in the early 1990's. Interestingly, I was able to locate several articles in 1996 which may be responsible for continued interest in vampires and the occult. For example, an article in the Louisiana-based "Times-Picayun" on Nov. 30, 1996," entitled " 'Vampire cult' teens found at B.R. motel" relates the story of five teenagers "believed to be in a 'vampire cult' " in Kentucky who were sent to a Louisiana jail for the murders of one of the teenagers' parents on Nov. 29, 1996. Apparently all five were wanted in the parents' slayings, which was described as their being "bludgeoned to death." Similar articles appeared in the New York Times (Nov. 30, 1996) and the Chicago Tribune (Dec. 4, 1996) later that week. It would be interesting to find out whether incidents of "vampire killings" and the sale of Rice's books have any direct correlation. Unfortunately, I have been able to find none thus far. However, one cannot deny the impact the media has on the American public. We are both disgusted and engrossed by horror and death. Knowing this about our culture, it seems obvious to me that satanic and vampire cult activity have at least an indirect effect on the sales of allvampire and gothic material, including "Tale."
To get a glimpse into the gothic world of the internet (which obviously began in the early 1990's), all one has to do is fill in a subject search on "Anne Rice" or "goth culture, " and hundreds of web sites appear. There are active, open forums, fan/goth sites--asking for e-mailed opinions, and others devoted entirely to Rice's books. The strongest "goth/Rice" connection may be summed up in one individual's web page: "Brecker's Anne Rice Links- links to the Queen of Gothic Horror." On this site, a person has access to hundreds of other Anne Rice sites and home pages. The relevance of this enormous on-line labyrinth is that it conveys an aspect of the goth/Anne Rice fan club community, which probably comprises a large fraction of Rice's buying public. That such a vast community exists on-line further evidences the goth's influence on book sales. In addition to these gothic fans on-line, the growing "goth" communities throughout the United States may also be a reason for "Tale's" bestsellerdom as well as its continued success. And finally, all of these possibilities may be propelled by Rice's popularity as a whole. A look into Rice's public persona will undoubtedly shed light on this phenomenon.
Rice's Public Persona
It is common knowledge that an author's public persona attracts or repels potential readers. In Rice's case, it appears that she does more attracting than anything. In general, the public seems to view Rice as a "witch-like" figure, always wearing black clothes, little make-up and a serious, if not cynical expression. In many promotional shots (especially from her earlier years), she appears to be a mysterious and perhaps, mystical figure whose personal beliefs and "powers" are summed up in her literature. As previously mentioned, she has been described as the "Queen of Gothic Horror." If her public persona did not, in effect, match this description, it would be more difficult for the public to really "believe" or "believe in" what she writes. If, for example, Rice was to be captured as a pastel and floral wearing, straight-pathed woman, people might not feel that she "knew" what she was talking about. Or, perhaps some might think her completely mad. As it is, however, Rice's public persona serves to "justify" her literature.
Interestingly, if one were to delve into Rice's personal history, it seems that her dark exterior reflects a very real dark past. In my brief bibliography on the author, I mentioned the loss of her mother at a very young age, the loss of her only daughter to leukemia, as well as a bout with alcoholism which apparently, was leading Rice into an early death herself. Since Rice publicly acknowledges these traumatic experiences and the effects they have had on her writing, it appears that she is trying to convey a higher sense of awareness through her own suffering. By doing so, Rice welcomes others with similar hardships into her gothic realm--as she herself states--as a means to deal with the pain. Whether Rice's public persona is a reflection of a deeply painful history or merely a way to, in a sense, merge her writings with its author is unknown. But, in my opinion, who she appears to be and who she is, are very much the same.
"Tale" in Comparison
While this examination of Rice's public persona is revealing, it is also significant to see how her work compares with other novels. Obviously, "Tale," being a story about vampires, may be compared to several versions of "Dracula." Unfortunately, I have not had the time to reread the Dracula stories, but for the purpose of an argument, I will focus on Bram Stoker's Dracula. First of all, the enormous difference between the periods "Tale" and "Dracula" were written is of importance. Since Bram Stoker lived during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, there is no doubt that both the content and the tone of the books vary greatly. The major differences include Rice's main character being homosexual with a "conscience," while Stoker's is a heterosexual "force of pure evil." In fact, Stoker's Dracula is set even further apart from Lestat when he is described as a "pestilence, the lord of bats and rats, and his touch was not romantic but rabid." (Newsweek, 71) Also, Rice's plot in "Tale" centers around Lestat switching bodies with a mortal, while Stoker's revels in a vampire's "satanic" tendencies. And lastly, Rice's prose engage the reader in an extremely erotic dialogue, while Stoker's are not the least bit seductive. (Newsweek, 71) In this light, the two books appear completely different, but in terms of genre, they are very much the same.
Of note is the fact that in all of my research, I have found only one mentionable publication about Dracula in relation to Rice's Chronicles. Tom Mathews of Newsweek states that in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, Coppola "tried to transfuse Bram's Dracula with Anne's Lestat." According to Mathews, "[t]he latest Dracula is sentimental, not scary." In other articles, "The Vampire Chronicles" have been compared to Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" and Louisa May Alcott's penny dreadful novelettes. Sarah Booth Conroy, a writer for the Washington Post, maintains that Rice is the first woman since Shelley and Alcott who has "written so strongly about sex and death." (4) Though information on Rice in the gothic genre was surprisingly minimal, I was fortunate to discover several books of critical essays which focus on horror fiction. One of these, entitled "Writing Horror and the Body: The Fiction of Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Anne Rice," by L. Badley, deals with the ways in which these authors write about the human body in relation to life and death. Though not directly stated here, many believe that King's writing has left an indelible impression on Rice. Some even venture to say that without King, there could be no Rice, since King is considered to be the forerunner of "respectable" horror fiction.
Impact of Rice's Work
Lastly, I would like to offer an overview of the impact of Rice's work all over the world. It should be duly noted that her books have been translated in eight different languages and that she has become an internationally recognized and respected author. Here in the United States, Rice's popularity is reaching new heights. Since "Tale" was published in 1992, she has released seven additional novels, including: "Lasher" (Knopf, 1993), "Taltos" (Knopf, 1994), "Memnoch the Devil," the final book in the Vampire Chronicles (Knopf, 1995), "The Servant of the Bones" (Knopf, 1996), "Violin" (Knopf, 1997), and "Pandora," released in March (Knopf, 1998). Not surprisingly, each of these novels were or are on Publishers Weekly Hardcover Bestseller List. "Pandora," Rice's latest book, is the first in a new series of vampire chronicles, and is said to be amazing. Though the book has only been out a little over a month, there are already web pages designed specifically for "Pandora." One web page, "The Cabinet of Dr. Casey: Horror Literature News," is an intricately designed page with full quotes from the book and a picture of "Pandora's" main character, David.
In addition, Rice's work has evoked a strong response from fans on multiple levels. Artists have recreated the reading experience by making "graphic novels." These graphic novels offer readers an engrossing view of the books, as they include descriptive drawings and paintings of the scenes therein. "Anne Rice's Vampire Lestat: A Graphic Novel Based on the novel by Anne Rice" is one such adaptation. Also, one Newsweek writer cited Anne's work as the reason why the movie of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" deviated so much from the original book--an interesting supposition. Though "Tale" has not been made into a movie, the 1994 adaptation of "Interview with a Vampire" was a success. Apparently, film makers have bought the rights to "The Vampire Lestat" and "The Queen of the Damned," but nothing has come of it thus far. With all of this attention, how does Rice deal with her fans? Quite well, it seems. Rice has set up her own "Official Anne Rice Home Page," where fans e-mail her and she, at times, responds. Another way to appease her fans has been to set up the Anne Rice Fan Line (504-522-8634) and to randomly mail out "Commotion Strange," Rice's personal newsletter.
In essence, "The Tale of the Body Thief's" fame reflects the popularity of Rice and the gothic and horror genres as a whole. While "Tale's" booksellerdom may be explained in a variety of ways, one must never underestimate the power of a good storyteller. Since the beginning of time, humans have enjoyed listening to their parents and grandparents' folktales, spending hours mesmerized by the enchanting stories of the past and predictions of the future. Overtime, this tradition was transformed and maintained through literature. Whether the stories are true or fictitious is of little importance to us--what really matters is the extent to which we can become lost in their "reality."
Basic Sources/Search Engines: [All of the following sources were used to complete this assignment.]
1. World cat:subject/author search.
Contemporary Authors: Bibliographic Outline: galenet.gale.com
2. Periodicals 1983+: VIRGO
3. Random House: Books@Random: randomhouse.com
4. Database Browsing: Arts and Humanities Search: VIRGO
5. MLA Bibliographic File: VIRGO
6. New York Times Abstracts: VIRGO
7. Netscape Navigator: subject/author search
The Following Sources are Broken Up into Subject Sections:
Introduction: listed in P.2-3
Qualities Reviewers Praised:
Gates, David. "A 200-Year-Old Problem Drinker." Newsweek. 26 Oct. 1992.
Johnson, Brian D. "Queen of the Night: Anne Rice has a literary affair with vampires." Macleans. 16 Nov. 1992.
Mathews, Tom. "Fangs for Nothing: Coppola's Dracula and Rice's Lestat: cultural icons for an Age of Enervation." Newsweek. 30 Nov. 1992.
See, Carolyn. "Vampire Tans! News at 11." L.A. Times. 25, Oct. 1992.
Skow, John. "[A Vampire with a Heart]. . .And one with Vanity." TIME. 26, Oct. 1992.
Smith, Sarah. "The Vampire Strikes Back." The Washing Post. 30, Oct. 1992.
Summer, Bob. "Anne Rice vamps voluptuously: 'The Tale of the Body Thief' will leave her loyal fans wanting more." 4, Oct. 1992.
Book Wire: Author Search: Biography: "www.Biography.com" and "Anne Rice"
Performance on Publishers Weekly Hardcover Fiction Bestseller List @ www.bookwire.com/BookInfo.Author
Reasons for "Tale's" Popularity
"Anderson County (SC) Sheriff's Satanism Page": www.carol.net/acso/satan/satan.html Anonymous.
"5 Teen-Agers Held in Couple's Killing." New York Times. 30, Nov. 1996.
Benson, Richard. "A Stake in the Vampire Biz." Guardian. 13, Sept. 1991.
Biographical and Genealogy Master Index: VIRGO: www.galenet.gale.com Bookwire.com (same as above)
"Brecker's Anne Rice Links- links to the Queen of Gothic Horror."
Netscape subject search: Yahoo: Anne Rice.
Greene, Bob. "Of 'teen vampires' and trouble public appetites." Chicago Tribune. 4, Dec. 1996.
Kroll, Jack. "A Seven-Hour Gay Fantasia: A daring and dazzling play for our time." Newsweek. 23, Nov. 1992.
Zganjar, Leslie. " 'Vampire cult' teens found at B.R. motel." Times-Picayun. 30, Nov. 1996.
Rice's Public Persona:
*personal hypothesis and observations
Biographical and Genealogy Master Index. (same as above)
"Tale" in Comparison:
Corles, Richard. "A Vampire With a Heart. . . ." TIME. 30, Nov. 1992.
Conroy, Sarah Booth. from "Bibliographical and Genealogy Master Index. (same as above)
Skow, John. ". . .And One With Vanity." TIME. (same as above)
Impact of Rice's Work:
Bookwire.com (same as above)
Netscape: Subject Search: Anne Rice.