Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

By: Anne Rice
Audio book version

I have frequently been one of "the first" to discover a new novel.

I was actually among the early Harry Potter "adopters."

I found "The DaVinci Code" (and thought it was dumb) long before the mainstream caught up with it.

And "Interview with a Vampire," Anne Rice's breakthrough novel from 1976, was one of my favorites before it caught the attention of readers in a big way. It was right up my alley - a rock star vampire grants an interview to a young and not-as-sophisticated-as-he-thinks journalist. The vampire, LeStat, tells all about how he came to be a vampire, what its like to be a vampire, and all about his history throughout the years. (NOTE: a friendly reader reminded me that it was, in fact, Louis, who is interviewed in the first book in the series - he tells the story of his making by LeStat... who eventually does become a rock star, but in a later book in the Vampire Chronicles series. Thank you, E. L. Fay!)

Anne Rice's path as an author is an interesting metaphor for the intellectual and spiritual arc of many of the Baby Boom generation (though at 67 she is technically pre-Baby Boom).

Her interest in the esoteric, even the demonic, mirrors the pagan fascinations of many of that era: isn't there something more honest, they wondered. Is it possible that our elders have been misleading us all along, and it wasn't the pagans and heathens who had it all wrong, but the pious church-goers and straightlaced do-gooders? Isn't it possible that the Devil was just the fearful church's interpretation of the old god, Pan? And that Jesus is just the latest retelling of the old God who fathers himself with his mother and is then sacrificed for the good of is people story -no more, and no less? That sexuality is the root of all religious practice, both the proscription, and practice.

She traced her way through a whole body of deep and dark mythology, from vampires to witches to ancient Druids to Egyptian gods. What is superlative about her stories is always her interesting and unusual scholarship; what isless compelling is the relentlessly perverse hyper-sensuality/sexuality that is at the root of every character in every book, human or inhuman.

Still, she does a credible job of making her characters come to life, and if they talk too much and too impossibly deeply at times, still, we are able to delve into their thoughts and worlds in a way that makes her books addictively readable.

While I'm making the case that Rice is a bellwether of the Baby Boom intellectual and spiritual journey, nothing about Rice is really "typical." According to Wikipedia,"Rice was born Howard Allen O'Brien and spent most of her early life in New Orleans, Louisiana, which forms the background against which most of her stories take place. She was the second daughter in a Catholic Irish-American family; Rice's sister, the late Alice Borchardt, also became a noted genre author.

About her unusual given name, Rice said: "My birth name is Howard Allen because apparently my mother thought it was a good idea to name me Howard. My father's name was Howard, she wanted to name me after Howard, and she thought it was a very interesting thing to do."

Rice became "Anne" on her first day of school, when a nun asked her what her name was. She told her "Anne", having felt it was a pretty name. Her mother, who was with her, let it go without correcting her, knowing how self-conscious her daughter was of her real name. From that day on, everyone she knew addressed her as "Anne"."

Rice married a man who was an outspoken atheist, and she embraced the philosophy, too. Her novels were a romp in all sorts of dark and forbidden territory, including a sort of pantheistic approach to the numinous that explained religion as supernatural in the sense of ghosts and witches more than supernatural in the sense of Gods and angels. Rice's husband died in 2002, though, and not too long thereafter, Rice returned to the Roman Catholicism of her youth.

Whether this return was related to the loss of her husband's influence, or the swing of a wayward youth as it ages toward the stability and regulation of tradition, Rice embarked on a new era of writing - and this book is a reflection of that. Rice has openly acknowledged that this phase of her writing is dedicated to the God with whom she has reconciled.

With her usual attention to detail, Rice has painted for us a realistic and telling portrait of 7 A.D. (or, C.E., depending on how you prefer to express it) Israel (and for a short segment of the book, Egypt).

We are reminded that Jesus lived the tribal life of a Jew, not the medieval life of a European (we do tend to confuse Jesus own life with the history of the Church he founded), and practiced the Jewish traditions with love and respect.

We meet his extended family. We follow them through Sabbath meals, travel to the temple, we see through their eyes the domination of Rome and the moral bankruptcy of some of their own leaders. While all these elements of the Christ story are well known to most Christians (at least), they are told covered with the dust of Nazareth, ripe with the taste of lentil pottage and sweet figs, and the smell of the family sleeping rooms, segmented by sex.

The main development of the story is Jesus' discovery that there is something special about him. More than special, that he is the son of God.

As serendipity would have it (if I ever write my own biography, that is what I will call it!), I am also reading a book just now that compares the life and writings of C.S. Lewis (noted Christian apologist and scholar) with Sigmund Freud (noted atheist and father of psychoanalysis). In this book, the author points out that what was different about Christianity from all religions before (though not necessarily since) was the idea that Jesus actually claimed to BE God. Not to represent God, to speak for God, even to "contain" God - but to BE God. And to be God among a people who had broken with all previous religious practice by insisting that there were not many Gods, but only one, and that they knew him and his will.

Thus for a young Jewish boy (approximately 8 years old at the time the book takes place) to realize that he IS the son of God, or more aptly, God himself, was a pretty monumental event. About Jesus, as many have said, there are just three possibilities: Jesus was a deliberate and execrable fraud; he was certifiable; he really was God.

Rice presumes the latter to be the case, and her story is all about Jesus coming to terms with who he is, what he is, and why he is here. He grows from an innocent child still sleeping in the women's room with his mother to a young man of the tribe, heavy with the burden of knowledge that he is forever separate from the other members of his family - that he has a purpose he cannot fully fathom yet. And like the knowledge of death, once it has been acquired, he can never return to his former boyish innocence.

Rice has also done a very fine job of portraying the thoughts of a child as they evolve from half-knowledge and joyful discovery to self-awareness and a sense of destiny. Her Jesus is a little boy anyone would love to have for a child, and want to know as he questions the Pharisees in the temple; reconciles with his jealous older half-brother; watches his mother's smallest actions with careful protectiveness.

We see the glimmers of the man he will become, and we definitely want to continue with this narrative in the other novels in this series.

Comments

E. L. Fay said…
Great review. I started Christ the Lord simply because it was Anne Rice, but I found it boring and never finished it. I do find her recent "reconversion" very intriguing, though if her husband remained an atheist until the day he died, I wonder how she reconciles that to the Christian teachings of Heaven and Hell.

I just thought I'd make one correction, however. You seem to have confused the first two novels of Rice's Vampire Chronicles: Interview with the Vampire and its sequel The Vampire Lestat. The main character of Interview, the vampire telling his story, is Louis, who was "created" by Lestat. Lestat is the narrator of the next book, which chronicles his early life in pre-Revolutionary France, his acquaintance with vampire history, and his rise to rock stardom in the 1980s.

But it looks like you have a great blog here. I read your reviews of Dreams of My Father and the Why I'm a Conservative/Democrat book and I really liked your balanced, nuanced approach. Definitely look forward to reading more.

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