Tale of the Body Thief, The

The Tale of the Body Thief
Review by Erica Abeel, submitted on 1-Nov-1992

Vampires are hot. The gory exploits of Lestat de Lioncourt, sassy bad boy of The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, rocket straight to the best-seller list. The books, as they say, walk off the shelves. Soon vampire aficionados can sink their teeth into Lestat's latest adventure, The Tale of the Body Thief (Knopf, $24).

Of course, vampire mania is rooted in long tradition. The first popular vampire novel modeled its hero on Lord Byron; in 1897 came Bram Stoker's Dracula_; and in 1936, the movie Dracula's Daughter, admired by Anne Rice for its 'beautiful kill scenes.' Lately, the vogue has spawned other creatures of the night, such as Kiki Olson's How to Get a Date with a Vampire (Contemporary Books, $6.95) and a soon-to-be-released movie based on Stoker's book.

But why the current popularity? Perhaps in these economic hard times vampires provide escape into fantasy. They offer a sorely needed vacation from reality, an entree into an eerie parallel universe (think Star Wars and the game Dungeons & Dragons). The domain of the damned has its own law, which Rice presents in pseudoscientific yet convincing fashion. In Body Thief, Lestat, fed up with immortality, manages to transfer his soul into a mortal body so he can be reborn a man. The scene conveying the mechanics of the 'possession' is so plausible that I was more than willing to suspend disbelief!

The fantasy trip is also seasoned with ideas. Lestat and his mortal buddy, David Talbot, debate the nature of good and evil, and God and the Devil, like two seminarians. And Lestat himself encompasses a little bit of both. He is a discriminating demon, a Robin Hood among vampires, since he mainly punctures the murderers who prey on nice old ladies. He's a little like Batman, offing the bad guys. And that we identify with him, not his victim, leaves us to wonder at our *own* thirst for the forbidden.

Mainly, though, Rice's vampires suck us in by sheer force of personality. The undead are never boring or bland; there are no vampire dweebs. A passionate risk-taker, Lestat claims to respect goodness--but what he really craves is *intensity* of experience. And he has the equipment for it: amplified hearing, the ability to scan minds, superhuman strength. A globe flier, he zings around on his own vampiric steam, from Rio to the South American rainforests, to Paris, to New Orleans, to the Gobi Desert....What better guide for the armchair tourist?

The damned are also damn sexy. A nonspecific eroticism permeates vampire lore, an aura of the unforbidden. Lestat's 'iridescent' eyes mesmerize and entrance; his hair is 'like a soundless explosion of white light.' He's a cool dresser, a big spender, reads widely, and loves Rembrandt. For women who are dealing with commitmentphobes, Lestat is a refreshingly take- charge guy, ready to go for it (though which sex he prefers is not clear). He would be a great catch, were it not for his feeding habits. All that blood-lust. Though maybe that, too, is part of the appeal. When Lestat as a human makes love to a woman, he experiences it as a 'shiver.' How can it compare with the 'pounding intensity' of vampiric ecstasy? And you can be sure that Lestat never has to ask a woman what she likes. He *knows*. He has had all Eternity to polish his technique.

For all the bizarre fantasy, Rice's vampires capture the human condition, hold a mirror to the real world, and even instruct us- -no small part of their appeal. Just think: the vampire Lestat's greatest desire is to become human. Can we ask any less of ourselves?

Fanged Films

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

Drawn to Vamps?