Today in History – October 4

Courtesy of our friends at History.com, I am pleased to begin each and every day of the week here at Bulldog Pundit with a snippet of some important event that occurred on this date sometime in the past. Some events might come readily to mind while others may take a bit of effort to recall. Not all are historically portentous and some may even seem whimsical. Nevertheless, each and every one is a grain in the hourglass of human history.

On this day, Anne Rice, best-selling author of the Vampire Chronicles and other novels about the occult, is born in New Orleans.

Rice, one of four sisters, was christened Howard Allen O’Brien by her parents but insisted on being called Anne when she started first grade. Her father worked in the post office, and her mother was a strict Catholic. Rice wrote her first novel, about aliens coming to Earth, when she was 7. When she was 15, her mother, an alcoholic, died, and the family moved to Texas, where Anne met her future husband, Stan Rice, in a high school journalism class.

The couple married in 1961, and both went to San Francisco State College. Anne Rice studied political science and later took a master’s degree in creative writing. Stan later became chairman of the creative writing department at San Francisco State. The couple had a daughter who died of leukemia at age 5. Shattered by the death, Rice turned to writing and produced Interview With the Vampire, published in 1976. Although critically panned, the book was a popular hit, generating more than $1 million in movie and paperback rights before publication. Stung by the reviews, Anne turned to historical novels and wrote The Feast of All Saints, about New Orleans, and Cry to Heaven, about Italian castrati. In 1978, the couple had a son, Christopher.

In 1985, Rice published her second vampire book, The Vampire Lestat, which sold 75,000 copies in hardcover. Her third vampire book, The Queen of the Damned (1988), was so eagerly anticipated that the publisher printed more than 400,000 copies for the first printing. By 1990, her paperback sales totaled $1.3 million. Since that time she has written numerous vampire books.

I, alas, never did. But in the novel that lies fallow on the hard drive of my laptop there can be found a fascinating conversation between an evolutionary “vampire” and the human with whom she fell in love:

“We are a species that evolved parallel to your own, Laura explained. “The taxonomic designation is either Homo nocturnalis or Homo hematophagus, depending on who you talk to. I prefer hematophagus because it’s more scientifically descriptive, but colloquially, we refer to ourselves as Nocturnals and, more properly, Nosferatu.”

“Nosferatu.” Roland repeated the word slowly. “You used that word earlier. It means vampire, doesn’t it?”

“No,” she replied, shaking her head. “Everyone thinks it’s the Romanian word for vampire. It isn’t. In fact, no one today knows where it came from. And it likely would have vanished from the English language but for Stoker.”

“Stoker? Bram Stoker?”

“Yup. THAT Stoker. He was a mediocre writer for his time, but fairly prolific.  Dracula was his magnum opus. He managed to coalesce and distill the essence of all the folktales, the canards, the mythology, all of mankind’s ancient memories of us – into a single book.

“Then the popular culture got hold of it – first the theatres, then Hollywood, which spent the next seventy-five years spinning it totally out of control. Anne Rice came along and reinvigorated the genre with her pompous vampire novels. Not that she conceived anything really new or inventive. The formula was a simple one: dust off the old Dracula, carve him up into a cast of different characters, dress them in fancy period clothing, marinate them in a florid writing style that cleverly weaves in a smattering of history and anguished, pseudo-philosophical pondering. Presto: instant best-seller.  The next thing you know Hollywood inflicts upon us Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in a duet of bickering bloodsuckers. Pathetic.”

“I can see this bothers you.”

She leaned back and stared at the ceiling. “At first it did. I hated them for it – a lot of us did, because it was a shallow stereotype, like the money-grubbing kike or the step-and-fetchit nigger. But we don’t have our own Anti-Defamation League or NAACP and so we had to endure the mockery in silence. Then something happened that made us look at it a completely different way.”

“And that was…?”

“The emergence of the Goth sub-culture in the 1980’s. Anne Rice – the new goddess of S&M with fangs – became their patron saint and vampire chic became all the rage. Whole nightclubs dedicated to this theme sprang up everywhere like toadstools after a summer rain.”

“I would think this would be even more insulting. What am I missing?”

Laura smiled. “For twenty centuries we struggled to stay in the shadows – far enough away from humans that we we would be nothing more than a vague deja vu. Baudelaire remarked that the devil’s cleverest strategy was to convince us he didn’t exist and in the twentieth century it became difficult to take the concept of pure spiritual evil seriously when characters like Anton LaVey and his ridiculous Church of Satan pranced naked around pentacles on the floor.

In that respect, Stoker’s book was a windfall of misinformation that worked like a charm. Popular culture carried the rest of the water and these days, with the exception of the Goth-vampire lunatic fringe, no one takes our existence seriously. THAT is why you spent most of your life in blissful ignorance of my kind: we were hiding in plain sight.”

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