I was recently reading the latest book in The Vampire Chronicles, Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis. After the many ups and all-too-frequent downs of the series, reading the new installments comes out of the same schadenfreude-y curiosity that presumably leads other people to watch the Kardashians: namely, wanting to know what on earth these disaster (non)humans are up to now.
One of the major worldbuilding developments in the most recent books has been, as one might guess from the title, the ascension of Lestat into a sort of mutually-agreed-upon rulership of the vampire community. Even Lestat has acquired some self-awareness, over the years; he knows that he is not going to have the attention span to attend to every issue of the community, and so he forms a court of vampiric elders from across the world. While this has the immediate benefit for the reader of putting all the major players of the series in one place to stand around and be beautiful at each other, it also lends a seriousness to Lestat’s rule. His princeship is not symbolic, and for the first time the vampire community is less an arbitrary group of metahumans connected only by the fluke of their condition and more of an organized nation. And that, of course, means there needs to be rules.
In an increasingly plugged in and hyper-vigilant world where the existence of vampires is a very poorly guarded secret, it’s more important than ever that vampires maintain a low profile. As part of this (and as part of the mentality that vampires are not inherently evil despite their predatory nature) they are expected to behave in reasonably moral ways.
Don’t kill; only take enough blood to sate your hunger. Don’t drink from innocents; only take blood from those who are clearly bad people (you know, like, sex traffickers, murderers, people who don’t use their turn signal). Don’t broadcast your existence to humans—a “do as I say, not as I do” rule given Lestat’s history—as this endangers the entire vampire community. However, despite the rather checkered history of how all these people actually became vampires, there don’t seem to be any rules forthcoming about who gets to be a vampire.
While the main plot of the most recent book unsurprisingly deals with the titular Atlantis and its denizens, at one point Lestat raises an interesting question. Some of the older vampires, in league with a doctor who is fascinated with scientific study of their vampiric natures, have gone about turning various specialists to the Blood, the better to keep their highly intelligent minds around forever. Lestat questions the cold efficacy of this; before this, those brought into the vampire lifestyle were often those with whom the vampire creator had already formed a strong emotional bond, although this was certainly not always the case. Lestat himself was turned by an alchemist who then immediately killed himself, leaving the young fledgling to fend for himself in his strange new paradigm. Claudia was turned as a child by the soft-hearted Louis, who could not bear to see her mortal form succumb to death; he had never seen her before that instance. Not every story is happy, but the enduring ones tend to be—mostly because the unhappy ones usually end in one or more deaths. Is turning people to whom you are emotionally attached better or worse than turning those who can offer some tangible benefit to the now-actually-a-community vampire community?
What’s most interesting to me at first, in taking a step back from this debate and looking at the issue as a whole, is that no matter what criteria they’re basing the decision on, Anne Rice’s vampires typically like to groom their future fledglings and play God by bestowing vampirism upon them. It’s right there in the name—the Dark Gift—that they’ve given to the process of turning someone. This is very unlike other vampire stories. Perhaps this is because Rice’s story is being told from the perspective of the vampires, unlike other popular vampire tales. In stories like Twilight or The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the audience’s touchpoint characters include humans with (arguable) agency who are interested in and seek out the glamorous vampire lifestyle.
There seems to be good and bad to both sides of this argument from the vampires’ side. Who does get to live forever? If vampires only turn those they are close to, it creates an endless cycle of people who already know each other getting the perks of eternal life. Lestat in particular is guilty of turning many of his loved ones, from his lover Louis and his own mother Gabrielle de Lioncourt, to a number of others. On the upside of this, they’re choosing to spend eternity with people with whom they already know they get along (well, most of the time) and are avoiding the tragedy of immortality, e.g., living on as the people you love grow old and die around you.
That said, these bonds contribute nothing of note to vampire society. In fact, besides from the aforementioned general rules by which they self-govern their behavior, there’s nothing really about vampirism that suggests a culture. It’s something they’re just beginning to create and define in this most recent book, again, because prior to this coming together and realizing that they could create a culture, they were all just creatures bound together by their condition.
The vampire researchers Seth and Fareed opt to offer a more scientific insight into the nature of vampirism by bringing a number of bright and interested researchers over to the Blood. Their candidates are chosen, yes, still to an extent for their amiability, but mainly for their ability to mentally contribute to the work. While this offers an unprecedented opportunity to understand the fundamentals of their condition, there are good and bad side effects to making the creation of new vampires merit-based. It creates a standard, beneath which those who are not bright enough or able to contribute enough to the future of the world of vampires are no longer deserving of immortality.
And in addressing who does deserve to be brought into the Blood, how does one measure said deservedness? Rather than a nepotistic custom, Seth and Fareed have just created a preternatural meritocracy—one that nevertheless still excludes the bulk of humanity from ever getting a chance at eternal life. They gauge their fledglings by their intelligence, but it’s inherently ableist to turn only those who are of high intelligence. And yet, at a minimum the person turned must be able to understand the rules that govern vampiric society in terms of keeping it secret and keeping one’s self safe. Becoming a vampire doesn’t just bestow eternal life—it makes the being in question a predator who lives on other sentient beings. There is a responsibility that comes with this immortality that would not be present in other kinds of transformations.
Ultimately, I don’t think that either side of this informal debate on who gets to be a vampire is necessarily right, especially because it’s deeply unfair to… all of humankind. Humans get no real agency in this process, while the vampires play God with whoever they pick regardless of their reasons. Because of this, I’m not sure that Lestat and his council should bother implementing a more formal system of rules regarding who can be given the Dark Gift. Barring a vague rule along the lines of “a consenting adult who you feel will add value to the vampire community”, with “value” interpretable in a variety of ways, any criterion that they lay down will inevitably be exclusive to some person who could otherwise be beneficial to the burgeoning culture, even if what that benefit is isn’t immediately obvious. I think that, until they figure out some way to do it that’s actually fair to the humans involved, it’s probably better that this particular aspect of vampire society remains nebulous.
Hear more from Lady Saika on Character Reveal, the podcast she cohosts with BrothaDom!