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Shadows and Light: The Faith Journey of Anne Rice
By Kristen West McGuire
Her vampire stories have sold millions. But her own story—of a Catholic faith reawakened—might be her masterpiece.


Life After Vatican II
Modern Catholic Sensibilities
Writing for God
Changing Paths
New Genre, New Life

Anne Rice

It would have made a screaming good novel.

In 1998, one week after returning to the Catholic faith of her youth, and only two days after having her marriage blessed by the Church, Anne Rice, author of The Vampire Chronicles, fell into a diabetic coma. Waking up in the hospital, she was bewildered at the prospect of returning to her Catholic faith.

Anne, 67, wasn’t the only one. Millions of her fans were taken aback by her conversion as well. Her Vampire Chronicles were only one part of her oeuvre. She identified strongly with her character, the vampire Lestat, calling him “an ideal, a genderless giant.”

And yet the first two books of Anne’s trilogy on the life of Christ are so good that no one can deny she’s a writer in her prime. Her recent memoir, Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession, details her transformation from an awkward girl named Howard who wanted to become a nun, through her years away from the Church, to her unconventional embrace of Catholic sensibilities. It’s quite a read.

Anne’s early experiences with personal loss prepared her for her own brush with death. “Death had always been a part of my life,” she says. “I lost my mother to alcoholism when I was 14. I lost my daughter to leukemia when she was not yet six. I was never a person who wasn’t aware that death could come and take someone. I always knew that no one gets out alive.”

Life After Vatican II

Anne didn’t die, but she didn’t remain the same, either. The dehydration involved in a diabetic coma causes the brain to shrink, and recovery includes the brain rewiring itself. It’s not uncommon to experience confusion after such trauma. In this case, the physical effects were compounded by the changes Anne found in the Church she had embraced.

In Called Out of Darkness, she recalls: “I felt frightened by my new commitment and it was only with great difficulty that I went back to Mass. I grieved inordinately for the old Latin—the beautiful Tridentine Mass on which I’d been brought up—and it seemed an immense tragedy to me that the service was so changed, and that the magnificent hymns of my childhood were almost entirely gone.”

The majority of Catholics today have never attended a Tridentine Mass. The priest stands on the high altar with his back turned to the people. Incense is liberally used in purification rites on the altar, directed at both the priest and the congregation.

Although the Scripture and the homily may be in English, the words of the liturgy are in Latin, and often sung by a choir located in a loft out of the sight of the congregation, as if the words themselves emanated from an angelic choir.

Anne’s mother had taken her to daily Mass frequently as a child, and the sights and sounds fed her imagination in a way that school never did. Anne was a dreamer who struggled with academic tasks, and her love for the Church increased while the alcoholic chaos at home intensified.

In the 40 years after Vatican II, the arguments and implementations of liturgical solutions have become a regular part of the confusion of being a Catholic. It’s easy to see why the changes would grate on the sensibility of someone who had looked to the liturgy for stability. The good news is that all of the service is in the vernacular, so the changes are intelligible, if not entirely welcomed.

The architectural glory of Anne’s New Orleans childhood remained. Her reverence for beauty had always sustained her. In place of Latin responses chanted on her behalf by a choir, Anne found herself speaking aloud the prayers and the creed in her mother tongue. Meaning began to return to the liturgy. The juxtaposition provided enough support for her to continue her journey, even as details emerged that troubled her deeply.


“I was not aware of the fights between liberals and conservatives, the arguments and the litmus tests they apply. I am amazed. This requires a recommitment every day to the Gospels. History shows that Christianity is filled with quarreling,” Anne observes.

She claims she knew nothing of the post-conciliar Church. In fact, she contends that her ignorance of the arguments in the current Church was a miracle. If Anne had known of the Church’s firm opposition to the ordination of women or the clerical sex-abuse scandal or even the new “theology of the body” and gender-complementarity theory, all of these things would have disheartened her so much that she might not have returned to active faith.

And, in a twist that may be difficult for nonbelievers to swallow, Anne found that her lack of knowledge humbled her enough to receive the grace of faith. She points out that she does not know what God knows—none of us do.

And in acknowledging the divine knowledge—and bracketing her own knowledge as incomplete—Anne submitted herself to Jesus in love and trust. All she knew was that she believed that Jesus was present in the Eucharist, and that she recognized his love for her and she responded.

“I returned to Holy Communion because I believed in it. The drive was so overwhelming that I didn’t ask anyone, not even my husband,” Anne says. “I had to wrestle with a lot of questions. Could I be a good Catholic if I didn’t believe in Original Sin? Finally, I realized it didn’t matter what I personally thought. God would work all that out. I believed in God in the Eucharist, and I would try to work my very best to be true to that impulse.”

When Anne and her husband, Stan, moved back to New Orleans in 1988, her estranged Catholic relatives welcomed her with open arms. This was a surprise to her, and as she spent time with them, she found that they were not doctrinaire at all. The Catholic prohibitions of her youth—the banned books, the shunning of sinners, the insistence on purity of faith and practice—had disappeared during her bohemian youth.

Still, Anne’s social milieu—then and now—is not inclined to conversion. Stan never renounced his atheism before he died in 2002. Their son, Christopher, is openly gay. Many of Anne’s fans and friends are not inclined to see the Catholic Church in a positive light. It’s easy to see how misunderstandings might arise. At no time has she directly challenged them to renounce their beliefs in favor of hers.

Stan might have been a little surprised when Anne walked into their bedroom in December of 1998 and told him she had gone back to the Catholic Church and that they needed to be married again.

Anne remembers, “He immediately recognized the wisdom of the idea. He had a deep respect for standing before the tribe and proclaiming the vows. He was very moved during the ceremony in the New Orleans parish I’d gone to Mass in as a schoolchild, St. Mary’s.”

And although Christopher is not as interested in the supernatural as his mother is, there is a mutual respect between the two which is shown in the restraint they use publicly when discussing his sexual orientation and Anne’s faith. She speaks out pointedly about gender issues in her memoir, holding that the conservative viewpoint on sex and gender is unsupported by Scripture.

Conversion always comes with a price, and the real challenge to Anne’s faith was in her writing. For the 20 years before her conversion, she told stories about vampires, witches and mortals in tales with sensuous plots and detailed attention to themes that many devout Catholics have found offensive, including pseudonymous erotica.

Her staff not only helped her to market her books, but also put on an annual vampire ball in New Orleans. The vampire Lestat wasn’t just a character, but a franchise.

In Called Out of Darkness, Anne notes that the years before her conversion were filled with pilgrimages and religious artifacts. She traveled the world and was always drawn to the churches. She purchased statues and books on religion, especially on Jesus. “I was Christ-haunted,” she says.

Attentive readers noted her increased attention to questions of heaven, hell and redemption. Her autobiographical novel, Violin, published in 1997, featured a middle-aged woman with three sisters and a devout father. Her character lost her only child to childhood cancer. In it, Anne poses the question, “Can suffering be redemptive?”

Critics and readers were less than enthusiastic about this novel, a fact that still bothers her. Anne has wondered if the protagonist were a man, whether the novel would have gotten better reviews. It seemed to her an example of sexism. But what if her “vampire” readership was merely unsure what to make of a very personal novel that exposed the author’s inner conflicts?

Anne’s health crisis and recovery did not slow her writing much. She pounded out about two novels a year. But she admitted that her conversion caused her to see her writing in a new light. This gave her pause as she approached the altar for Communion each week, pondering how her faith was expressed in her talents.

In 2002, after writing several novels about vampires and witches to mixed reviews, Anne decided that she needed to devote her writing entirely to Jesus Christ.

“Everything was smooth sailing when I did this in early 2002. I didn’t know Stan would die. [He was diagnosed with a brain tumor within weeks of her decision, and died nearly five months later.] I was going back to the spiritual commitment of my childhood, when I wanted to be a nun, to give my life to Christ.”

Since she was now deprived of her husband’s comforting presence and suddenly the sole breadwinner, it would have been understandable to give up such pious thoughts. Further, she had already signed to write Blood Canticle, the last of her vampire books.

Gamely, she tried to unite Lestat’s character with her own newfound aspirations. The book begins with Lestat saying, “I want to be a saint. I want to save souls by the millions. I want to do good far and wide. I want to fight evil!”

Anne says of this book, “That last book is the most densely theological of the vampire ones. The hero resigns as a hero. He opts on the side of life. And it’s an uneasy book; there is a sense of the condemnation of the hero for himself.”

Indeed, Lestat decides in the end that he is a “magnet for the damned.” The break is a clean one. She recently informed fans on her Web site that she would not undertake a Christian vampire novel.

Stan’s death was heartbreaking, and it took her years to produce Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, a novel written as Jesus might have thought of himself, a first-person narrative. It is an edgy approach that made many conservatives nervous. But most are won over by the power of her prose and her careful attention to biblical details.

Anne was shocked by the biblical scholarship she read. She found that the sources for less orthodox historical scholarship on the Bible were less than convincing. She began to gravitate toward more conventional scholars like N.T. Wright and John A. T. Robinson. The more she read, the more she was energized by the project.

“All of my early conceptions were shattered as I made my way through all of the scholarship. I was amazed by the power of Scripture to come at you. It’s inexhaustible and explosive! I’m knocked on my back on the road to Damascus every day.”

Anne’s portrayal of Jesus has received generous praise from believers and nonbelievers alike. She worked hard to woo Christian readers to her new work, placing ads in journals such as First Things and Our Sunday Visitor. She answers every e-mail on her Web site, thousands each year.

She has no regrets about her past writings. After all, Lestat is a hero to both men and women, and Anne refuses to condemn him in any way, noting that all of her books have integrity as steps along her spiritual journey.

I ask her if she still feels genderless. She responds, “I don’t really understand gender, what it means. I still feel basically genderless. Nothing stands between me and Jesus Christ that has to do with gender. Those technicalities exist on the periphery. If you think about it, I see the Catholic Church as genderless. There are no heights to which female saints could not attain, and nothing they could not tackle.”

She continues, “The Church transcends gender and that’s what God is asking of us, to transcend anything that is a barrier to love. We are called to find Christ in other people, whether they are male or female. We are called to embrace everyone.”

Called Out of Darkness was written after the second book of her trilogy on the life of Christ, Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana. While she has critical momentum on her side, she is taking her time with the research for the last book.

“It’s a book that will take a lot of time and meditation, involving all his miracles and then the Passion. I have to choose what scenes I am going to use.” Indeed, the passion of Christ may in fact prove to be her magnum opus.

Fans of her earlier thrillers will be eager to hear of her newest project: Songs of the Seraphim, metaphysical thrillers about angels working with humans. She calls the series an opportunity to “let off some imaginative steam.” The first one will be out in October, and she hopes this series might appeal to her “vampire” readers.

“I’m born again as a Christian writer, writing these novels about the angels.”

Kristen West McGuire is the Catholic community coordinator for Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. In 2008 she authored The Essential Woman: Reflections on Edith Stein’s Essays on Woman (Secretum Meum Mihi Press). She says, “My husband is a wonderful helpmate. He’s the reason I keep sane with eight kids!”

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