A Conversation with Anne Rice
Q: What led you to the idea of writing this book, and then to the actual writing of it?
A: Obsession led me to write this book, and it’s been that way with every book I’ve ever written. I become completely consumed by a theme, by characters, by a desire to meet a challenge, and the book begins to grow. With Christ the Lord, the obsession began in my earliest childhood in pure religious devotion. Though I broke with my religion in college, I was still obsessed with religious questions, the basics–Why are we here? Why is the world so beautiful? Why is it so important that we lead good lives, even when we don’t believe in an afterlife? I never stopped with this obsessive thinking and exploring, and the idea for the book–Jesus in his own words–was always there. I went back to the Catholic Church in 1998, completely. In 2002, when I was sitting in church before Mass one Saturday evening, I made the declaration to Christ that I would do this book and nothing else. And the entire purpose, shape, tone–all of that came together.
Q: Those familiar with your work will immediately recognize this subject matter as a departure for you. Assuming you agree, why head down this particular road?
A: This subject is in no way a departure from that of my previous works; no one who knows my work could possibly think so. The whole theme of Interview with the Vampire was Louis’s quest for meaning in a godless world. He searched to find the oldest existing “immortal” simply to ask “What is the meaning of what we are?” I was always compelled to seek the “big answers.”
Q: Jesus Christ narrates this book. Explain your decision to make him the narrator.
A: Jesus is the first-person narrator of this book because the use of first-person narrators is the way I know how to write a book with the greatest power and chance of artistic success. The intimate voice of the narrator in earlier novels worked powerfully for me. My first novel was written that way. Though I’ve written many novels in the third person, I’ve never felt as close to the characters as I felt to Louis, Lestat, Marius, and, finally, to this character, this fictional “creation” of Christ the Lord.
Q: The Author’s Note in the book touches on the research that you did. What did that research comprise? What types of texts did you consult?
A: Research was as total as I could make it. As I explain in the Author’s Note, I explored the ancient authors–Josephus, Philo of Alexandria, the writings of the sages, the rabbis, the Evangelists, the Bible itself relentlessly. But I also studied as much as I could of current archaeology having to do with first-century Palestine. I read as much as I could in New Testament scholarship, reading books by cynical critics of Christ, skeptics who wanted to debunk Him, and also great scholars. I read the great Catholic scholars Meier and Brown, and others. The field is far too vast for me to be comprehensive, and my work is ongoing. I do not read the ancient languages, but I am beginning to study Greek.
Q: How did you sort out issues of artistic license when it came to a story the basics of which are almost universally known (if not universally believed to be true)?
A: When it comes to this book, artistic license does not really exist. What I did was take the Jesus of the Gospels, the Son of God, the Son of the Virgin Mary, and sought to make Him utterly believable, a vital breathing character. Of course I created fictional scene and dialogue. But it is all within an immense and solid frame. This was a huge challenge. I had to move in His world, and know His world, and that took the immense research. But license? I took as little as possible. I worked within the strictures of what we have been taught about Christ the Lord. That’s why I used the title.
Q: Would you hope that readers would come away from this book understanding and knowing more about Christianity and the figure of Christ, or did you write it for people to simply enjoy as a novel?
A: I wrote this book to make Christ real to people who had never thought about Him as real. I wrote this book to make the readers care so much about Him that they see him perhaps as never before. I wrote it for all my readers and for all readers.
Re-telling the Christian story is the essence of my vocation. And we re-tell that story so that it can be heard anew. That has been going on since the Evangelists in one form or another. I am no Evangelist. But I am an artist who wants to make the most significant art I can make. And for this art to have value, it must be utterly true to the spirit of Christ as I have received it from multiple sources: the Gospels, my church, my prayers, my meditation.
Q: For people who are not coming to the book from any particular religious background, what do you hope they’ll take away from it? Put another way, do you think an atheist could ever like this book?
A: I hope readers will come away caring passionately about this character, Jesus Christ, and wanting to know infinitely more about Him. We have become so de-sensitized to language pertaining to Jesus. I've tried to re-invent Jesus for those who don't want to think about Him or know Him. I hope that readers who do not come from a religious background will take away a sense of Jesus, the Jew, and Jesus, the child of miracles. And I hope that the book will give pleasure and satisfaction for those who do know Him and care about Him, and that does seem to be happening. I hope biblical scholars will see something here they can recommend. I hope atheists will feel a part of the world inside the book, and say “I was there!” I hope my oldest readers will embrace this character as they have Marcel, or Tonio, or Lestat or Louis in the past.
Of course I think an atheist could like this book, because it brings to life the period, the milieu, the people who brought about one of the greatest religious revolutions in history.
I tried to do justice to Jesus in every conceivable way I knew in this book. I can’t give any more to anything than what I’ve given to this book.
Q: Were you nervous about writing this story, either from a personal standpoint or because of any concern about how closely or intensely it would be scrutinized?
A: No, I wasn’t nervous. I was scared to death. I was so scared I couldn’t do it, yet I felt so compelled to. I went almost out of my mind as I sank into this material and as I prayed and studied and wrote. I was terrified. But I knew I had to do this. I felt strongly that no one had done it in the way that I was doing it. There have been many novels about Jesus Christ, but there has not, to my knowledge, been one like this, one that accommodated entirely all the knowledge we are given about Jesus while maintaining that Jesus is who He said He was: The Son of God.
I was scared to death of being attacked and misunderstood, and pre-judged. Above all, I was and am scared of being dismissed. But it does not matter. I will go on writing the best books I can possibly write about this subject no matter what happens to me.
Q: Will you ever write another Vampire novel?
A: I can’t see myself doing that. My vampires were metaphors for the outsiders, the lost, the wanderers in the darkness who remembered the warmth of God’s light but couldn’t find it. My wish to explore that is gone now. I want to meet a much bigger challenge.
Q: The book ends when Jesus is still a boy. Is there a sequel on the way?
A: Yes, there are sequels on the way. I feel that keenly and can’t deny it–I don't want to deny it. But this book must stand on its own. And I did what I set out to do in so far as I talked and walked and saw with my character within the Gospel framework, and in light of the latest research in many fields. I feel a great satisfaction in having done that.
Q: What do you make of the current religious climate in this country?
A: I wish that we had more visible Christian and Catholic leaders who talked about love. We have many, but we could use more. It is tragic that many in America think of us–the Christians–as being people who hate others. We need leaders who open their arms to others. We need leaders like Fulton Sheen and Billy Graham and Rick Warren and N. T. Wright. We need to love one another; we need to acknowledge the goodness and the good intentions of our brothers and sisters; we need to stop fighting Christian against Christian. I have no time now for anything but trying to love other people. That is a full-time job. To fill my writing with that will take everything I have. I want to love all the children of God–Christian, Jew, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist–everyone. I want to love Gay Christians and straight Christians.
But the point is, we need people to make visible the great embracing and compassionate message of Christianity, people to continue the revolution started by Christ Himself, people to bear witness that the story of Jesus Christ is going on and on without end, gaining power with each century, and reaching more and more people. We need saints. We have to become saints. We have to become like Christ. Anything less is simply not enough. The world doesn’t need any more mediocrity or hedged bets.