These Days, Anne Rice Prefers Angels

Anne Rice doesn't write about vampires anymore, but in her latest book she turns her attention to another supernatural being: angels. Host Liane Hansen talks with Anne Rice about contemporary vampire fervor and her novel, Angel Time.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Liane Hansen.

Anne Rice doesnt write about vampires anymore. She hasnt since 2002 when she returned to the Catholic Church. But in her latest book, she introduces us to another kind of supernatural being, angels.

Angel Time is a story about redemption. A hit man named Toby ODare aka Lucky the Fox is looking for answers and praise to a God hes not even convinced exists. Enter the angel Malchiah, who helps Toby transform from a murderous, loot-playing man of mystery into a reverend loot-playing instrument of God.

Anne Rice joins us now from her home in Rancho Mirage, California. Welcome back to the program. Its nice to talk to you again.

Ms. ANNE RICE (Author, Angel Time): Its nice to be back. Thank you.

HANSEN: What attracted you to angels?

Ms. RICE: Well, I think angels are incredibly mysterious, probably as mysterious as vampires, if not more so. And Ive also been fascinated with movies about angels and stories in which angels interacted with humans. So, this is something I wanted to do for a long time, write a novel in which an angel is a real character.

HANSEN: Now, Malchiah is a seraphim. And there are different levels of angel. This seraphim seems to have a different existence than your characters, the guardian angels that we see.

Ms. RICE: Toby has a guardian angel of his own probably, but Malchiah steps in because he wants to recruit Toby to work for him in sort of a special mission on earth. And we get the idea, at least I got the idea fictionally, that special people sometimes require or invite special angels.

HANSEN: And, yeah, its almost like vampires, you have to invite them in, right?

Ms. RICE: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RICE: Thats true. Actually, you didnt have to do that with my vampires. But certainly in this book, its certainly true that Toby invites Malchiah because he actually prays in a kind of sarcastic and bitter way when hes on his way to commit this murder.

HANSEN: Toby goes through a crisis of faith and a conversion, non-belief to belief. You personally experienced a reawakening of your own faith. And when we spoke for your last vampire novel, you were saying thats why you no longer write about vampires. How much of your own doubts and faith were incorporated into the character of Toby?

Ms. RICE: A lot, a lot. I mean, Toby is a fictional character. Hes a handsome young man, Im not, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RICE: Hes 28 years old, Im not. But, you know, he resembles my son Christopher actually tall, blond, you know, a good looking young man. But when it comes to the spiritual crisis, as I created Toby, I poured into it everything I knew.

And so, I talked about Tobys conflict, his grief for his lost faith, how he got to be an assassin, how he turned to crime these things can be seen as allegorical. Some could come along and say, okay, hes an assassin. Well, Anne wrote novels about murderers, vampires and so forth a long time, and then she stopped doing that just as Toby stops being an assassin, and decides to repent and turn his life around.

So I think theres a lot of me in him. But thats going to be the case in any novel, where you tell all you know, where you really go for the best achievement there that you can possibly aim for.

HANSEN: I have to admit, I didnt expect the book to take the turn that it does when Toby is whisked away to 13th century England. He goes back in time to the village of Norwich and is given a mission. And this is the heart of the book. Why this time period and this mission that hes been given to save Jews in the town?

Ms. RICE: Well, the main thing I want to do in The Songs of the Seraphim, in the series, is have Toby go to all different periods in history. The fictional premise is that the angels see all of history as happening simultaneously and they can easily pick up somebody from the 21st century and take that person to the 13th century or the 12th century.

And thats going to be a construct with all the books. In the second book, which is already written, he goes to renaissance Italy. But in this one, he goes back to Norwich, to this medieval community, where a Jewish couple are really about to fall prey to mob violence. And if they do, if they are killed by a Christian mob that believes that they murdered their child, there could be terrible repercussions for the whole Jewish community and other Jewish communities in England. So, Toby's sent back there to try to stop that from happening.

HANSEN: Getting back to angels just a bit, what do you think of other angels in literature and film history? I mean, what did you draw from and what did you avoid in creating your angels?

Ms. RICE: Well, first of all, I was very disappointed in most of the films I've seen about angels. Some of them are funny, but some of them are downright aggravating. You know, because the effort is always to make the angel human, to make the angel flawed - wants to stay on earth, doesn't want to go back to heaven, falls in love, that type of thing.

And I always thought it was a failure of imagination. I mean, here we are dealing with creatures that really gaze on the beatific vision every moment of their existence. To me, the challenge in writing about it was to not go the route of those motion pictures that I found so difficult.

I didn't want to make Malchiah a flawed person who would rather go around eating chocolate and, you know, looking at the sunsets on earth. And I just don't see any future in that idea of an angel. I wanted to approach him as a powerful being.

HANSEN: Although I have to admit when I was reading it, I found myself thinking about Clarence, the angel that gets his wings in "It's a Wonderful Life." Only Clarence is kind of looking over this guy who's been a good guy all his life, he just doesn't realize it.

Ms. RICE: Well, you know, I have to say I love Clarence. I mean, I'm a great fan of "It's a Wonderful Life." I watch it every year, at least once if not twice. And I do love Clarence odd body. He is my favorite fictional angel for sure.

HANSEN: I'm sure you've noticed there's been quite a bit of vampire fervor going on. "True Blood" on HBO, the "Twilight" books and movies. What do you think about those contributions to vampire fiction?

Ms. RICE: Since I don't write the vampire stories anymore, I feel kind of liberated to enjoy it. And frankly, I think "True Blood" is very clever and witty. And it's very satirical. It's a lot about our society right now and our prejudices and how they work. And I think Charlaine Harris is just a wonderfully imaginative and clever writer with a great sense of humor.

Now, "Twilight," well, "Twilight" is for young kids. And I did see the movie, and it struck me as a woman's romance. I saw "Jane Eyre." It's about the desire of very young girls for the mystery and power and protectiveness of an older man. And I think the vampire is simply a stand-in for that, at least in the first movie. That's what I saw there.

HANSEN: Anne Rice, her new novel is called "Angel Time," and it's the first in her new seraphim series, and she joined us from her home in California. Anne, thank you very, very much.

Ms. RICE: Well, thank you. It's been a real pleasure.

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