Fried Rice: The Tale of
Melanie Anne Phillips
Based on the Dramatica theory of story
originally developed by
Melanie Anne Phillips
and Chris Huntley
I am the critic, LessTact. I feed upon the creative efforts of
others. Unlike many of my kind, I never prey upon the naive or creatively challenged, but
only on the mistakes made by great talents who should know better. A case in point is the
tale of the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice.
Be forewarned: if you have not yet read the Vampire Chronicles, what
follows will almost certainly ruin the experience. But no matter. The fourth book in the
series, The Tale of the Body Thief ruins the experience anyway. How can I say
this? How can I be so callous? I am the critic, LessTact!
What is it that makes my blood boil about the Vampire Chronicles?
Simply this: all four books in the series have the potential to work together as a single
Grand Argument Story. Each volume develops another side of a larger vision dealing with
the struggle of that self-serving blood sucker of a Main Character, Lestat, to find inner
peace. And he finds it. BUT, we aren't told how!
Can you imagine that??? Two thousand pages of reading, all leading
up to a final conclusion that ties four perspectives together, all dramatic forces
converging on the Main Character finding a way to resolve his angst that has hounded him
since the first book, and he just resolves it!
I mean, I'm sitting here in real life. I've got as much angst as
anybody. Suddenly, here's this character who suffers even more than I do, but he won't
give up. I perk up. I read on. In fact, this undead tragic figure is on a quest to find a
way to put his angst behind him. Along the way he gets into the most amazing scrapes and I
tag right along with the fellow, sticking right by his side so no matter when it happens,
I'll be there to see just how he does it. Why? So I can do it too.
I was waiting to see how he did it even more than if
he did it. That's what I wanted to know. And then, at the end of the fourth book in the
series, suddenly all his angst is gone and I wasn't told how! Doesn't that just
burn you? Well it burns me.
Of course, most of my fellow critics are bleeding-neck cry-babies
who whine and complain when they read something they don't like. But I am the critic,
LessTact, and believe one should never complain unless they have a better idea. Naturally,
I have one. Follow me and learn, if you dare.
To make my point, I must invoke Dramatica, that weird science whose
presence can be felt at work in all solid stories. Dramatica sees every complete story as
providing four points of view to an audience: Me, You, We, and They. Let us
examine each of these in a theoretical sense and then apply them to the volumes of the
The "Me" perspective is the view through the eyes of the Main
Character. This is where an audience feels as if the story is happening to them. It is
the most personal of perspectives on the issues of the story.
The "You" perspective is the view afforded of the Obstacle
Character. If the Main Character is seen as a soldier in a battle, the Obstacle
Character is the soldier coming toward them through the smoke of the battle. The Main
Character cannot tell if this figure is friend or foe, only that the Obstacle Character is
blocking his path. From this perspective, the audience, looking through the eyes of the
Main Character, sees the Obstacle Character as "you."
Some Obstacles, such as Girard in The Fugitive are foes,
and must be overcome. Others, such as Obi Wan Kenobi (Luke's Obstacle in Star Wars)
or Hannibal Lecter (Clarise Starling's Obstacle in The Silence of the Lambs) are
trying to tell the Main Character that he or she is on the wrong path and will not find
satisfaction until he or she changes course.
The argument over this "change" issue takes place in the
third perspective of "We," the realm of the Subjective Story. Here the
Main and Obstacle Characters have it out, each arguing their point of view on the issue,
impacting the other with a force that just might make them change. In fact, you can often
identify the Main and Obstacle Characters in a story by phrases such as, "We are
really both alike, you and I," and, "We're just two sides of the same
coin," or, "We are nothing alike!"
Finally, the audience is afforded a fourth point of view: a view of
the story more like that of a general on a hilltop watching a battle unfold below. This is
the "They" perspective. It is the most objective of the four throughlines and is
called the Objective Story. From this point of view, the characters are not
identified by their feelings but by their function.
In most stories, these four throughlines are woven together so that
they develop concurrently and simultaneously reach a conclusion. In some cases the
throughlines are played one after another such as in Kurosawa's Roshomon. This
does not mean the throughlines have to cover the same period of history. All that
is important is that each follows the quest for a solution from the beginning of the same kind
of problem to the outcome of that quest.
What does all this have to do with the Vampire Chronicles? I'll tell
you, because I am the critic, LessTact! Each of the four books in the series explores one
of these four perspectives. So, like Roshomon, they are taken one at a time.
The first book, Interview with the Vampire, documents the
Obstacle Character's throughline. Louis is the Obstacle Character to Lestat's Main
Character. To be fair, this does not seem to be the case when one has read only this
initial volume. As a stand-alone story, all indications are that Louis is Main Character,
Claudia is Obstacle Character, and Lestat is simply an Objective character, perhaps the
Contagonist. Once one has devoured the sequels, however, the meaning of Interview with
the Vampire is tempered by what follows. Taken in context of the series as a whole,
the story of Louis and Claudia becomes a major sub-story and Lestat emerges as Main
For all his suffering, poor Louis is the one having an impact on
Lestat, rather than the other way around. Louis is stuck in his deplorable condition - a
condition he did not truly want, but he deals with it. In contrast, Lestat, for all his
bravado and flash is constantly forced to reconsider his outlook as a result of Louis'
What an inspired and unusual technique - to begin with the Obstacle
Character's tale rather than that of the Main Character. It is all the more inspired that
the decision to focus on Lestat was almost certainly made after the first story had been
written. Recasting the dramatic relationship of a work by placing it in a larger structure
is no mean feat.
Lestat clearly emerges as Main Character of the series in
book two, The Vampire, Lestat. This is Lestat's history, documenting how he came
to be living his problem, and how far he could get without changing his outlook. Of note,
Lestat often refers to Louis' "Interview" as containing gross exaggerations and
downright lies. Clearly, we are now to look AT Louis, rather than through his eyes.
In Queen of the Damned, we are shown the big picture, the
objective story of the series. This is the tale that describes the nature and history of
all vampires - how they came to be, how they ultimately fare, and where they are headed
once the smoke has cleared. It is here we can determine success or failure as the
outcome of the quest for the objective goal.
This leaves the fourth installment, The Tale of the Body Thief,
as the Subjective story between the Main and Obstacle Characters. And, boy, is it ever!
This whole volume concentrates on the personal relationship between Lestat and his mortal
friend, David Talbot. Clearly, David Talbot has taken over the role of Obstacle from
Louis. Just like Louis, he does not wish to be a vampire. In his heart of hearts, Talbot does
wish to be a vampire, which makes him the dramatic opposite of Louis. This is part of what
lays the groundwork for failure of this fourth volume. For a "hand-off" of
dramatic function from one character to another to work, it must be the exact same
function. This, alas, was not the case.
It is no accident that Talbot and Louis do not appear in a scene
together until the end. Each would be trying to provide the impact to try and change
Lestat, but it would be a different kind of impact from each. The message of the story
would clearly be out of sync. Keeping their characters apart simply puts off the
inevitable, since Louis' impact started things off and now we aren't allowed to see
whether his influence had any effect or not at the day of reckoning. Instead, we come to
that moment of truth propelled by the exact opposite force, which obscures the meaning of
the whole series beyond redemption.
In dealing with a story so large that it takes four books in which
to tell it, we might allow our memory of Louis' discontent to fade, and pay more attention
to Talbot who is much fresher in our considerations. That is what makes it feel doubly odd
to have Louis in the story at all. What dramatic function does he serve?
Sure, there is some poetic justice in his denial of Lestat's request
for the "dark blood," clearly a reverse parallel of Lestat's making of Louis.
But that's just an interesting irony. It simply closes a door to Lestat, but does nothing
to impact him to change. In fact, Lestat simply gets mad and then sloughs it off. Louis is
not acting as an Obstacle Character in this story, but because he had done so for the
whole first book, he should not have been included here in a different role.
But that is not the worst of it. By the end of the book, we see how
Talbot resolves his problem, but not how Lestat resolves his. Talbot is shown to have a
moral view that he will be held guiltless if he wants something evil and is forced into
it. This plays well against Lestat's view that one is accountable for one's nature, even
if one cannot change it.
Talbot clearly explains that once he was transformed into a vampire
against his will, it was his moral obligation to live that life according to its own
nature. This is exactly what Lestat has never been able to do. Lestat would be left with a
simple choice: leave Talbot and remain mired in his angst or take the same leap of faith
and rid himself of his inner pain once and for all as he follows in Talbot's spiritual
footsteps. In the first case, the whole series of four books ends as a tragedy: there is
no hope for Lestat. In the second case, it is a triumph. Having remained steadfast in his
view for hundreds of years, Lestat is finally convinced to change and adopt a new world
view. Either way, it is this moment of truth where all four volumes converge: the moment
for which we were all waiting.
That is what should have happened. What did happen is a
tragedy all right, but not in the dramatic sense. Near the end of The Tale of the Body
Thief, Lestat is confronted by Talbot's happiness and personal fulfillment and
becomes happy himself. What?! Three hundred years of angst and he just shrugs his
shoulders and says, "Oh, well, when in Rome..." (Not hardly!)
Still, by that time, there was not much else Lestat could do. You
see, Lestat spends most of the book as a mortal himself. His vampire body is stolen by the
body thief. The real question that Lestat should have been wrestling with is whether or
not he wanted his vampire body back. There could have been a time limit after which the
switch became permanent. Or, there could have been limited options where he required the
assistance of at least one other ancient vampire to return to his body. One by one,
he drops from their favor as he is tempted ever more strongly into the mortal ways.
Finally there is only one who can help him, and Lestat must now choose a life or the
choice will be made for him.
Wouldn't that have been nice? Alas, it was not to be. Within moments
of becoming a mortal, even before he knows the thief has stolen his body, Lestat is sick
and tired, in a very literal sense. He hates being mortal and wants his old body
back without question. What a story it might have been if he started out hating it and
learned to love it again. After all, mortality is an acquired taste.
Then, he might have had a decision to make. By the time he
got the opportunity to recover his body, he would no longer be sure he wanted it. His
resolve would waver. He would be forced to address the seat of his angst and either accept
a mortal life of normality, or a vampire's immortal life of spectacular evil.
We, the readers, make this decision every time we choose to do what
we can or what we feel is right. To make such a choice and be satisfied with it is a
consummation devoutly to be wished! Ah, what a moment that would be! And which way would
he go? Any way Anne Rice wanted him to. Her message might have been that we can receive
absolution for our sins and blend into to normal life, even after we have seen Gay Paree.
Or, her message might equally have been that one must accept the fullness of one's being -
that is it better to shine as a beacon of evil than be lost in a sea of good. Clearly, the
later is more consistent with the thematic lean of the series.
But the intensity comes from the fact that it could go either way.
As readers, we just don't know until we are shown. That is what we were waiting
for, but it is not what we got. No moment of truth, no balanced pros and cons, no pressure
to choose. Nope. Lestat makes Talbot. Talbot is happy. Lestat is happy. Big deal.
This type of story problem is not without precedent. I felt the same
disappointment after reading Orlando by Virginia Woolf. Orlando (the Main
Character) struggles throughout the book to find the path to a peaceful heart, and in the
end she (he) does. Again, we are not shown how; she just ends up happy. I suspect that was
not an oversight, but simply that Virginia didn't have an answer. In writing about
Orlando, she described her own quest for an end to angst. In supplying one to Orlando, she
vicariously provided one for herself.
Alas, because the method for achieving a quiet heart was lacking,
Ms. Woolf could not duplicate her Main Character's accomplishment and sadly killed
herself. Ms. Rice has also given us a happy ending without the means to achieve it. In
contrast, I, the critic LessTact, give you the means but will let you draw your own
I propose that an author without a solution should not offer one. A
story that ends in angst can be a masterwork, as well as a story that ends in angst
resolved. A story that ends with angst resolved without resolving angst is nothing more
than a merry chase that ends up at a wonderful destination from which its audience is