The Tale of the Body Thief
|Series||The Vampire Chronicles|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover, Paperback) & audio book|
|Pages||448 pp (hardcover & paperback edition)|
|ISBN||978-0-679-40528-3 (hardcover edition)|
|LC Class||PS3568.I265 T34 1992|
|Preceded by||The Queen of the Damned|
|Followed by||Memnoch the Devil|
The Tale of the Body Thief is the fourth novel in Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles series, following The Queen of the Damned. Published in 1992, it continues the adventures of Lestat, specifically his efforts to regain his lost humanity during the late 20th century. Chapters from the book appeared in the October 1992 issue of Playboy.
At the beginning of the story, Lestat grows depressed and becomes remorseful because of his vampiric nature. Although he tries to limit his victims to murderers, serial killers and other criminals, he nonetheless caves into temptation once in a while and kills an "innocent" or someone who he feels does not necessarily deserve to die. Lestat also suffers from constant nightmares concerning his late "daughter," Claudia, for whose death he blames himself.
The "coven" of vampires formed at the end of The Queen of the Damned has long since broken up, and Lestat has become extremely lonely. Among his only remaining friends is the mortal head of the Talamasca Caste, David Talbot, who is seventy-four years old. Although Lestat has repeatedly offered David the Dark Gift, David has always refused to become a vampire and keep Lestat company through eternity. Lonely and depressed, Lestat goes to the Gobi desert at dawn in a half-hearted suicide attempt. When he does not die, he goes to David's home in England to heal.
A mysterious figure, Raglan James - the eponymous "Body Thief" of the story - approaches Lestat with what seems to be a cure for his ennui and depression. James sends Lestat several messages hinting that he has the ability to switch bodies. Eventually, he proposes to Lestat that the two of them trade bodies for a day. Against the advice of other vampires and David Talbot, Lestat jumps at the opportunity. Unfortunately, James has no intention of ever switching back, and Lestat is forced to scheme to regain his body.
Lestat nearly dies after becoming human again - his new body is wracked by pneumonia, which he ignores during a tour of Washington D.C. in the middle of winter. He is saved by the care of a nun named Gretchen. He enjoys a short love affair with Gretchen before she returns to South America, where she works in a convent, and Lestat sets out in search of his body.
Lestat seeks help from other vampires but is completely ostracized by them. Marius is extremely angry at him for leaving such a powerful body to a thief and refuses to help him. Likewise Louis turns him away when he asks Louis to make his new body into a vampire, arguing that Lestat ought to be happy to be human again and also calls him out on his previous writings, accusing him of altering his actual past in favor of one that portrays him heroically. Lestat's only ally is David Talbot.
Drawing from the Talamasca's resources on the supernatural, Talbot reveals that James was a gifted psychic who once joined the order, but was kicked out for constant theft. He is a kleptomaniac who enjoys stealing for the thrill of it — it is revealed that every single thing he owns, from his house to his body, was stolen or schemed for. However, he also has major psychological problems, and his life is a series of cycles — he gets rich by theft, then often ends up in prison. Dying of cancer several years before, James tricked the inmate of a mental institution into switching bodies with him, allowing him a type of immortality.
It is James' lack of imagination and petty thievery that allow Talbot and Lestat to track him down. Despite his newfound wealth and powerful new body, James continues to steal jewelry from people. He also makes a conspicuous show of his wealth, boarding the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2, and draining victims of their blood along the ship's path. The pattern allows his pursuers to easily find him.
On the cruise ship, Lestat manages to regain his body with David's help, but the sun is rising as he performs the switch and he must immediately flee to a safe place in which to spend the day. When he awakes in the evening he finds that both James and Talbot have disappeared.
Lestat finds David in Florida and is surprised to find that his friend, despite his earlier protestations, now wants to become a vampire. However, while taking his blood, Lestat discovers a final trick — when forced out of Lestat's body, James took over Talbot's body instead of returning to his own. Lestat angrily attacks James, crushing his skull. The blow proves fatal - the injury damages James' brain and prevents him from leaving the dying body or trying to switch bodies before his current one dies.
At this point, Tale of the Body Thief reaches a false ending. Raglan James is dead. David has begun to enjoy life in his new, young body. Lestat returns to New Orleans, reunites with Louis, and begins to renovate his old house in the French Quarter. Above all, Lestat claims that he has finally come to accept his vampiric nature. However, Lestat then warns readers not to continue if they are happy with this ending.
Lestat then resumes the narrative, claiming that he has regained his "evil" nature, and decides to make Talbot into a vampire against his wishes, and despite the role Talbot played in saving his life when everyone else abandoned him. After having immortality forced upon him, David again disappears. Lestat looks for him for a while, but upon having no luck he gives up and returns to New Orleans — where to his surprise he finds that David has already contacted Louis.
David explains to Lestat that, in secret, this is what he always truly wanted. He tells Lestat that he is no longer angry with him, although he does usurp Lestat's position of leadership, despite the latters' protests. Having gotten rid of his old age, and now being immortal, David plans to visit Rio de Janeiro with Louis, and asks Lestat to join him. At the end, Lestat also realizes that, despite all that happened, he is still alone, has failed to regain his "humanity," and has thrown away his only chance to make amends for his past misdeeds.
In many ways, The Tale of the Body Thief lays the groundwork for the following Vampire Chronicles novel, Memnoch the Devil. David Talbot, in his occult fieldwork, has begun to understand the nature of the spirit world, and actually claims to have seen God and the Devil sitting and talking in a cafe.
In interviews after the book came out, Rice claimed that her own father's death helped to form the model for the relationship between Lestat and Talbot. Rice had loved her father very much (her mother died prematurely after succumbing to alcoholism), and when he was dying, she wished (as Lestat does with Talbot) that she could somehow make him young again so that she wouldn't lose him. This could make Tale of the Body Thief the second of two Vampire Chronicle novels inspired by Rice's personal tragedies, the first being Interview with the Vampire (which is denied by Rice).
Lestat's adjustment to his human body takes up a major portion of the book — after almost two centuries of being a vampire, he finds he has trouble with the basic human nuances of eating, defecating, and taking care of his body. One of the realizations made by Lestat is that he took his powers for granted for too long; only after his adventure is he able to fully appreciate his vampiric abilities.
Likewise, Lestat describes James as a devious and cunning opponent, a characterization he uses to justify how he was tricked. However, in reality, Raglan James is an extremely petty and predictable criminal who is constantly dropping clues as to his next move - at one point, Talbot refers to James as "a glorified purse snatcher."
The novel is also ironic in the cues that it leaves behind. For example, one of the "hints" that Raglan James leaves Lestat is a copy of H. P. Lovecraft's short story, The Thing on the Doorstep. In the Lovecraft story, body-switching also takes place, and has an added twist when a third party gets involved without the narrator's knowledge. Lestat doesn't bother re-reading the short story; if he had, he might have anticipated Raglan James' final trick.
The darkest irony is Lestat's supposed concern for the elderly David Talbot. One of his nightmares concerns a flashback to when the young Talbot was a big-game hunter, and was nearly killed by a man-eating tiger. At the story's beginning, Lestat is constantly bothered by a foreboding that his friend is dying or in some mortal danger. He connects this feeling to William Blake's poem The Tyger, which is quoted piecemeal throughout the entire novel:
- Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
- In the forests of the night,
- What immortal hand or eye
- Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
At the end of the story, Lestat realizes with horror that he must have been the "tiger" of his visions.
In 2007, The Tale of the Body Thief was rumored to be adapted into film as United Artists was interested in purchasing the film rights to the novel. Rice announced via her Facebook profile on February 7, 2012 that Brian Grazer and Ron Howard's film production company, Imagine Entertainment, had optioned the motion picture rights to the novel. Lee Patterson was to have written the screenplay. Transformer's Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci were also said to be on board as producers during the time of development.
"The plan is to treat the character (Lestat) as if audiences have not met him before," said Entertainment Weekly with word from Imagine.
On April 7, 2013, during a live-internet radio chat with her son Christopher and co-host Eric Shaw Quinn, Anne explained that a film adaptation is no longer in development and stated on her Facebook profile: "No Lestat movie in the works --- after all these years, and the best efforts of all involved... We've encountered difficulties we cannot at this time overcome." Rice's son Christopher apparently drafted and adapted a screenplay from the novel that was met with praise from those involved; however, the project has been dismissed as the studio isn't "willing to move forward with it" due to differences that were beyond them.