- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2005

Author Anne Rice says she has seen the light. With the release of her latest book, “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” the queen of vampires says she has committed her life to Jesus Christ. The best-selling novel is a fictional account of Jesus’ life at age 7.

“I want totally to put any talent I have at His service,” Mrs. Rice says. “I simply told God that I wouldn’t write anything anymore that wasn’t His life, that wasn’t for Him.”

Although the apostle Paul undertook his dramatic conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus, Mrs. Rice, 64, says she read her way back to the Catholic faith of her childhood in the 1990s. She recently finished reading C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.”

After departing from Catholicism in her college years, Mrs. Rice says, she became agnostic, as part of the beat generation. She became captivated by existentialism. She said she spent decades mourning her lost faith.

“Around 1998, I realized I believed completely in God and felt an overwhelming desire to go home to my church,” she said. “I went back on a Sunday afternoon. I went to confession, and I had a long discussion with a wonderful priest. I rejoined the church.”

She also asked her husband, poet Stan Rice, whom she married in 1961, to remarry her.

“I mean we had been married longer than most of our friends,” Mrs. Rice said. “We were pretty successfully married, and here I was saying, ‘Can you come into the church with me and say your vows in front of the altar?’ And he did. He agreed, which was quite wonderful.”

Although Mr. Rice died in December 2002, Mrs. Rice didn’t waver in her faith. Earlier that year, she says, she realized that she didn’t want to write any more vampire or witch novels, such as “Interview with the Vampire” and “Memnoch the Devil.” After making that decision, she says, her depression of 10 years vanished.

“The novels were uneasy marriages of belief and despair,” she says. “I didn’t want to be in despair anymore. I began to realize that writing the novels had been a cause of a great deal of my unhappiness.”

She says she thinks she was guided to write “Christ the Lord” and spent three years conducting research for the manuscript.

“I’d be pondering a question, and I would go to the bookshelf and pull a book down at random, and there would be the answer to that very question,” Mrs. Rice says. “I was in Florida, pondering the Gospel of John. What does this passage mean in John when Jesus says: ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’? I walked into the church the next day and the sermon was on the Gospel of John and on that passage. That would happen over and over again.”

Most fiction versions of the life of Christ are inadequate, says Lawrence Cunningham, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. Many 20th century scholars have tried to demystify Christ.

Mrs. Rice’s version, on the other hand, is an attempt to do Jesus justice and make sense of His life in a reverential way, he said.

“Typically, I hate these fictionalized studies of Jesus,” Mr. Cunningham says. “I thought she did a really excellent job. She is a very good writer, just so from the point of view of the prose of the book. It’s a nice, spare unsentimental prose.”

The Bible has little to say about Jesus’ childhood, other than that he visited the temple as a boy and “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men,” Mrs. Rice says, so she used instinct and imagination to fill in the gaps.

“I really appreciated the fact that she makes Jesus into a real Jew,” Mr. Cunningham says. “That’s a point which is easily forgotten. He was a Jew. He knew the prayers of Judaism.”

Mrs. Rice also included references to “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas,” an apocryphal text that tells of Jesus’ boyhood, in which he resurrects a boy and makes birds from clay. “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas” is different from the “Gospel of Thomas,” which most orthodox Christians consider heretical. Author Dan Brown referenced much of the Gospel of Thomas in “The Da Vinci Code.”

“Christ the Lord” is the polar opposite of “The Da Vinci Code,” Mrs. Rice says. Mr. Brown’s novel, she says, is a fabrication of the life of Christ, and she is amazed that anyone would take it seriously.

“I think ‘The Da Vinci Code’ is a scream,” Mrs. Rice says. “It’s a conspiracy-theory book. It’s funny. It’s a hoot. There’s nothing in it based on history. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I enjoyed it. I thought it was a charming, hysterical piece of fiction.”

Although some reviewers have attacked “Christ the Lord” as inaccurate, Mrs. Rice says, the research is thorough.

“There is one statement where I refer to the ‘tribe’ of David when I should have said the ‘house’ of David,” Mrs. Rice says. “That was just misspeaking on my part, but some of the attacks [from amateur critics] on Amazon.com that have insisted there are errors in the book, they are completely irresponsible reviews.”

“Christ the Lord” is a serious attempt to make sense of the human and divine nature of Jesus, says Amy Welborn, general editor of the Loyola Classics Series, a reprint series of great Catholic fiction, and author of 14 books on Catholic life and spirituality.

“Anne Rice is asking: ‘What was Jesus’ inner life like?’ ” Ms. Welborn says. “I don’t have a problem with the way she answered the question. Her answer in this novel is consistent with what the Gospels say.”

Mrs. Rice says “Christ the Lord” is the first of a series of books she plans to write on the life of Christ. After her current book tour, she will begin writing the next book. She also would like to write a Christmas novel.

In order for “Christ the Lord” and any upcoming works to be made into films, Mrs. Rice says, she would have to find a producer who shares her faith.

“This is the place of my destiny,” Mrs. Rice says. “The early works were school for me. I was in school. I was searching. I was exploring and sharpening my technique and my ability to write in the first person, my ability to make highly improbable situations seem totally realistic. It was all preparation for taking on this challenge to write about Jesus and make him believable to people who were convinced they didn’t believe in Him.”

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