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Memnoch the Devil

Memnoch the Devil (1995) is the fifth novel in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles series, following The Tale of the Body Thief. In this story, Lestat is approached by the Devil himself and offered a job.

Plot summary

After stalking and killing Roger, a ruthless but enthrallingly passionate mobster, Lestat is approached by his ghost. At the same time, he is becoming increasingly paranoid that he's being followed by the Devil himself, and he is growing interested in Roger's daughter Dora, a devout and popular television evangelist, whom he wants to spare from embarrassment. Lestat and his companions try to protect her "church" from the fact that her father was a killer.

Eventually, Lestat meets the Devil, who calls himself "Memnoch". He takes Lestat on a whirlwind tour of Heaven, Hell, and the main epochs in the evolution of the universe. The tour offers a retelling of the entirety of biblical history from the devil's point of view in an effort by Memnoch to convince Lestat to join him in a noble quest. In his journey, Memnoch claims he is not evil but merely working for God by ushering lost souls into Heaven. Lestat is left in confusion, unable to decide whether or not to cast his lot with the Devil.

After the tour, Lestat believes himself to have had a major revelation. Among other things, he believes that he has seen Christ's crucifixion and that he has received Veronica's Veil; he has also lost an eye in Hell. He tells his story to Armand, David, and Dora, who have joined him in New York. Dora and Armand are deeply affected upon seeing the veil; Dora takes it and reveals it to the world, and Armand goes into the sun in order to convince people that a miracle has occurred.

At the end of the novel, Lestat and David go to New Orleans. There, Maharet returns Lestat's eye to him along with a note from Memnoch. This note reveals that Memnoch may have been manipulating Lestat to serve his own agenda. Lestat then loses control of himself and Maharet is forced to chain him in the basement of the St. Elizabeth's convent, which is owned by the vampires, so that he will not hurt himself or others. When he is at last released, Lestat enters a prolonged coma on the floor of St. Elizabeth's (in which he remains for the next installment of the Vampire Chronicles).

Although the novel fits in the Vampire Chronicles storyline, the vast majority of it consists of the "tour" Memnoch gives Lestat of Heaven, Hell, and of the cosmology and theology behind it all.

The novel follows up on claims made by David Talbot in The Tale of the Body Thief that God and the Devil are on better terms than most Christians believe; it also reinterprets biblical stories to create a complete history of Earth, Heaven, and Hell that fits neatly with the history of vampires given in The Queen of the Damned.

Characters

Lestat (vampire)

The main character of the story and the past three books (the first being about Louis). Lestat was created by a powerful vampire named Magnus, who promptly cremated himself after creating his heir. Lestat is a relatively "good" vampire, only feeding on those he deems evil after reading their minds.

Fond of breaking rules and creating chaos, Lestat decided to become a rock star in the late 20th century, outing himself as a vampire through his lyrics, which also incorporated vampiric lore. When the "mother" and "father" of all vampires were awakened by Lestat's music, a chain reaction was set off that had global consequences for both humanity and immortals: after killing her husband, the so-called Queen of the Damned, Akasha, set about slaying as many of her progeny as possible, also slaughtering mortal men, in a bid to create a new, female-dominated world order. Simultaneously horrified at her actions and drawn to her intoxicating power, Lestat ultimately seduced her with his good looks and eloquent speech, then betrayed her. He also made the man named David Talbot a vampire by force, although it was against vampire law. David subconsciously wanted to become a vampire, but kept his urges secret because he did not want to be a man-killing monster. Lestat relieved him of the need to choose.

Dora (human)

A devout Christian who has a cable TV show. She is very beautiful and very charismatic. She is waiting for a miracle to inspire her.

Dora is the daughter of Roger. She won’t take anything from Roger because he is a mobster. Lestat becomes obsessed with her in the process of hunting her father. Despite the warnings of his vampire kin, he reveals himself to her, and she takes it as the miracle she’s been awaiting. When Lestat brings her Veronica's veil, Dora starts her own religion.

Veronica (human)

Based on Saint Veronica and her veil. It's mentioned in the course of the book that Veronica derives from Vera Ikon or "true icon" and did not actually exist.

Roger (human/ghost)

Roger is a mobster who runs a successful drug ring selling cocaine. He loves his daughter, Dora, very much. When Dora’s mother wants a divorce and tries to take custody over her, he kills her. Dora does not know this. After his death, he haunts Lestat, describing his own life and commanding Lestat to watch over Dora from then on.

God/Jesus (God/superior seraph)

God is the angel who created the other angels. He does not know how he came to be, and therefore created the universe and life in an attempt to better understand himself.

In this story God is portrayed in a whole new way.

Memnoch (fallen angel/the Devil)

Memnoch is the fallen angel of legend. He has long been the 'best' of the angels, but has always defied God and asked why humans should suffer and not immediately be placed in Heaven. Because of these questions and other actions that he has made, he is charged with preparing the souls for their ascent into Heaven.

Cosmology

The universe as revealed to Lestat by the Devil follows the following cosmology:

  • God is a powerful being worshiped by angels since before the existence of matter and time. The earth was His creation, and angels spent much time admiring His handiwork. However, this god does not appear to be omniscient; despite assurances, Memnoch claims to have changed God's opinion on the importance and unnaturalness of humanity.
  • Through evolution, creatures on the earth developed the image of angels, and a "flame" of life which allowed pain and death. Eventually humans developed their own souls, invisible forces similar to angels. This surprises and shocks many of the angels. These souls collect in confusion around the world in a realm that the angels describe as "Sheol"- the Gloom, attempting to come to terms with their existence or influencing the living world. Such interventions caused the tales of spirits, reincarnation and the first vampires.
  • The book also mentions the addle-brained spirits that were never human that are mentioned in The Queen of the Damned and The Witching Hour. Memnoch... explains these as being of two origins: angels that fell in love with certain parts of nature and became the spirits of the rocks, mountains and trees (and therefore did not return to Heaven); and the "invisible ones", incorporeal beings who never interacted with the angels. Neither were ever human souls because both established themselves before human souls developed.
  • Memnoch, an archangel, becomes impatient with God's constant assurances that all is well despite the pain and suffering of life and death. Memnoch vehemently criticizes God's plan, accusing God of lacking vision and benevolence. Memnoch decides to fully experience the special nature of humanity by creating a physical form and sleeping with a woman. God throws Memnoch from heaven, causing Memnoch to impart his vast knowledge of science to humanity in retaliation, and thus inadvertently founding civilization during which time Memnoch realizes that the characteristic that sets humans apart is their ability to love and feel passionate.
  • When God invites Memnoch to Heaven to explain his disturbance of the natural order of creation, Memnoch persuades God to allow him to find souls who are suitable for Heaven. After thousands of years wandering Sheol, Memnoch discovers an especially powerful group of souls who have forgiven God and appreciate the grandness of all creation. God accepts these souls into Heaven permanently changing heaven forever.
  • God is highly pleased with the new composition of Heaven, but Memnoch continued to accuse God for not showing concern for the other souls of Sheol. Memnoch finally loses trust in God and demands that He should take human form to understand passion, and in fury God banishes Memnoch from Heaven.
  • While Memnoch is in exile, God admits some of his angel's wisdom and takes on a human form, (Jesus). God believes that by appearing in human form, performing miracles, and suffering and dying, He will create a religion that will allow more humans to attain Heaven by reverence and fear. This is in sharp contrast to Memnoch's approach of attaining purity through love and experience of the wonders of creation, and the two confront each other in the desert.
  • Memnoch is awed and shocked by God's sacrifice. Nevertheless, he argues that God did not put Himself through enough; unlike a regular human, when God died on the cross, He knew that He would survive, and thus could never have known the true suffering of Man. Man does not know his soul will survive and thus suffers. God knew He would survive death, and could not truly know what it was to be a human. For God, this complaint is the last straw; He declares Memnoch as His adversary and commands him to rule Sheol and Earth in a satanic form, preparing souls for Heaven in his own fashion.
  • Working in the Sheol, Memnoch creates a form of Hell; a place where people who have been bad in life (and all vampires) will be punished until their souls are able to understand the joy of the creation and the light of God enough to be ready for Heaven.
  • Memnoch doesn't like this work, and is constantly asking God to appoint someone else to the job (as David Talbot witnesses in the previous Vampire Chronicles novel).

Controversy

Not surprisingly, Memnoch the Devil came under severe criticism from Christians, especially fundamentalist Christian denominations, as being heretical. The reasons included, but were not limited to:

  • Rice's portrayal of God as a flawed being.
  • The idea of hell as purgatory, and therefore not eternal.
  • The idea that Jesus' sacrifice was insufficient.
  • The acceptance of evolution in a theological context.
  • The complete absence of dogma needed for heaven or hell.

In particular, several scenes were considered downright blasphemous, such as when Lestat drinks Jesus' blood (he was given the offer by Jesus himself) to confirm that he is truly divine.

On the other hand, Rice's cosmology has precedents. Her concept of a sphere of souls can be (roughly) compared with the noosphere hypothesis of Roman Catholic theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whose book appears briefly in Tale of the Body Thief.

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