Anne Rice has certainly got range. Long before vampires became angst-ridden teen icons, Ms Rice gave us vampires that were complex, powerful and truly frightening. The vampire Lestat is a character for the ages and “Interview With the Vampire” will be around long after the “Twilight” series has faded from memory. Then she gave us a family of witches from New Orleans and an entity that gave new meaning to the term “willies.” But wait, there’s more! She also has done grand scale historical novels as well as adult erotica based on fairy tales.
Sounds like Anne is the perfect choice to write a modern, fictionalized version of the life of Christ the Lord, right? Well, yes, of course she is. And she has. Twice. “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” and “Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana.” I read the first one several years ago and enjoyed it immensely. I’ve finally come across the second one and I must say I’m impressed with this as well. But why would the modern queen of the vampires write a life of Christ? It’s a fascinating story actually. Briefly, she left the Roman Catholic Church and then returned. As a result she started writing “Christian” stories, including a very short-lived series about a guardian angel. But another time for that.
My concern here is with “Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana.” As the title implies, the novel takes place just before Yeshua (Jesus) is baptized by his cousin John and performs the initial sign of his ministry. The first half of the book explores his life in Nazareth with his extended family and friends. Rice continues to let Yeshua speak for himself in a first person narrative as she did in “Out of Egypt.” This is a bold approach by a confident, gifted writer and she succeeds wonderfully. Although it may seem presumptuous, who hasn’t wondered what Yeshua’s thoughts were as he approached his “introduction” to the world? Was he aware of who he was? What did he think of his family? Did he have friends?
Ms. Rice gives us a kind, soft-spoken Yeshua. A Yeshua who slips away to a private spot to pray and meditate. A Yeshua who loves his family but is perfectly willing to disagree with and stand up to any of them should he feel it necessary. Yes, he loves a young girl, Avigail, and though he loves her he realizes he can never marry her. He (and his extended family) knows the stories told of him by his mother and step father, about the angelic visitations, his birth and the attending signs. Some of his friends and family even call him “Sinless One.” This is a very human, self-aware Yeshua, who just before his ministry begins and the world is sent reeling, thinks to himself:
And will I look back on these days, these long exhausting days, will I look back on them ever from someplace else, very far away from here, and think, Ah, these were blessed days? Will they be so tenderly remembered?
The event that prompts this poignant thought is the coming out of the wilderness of John bar Zechariah, Yeshua’s cousin, also known to us as John the Baptist. John begins baptizing at the Jordan and people flock to him, including Yeshua and his family. It takes a while to get to this point (chapter 18) but once reached the story takes off, mainly because from here we know what is coming. And it comes rapidly in Rice’s deft handling. In the last 115 pages of the novel we see the baptism of Yeshua, the temptation in the wilderness, the calling of the first disciples, including Matthew, the wedding at Cana (they were his friends) and the turning of water into wine.
The centerpiece of this final whirlwind, indeed of the whole book, is chapter 22, Yeshua’s confrontation in the desert with Satan. It is classic Anne Rice, a meeting of Good and evil as only she can render it. Appearing as a richly-dressed duplicate of Yeshua himself, Satan uses his celestial lore to try to lure the Savior of the world into his service. The dialog is crisp and quick, like this exchange:
“You know nothing of me. You have no idea! I was the firstborn of the Lord you claim as your father, you miserable beggar.”
“Careful,” I said. “If you become too angry you may dissolve in a puff of smoke.”
“This is no jest, you fledgling prophet,” he said. “I don’t come and go at whim.”
“Go at a whim,” I said. “That will be sufficient.”
The wedding at Cana is also a treat, with Rice showing us how Mary actually convinced Yeshua to turn the water into wine. (It was worthy of Jewish and Roman Catholic mothers around the world.)
The book ends with an unexpected but well deserved healing, and the promising final line: “And we started for the road.” Unfortunately, that promise will likely never be realized because Ms. Rice has again left the Church, and it’s doubtful her series “Christ, the Lord” will ever be finished. I hope I’m wrong, because this book was a wonderfully realized and well researched imagining of the Lord’s ministry at its beginning. It would be sad for it to end here.
As they say, “mysterious ways” and all that. We can pray.