David Gates of Newsweek makes a nearly perfect comparison regarding novelist Anne Rice's late work, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt -- "It's the most startling public turnaround since Bob Dylan's 'Slow Train Coming' announced that he'd been born again." Entertainment Weekly gave a preview of the book's contents in May, drawing largely from Rice's messages on AnneRice.com. Now Gates delivers fresh observations from a visit to Rice's home in La Jolla:
Rice knows "Out of Egypt" and its projected sequels -- three, she thinks -- could alienate her following; as she writes in the afterword, "I was ready to do violence to my career." But she sees a continuity with her old books, whose compulsive, conscience-stricken evildoers reflect her long spiritual unease. "I mean, I was in despair." In that afterword she calls Christ "the ultimate supernatural hero . . . the ultimate immortal of them all."
To render such a hero and his world believable, she immersed herself not only in Scripture, but in first-century histories and New Testament scholarship -- some of which she found disturbingly skeptical. "Even Hitler scholarship usually allows Hitler a certain amount of power and mystery." She also watched every Biblical movie she could find, from "The Robe" to "The Passion of the Christ" ("I loved it"). And she dipped into previous novels, from "Quo Vadis" to Norman Mailer's "The Gospel According to the Son" to Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins's apocalyptic Left Behind series. ("I was intrigued. But their vision is not my vision.")
Include me among those relieved that Rice has not signed on to a pre-trib rapture eschatology. Nothing would send her career to a quicker doom than becoming a featured speaker at National Religious Broadcasters.