Out of the Savage Garden: Anne Rice's Surprising New Book about Jesus' Childhood Is Part of a Long Journey to Faith

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A best-selling author for three decades, Anne Rice is known for her stories of vampires and witches. Thus her newest novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, a serious and even reverent account of Jesus' childhood, is a surprising turn. But according to the author, it's not as radical a break with her past work as some might assume. Ms. Rice said the novel is "the end of a journey" that began when she wrote her first book, Interview with the Vampire, in 1974.

"The journey is chronicled in the 'Vampire Chronicles,' and it's always been a conversation about God. In the end, I found what my characters never found--I found the Eucharist that they were looking for in the blood," she told NCR in an interview in Kansas City.

In 1998, Ms. Rice returned to the Catholic church after a nearly 40-year absence. Four years later, Ms. Rice decided the time was finally right to make Jesus Christ her subject matter.

"I was ready to do violence to my career," she writes in her Author's Note for Christ the Lord. "I wanted to write the book in the first person. Nothing else mattered. I consecrated the book to Christ."

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt begins with a 7-year-old Jesus taking his first steps to understanding who he is after his family returns from Egypt to Nazareth. The culmination of years of research by Ms. Rice in New Testament scholarship (a saga in itself that she relates in her Author's Note), the book weaves together details of Jewish life and history as well as 1,500-year-old "pious legends" of Jesus' childhood that she felt could be compatible with the four Gospels.

The novel is told from the point of view of Jesus, who is intelligent, sympathetic and believably a child. He has powers he does not understand, and hears the whispers among his family members that hint at strange circumstances surrounding his birth. The course of the novel becomes his quest to discover what happened in Bethlehem.

The book is emotionally engaging and often moving; Ms. Rice succeeds in creating a Jesus who is recognizably human--but without sin.

"I felt that he was capable of confusion at times," she said. "That he emptied himself, as Paul says, and that he was growing in wisdom, which meant that he didn't have it all together all the time. So he must have put aside his omniscience and he must have wanted to have an experience with us humans from the beginning. So he entrusted himself to a human childhood, and he was capable of making mistakes. But they weren't sins. He had to find out things about himself in a human way."

Ms. Rice said she focused on Jesus' humanity in the novel because that is what the Incarnation invites believers to do. Asked if she considered herself a Catholic novelist, Ms. Rice, now 64, said she has been all along but didn't always know it.

"I think my earlier books were records of a long discussion about the loss of faith, and that began to reflect my opening the door more and more to the possibility of a reconciliation with God," she said. …