Hannibal Degrades in His Earlier Years

I just finished Silence of the Lambs, a reread for me, but it was a read that came after the movie—my absolute favorite. For a long time, I thought the novel by Thomas Harris was one of those rare cases where the movie surpassed the book, but it’s probably because the movie is filtered through the female viewpoint, psychological horror where the female protagonist solves the mystery and is the hero. I enjoyed the novel, but it was nowhere near the level of the movie with its two famous portraits of evil (Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter and Ted Levine’s Jame Gumb) and the two strong ladies who are determined to overcome it (Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling and Brooke Smith’s Catherine Martin). The movie version condenses events, rearranges them, and makes Lecter like Jaws—a menace getting about ten minutes of actual screen time, but the one who also underpins the entire story.

 

Lecter’s scary, but there are so many other elements that work in the story, making it transcend the horror genre. One of the biggies are strong female characters who aren’t accessories for men. Clarice Starling is presented in both the book and movie as a steely recruit for the FBI. She’s ambitious but also vulnerable because of her inexperience and a difficult past. Foster says that Clarice Starling is still the best role she’s ever had and that’s something, coming from a woman who’s spent her whole life in the film industry. In the book, Starling is what puts the plot into motion after spurning the advances of Dr. Chilton, the man in charge of Hannibal Lecter. Harris captures Starling’s quick perceptions but also her awareness of herself as a woman and how she can use that in her career:

“She saw his bleak refrigerator, the crumbs on the TV tray where he ate alone, the still piles his things stayed in for months until he moved them—she felt the ache of his whole yellow-smiling Sen-Sen lonesome life—and switchblade-quick she knew not to spare him, not to talk on or look away. She stared into his face, and with the smallest tilt of her head, she gave him her good looks and bored her knowledge in, speared him with it, knowing he couldn’t stand for the conversation to go on.”

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This is glossed over quickly in the scene where Dr. Chilton is introduced in the movie Silence of the Lambs, and instead the movie’s heart lies in the twisted mentoring relationship that exists between Clarice and Hannibal Lecter. Lecter also can’t abide Chilton, who doesn’t have a medical degree and uses his proximity to the cannibal psychiatrist to further his own career (this first comes up in Red Dragon).

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Recently I started watching the TV series Hannibal with my sister, and I liked the first few episodes. It was interesting to see the period of time when Hannibal was practicing as a psychiatrist and perhaps committing the first few kills that would eventually land him in Chilton’s psychiatric hospital. But now the series is really starting to piss me off because it’s screwing around with the Hannibal Lecter canon and destroying the original character that Harris built.

At first, I was annoyed because each episode dealt with a new serial killer, and I found that completely unrealistic. If a story is set in a zombie apocalypse, I expect there to be a lot of zombies. But Hannibal is set in contemporary times where there are only supposed to be about forty or so active serial killers at any time in the United States. Yet every episode I’ve watched of Hannibal features a new serial killer that the FBI and Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) are dealing with. And these serial killers borrow heavily from the imagery associated with Hannibal’s later crimes; unless there is a plot twist from hell coming up, this pretty much makes Lecter look like a copycat.

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What Lecter does in Silence of the Lambs.

Another serial killer's work in prequel series Hannibal.

Another serial killer’s work in prequel series Hannibal.

 

The series also takes the great lines from Silence of the Lambs and repurposes them for the current story, saving nothing for later. Dr. Chilton has been brought in to work with the FBI when authorities would never have dealt with this bozo in the first place, according to the original canon. A pseudo Clarice has also been produced and almost immediately catches Lecter out through his sloppiness. All of these plot lines aren’t true to the characters as I know them, and I’m just barely halfway through the first season of Hannibal. I don’t see how the series can sustain itself much longer, and I know I’ve got to quit watching these episodes because I just get madder and madder with each one, turning into one of those comic book purists.

Hannibal’s creator Thomas Harris is one of those rare reclusive writers who doesn’t like to give interviews, but at some point he sold the film rights of Hannibal Lecter to Hollywood maven Dino De Laurentiss. Later, after Manhunter, Silence of the Lambs, and Red Dragon, De Laurentiss supposedly threatened to film a prequel to Hannibal’s story with or without Harris’s help, which spurred the writer to write Hannibal Rising.

 

I guess that wasn’t enough background for the character because now we have Hannibal the TV series. Dino De Laurentiss died a few years ago, but I see that his wife Martha De Laurentiis is attached as executive producer to the series. I don’t know if these film rights transfer or if Harris sold them again. Either way, I hope he’s getting good money for it. A writer’s got to eat, but I really don’t care for what’s been done to his characters.

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Joe Hill Kicks Ass in NYC

I was so excited to see Joe Hill read yesterday that it was hard to keep myself tethered to the ground. But then a series of mean, petty incidents at the place where I’ve worked in-house the last five months escalated to an unbearable level, and with mad tears, I quit just like that. I was so upset and called my sister after my walkout, wondering if I should just go home because I felt so miserable. She said, “No, no, go to the reading. It’ll make you feel better.”

Somehow I took the subway up to the Upper East Side and realized that I was on the wrong side of Manhattan. I needed to be at the Barnes & Noble on Eighty-Second Street and Broadway. Looking at the map in the Eighty-Sixth Street station, I thought it would probably be faster to walk through Central Park than to loop back to Grand Central and transferring and transferring. Also, stomping through the park helped me burn off some of my anger.

Smelling of armpit wrapped in a merino wool sweater—how I hate business casual—I sat near the back, where I could get a clear view of the stage. I had an aisle seat a few places down from an adorable girl who had outfitted herself with a pair of red horns à la Iggy Perrish from Joe Hill’s Horns. I read a few pages of the paranormal romance series project that I’m in the middle of editing, and then read the acknowledgments page of NOS4A2. There it was—another public thanking of his copyeditor. This pleased me so much as one of those working in the trenches of publishing—when an author takes time out to thank those who help them look their best with their words. Feeling a little bit better, I was ready to hear a story when Joe Hill came onstage to read.

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He was very courteous, making sure to read a different part of the book because there were some repeat attendees in the crowd and he didn’t want them to be bored. He was also a bit of a smart-ass—but a nice smart-ass—threatening to call on random members of the audience if they didn’t have any questions for him after the reading.

He was a good reader, and I settled in and was visualizing a bald Keith Richards with small, brown teeth—a horrifying image—when a couple, running late, tapped me on the shoulder. I think I must have jumped a foot. The guy apologized for scaring me and they slid into the available seats next to me, but I’m sure it was Mr. Hill who was responsible for that.

After the reading, Hill talked about his theories of horror, which I wholeheartedly endorse. He noted a part of his book that seemed to slow down and get too mechanical and said, “I…got thinking about Hannibal…When we met Hannibal Lecter in Red Dragon, he was the most terrifying thing anyone had ever seen. He’s only in that book for about two chapters. When we come across him in Silence of the Lambs, he’s onscreen with Jodie Foster for fourteen minutes. That’s it, fourteen minutes. And he’s the thing everybody remembers from that film, how terrifying Hannibal Lecter was.

“But then there was another movie and then another movie and book after book, and now there’s a TV series, and at a certain point, he becomes so familiar he’s like your toaster. You’re just not scared of him anymore…What’s really scary is that shark in the water, which we hardly ever see in Jaws. The shark is terrifying because you don’t know how to stop it and you don’t know where it is.”

I’m a sucker for hearing about other writers’ processes and routines and was happy when Hill shared his. “I’m very habit driven. I have a to-do list that I follow religiously,” he said. “I have a morning routine that consists of five items. The fifth item on the list is getting a thousand words. And nothing else in my day happens until I do that. And the other four things aren’t necessarily all that interesting but it’s read a poem, read one article in the New York Times, feed and walk the dog, take my Paxil.”

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Surprisingly, nobody brought up Hill’s famous mother and father, but when the Q and A sped into the lightning-fast round, an audience member asked who his favorite writers were. Hill said, “My parents both write; they’re my favorite writers. My brother would definitely be running a close third.”

I admire that kind of fierce family loyalty, but it’s even better when it’s true, and Stephen and Tabitha King, Owen King, and Joe Hill have become a kind of American literary dynasty.

After the Q and A, the line was long to get books signed by Hill, but truthfully I had expected it to be much longer. I was imagining a Gaiman-length line. I sat around sending texts to another pal in publishing until it shortened up, and then joined behind a family in matching heavy metal T-shirts—a mom, a dad, and a son who was about eight years old and carrying a Shakespeare puzzle. They had a bagful of books and insisted that I go before them. We chatted about books, the talk Hill had given, and the crazy guy who was on line about eight people ahead of us. It made me so happy and brought me out of my slump. Horror folks are good people.

My signed copy--in gold!