Friday, February 09, 2007

Thomas Harris and Hannibal Lecter

Massawyrm makes the case that Thomas Harris isn't a hack--he just hates the character that made him famous:

Thomas Harris hates Hannibal Lector. No, I mean he fucking HATES Hannibal Lector. Hates the ever loving shit out of him. There’s no other explanation outside of mental illness. No, fuck you. It ain’t greed. Harris is a solid writer and Hannibal Lector books wouldn’t be a hard thing to write. He could write book after book after book of Hannibal eating his way across the world while a different cop narrowly misses catching him at the end of EVERY FUCKING BOOK and yet it would still be readable. It would have an audience. And an unending series of cinematic adaptations steadily declining in quality and budget. But this. There is no explanation for this. No explanation for the end of Hannibal. No explanation but that he has come to hate Hannibal Lector and keeps trying to write himself into a hole that no one will bother paying him to write himself out of.

Actually, the same thought occurred to me after reading Hannibal: Harris looked like he was trying to make Lecter so terrible that he'd never have to see his incarnation again.

Bonus: I'm not a big comments reader, but in the AICN comments section are two inspired bits. The first is simply, "Hannibal gotta eat." Nice to see the Rev. Al Sharpton getting some love. The second is,

Read between the lines in the author's end note in Hannibal. Harris hates the good doctor and doesn't want him living in his head. He couldn't get him to go away by giving him a 'happily ever after' with Starling, so now he's trying to pull a Terminator and kill him off as a child.

Harris's problem, however, is that he was on the leading edge--heck, he have even been the leading edge--of the torture-porn industry. And his efforts to wreck the franchise have only stoked demand.


Bill Walsh said...

Well, here's the thing about Harris and the gorenography genre (to use the term I coined). He wasn't originally a part of it. Indeed, Red Dragon (and Mann's Manhunter) is perhaps one of fiction's most considered moral takes on serial killers.

The Silence of the Lambs continued in this vein, elaborating on the fundamental uninterestingness of serial killers by giving only the sketchiest details of Jame Gumb's background. These people have made themselves less than human, and as Will Graham says in Manhunter (though the line's gone from the DVD version, oddly), "My heart bleeds for him as a child. As an adult, he's irredeemable. He slaughters whole families in pursuit of trival fantasies. As an adult, someone needs to blow this sick fuck out of his socks."

Anyway, Lecter wasn't much more than a clever plot device, a sort of wry, Satanic Dr. Moriarity. However, Anthony Hopkins' over-the-top performance made him the "star." (Brian Cox is to my mind much, much scarier. His seemingly laconic delivery of "Do you dream much, Will?" carries as much menace as anything Hopkins did in Silence.)

And then, Harris found himself trapped by "his" creation—which really owed as much or more to Demme & Hopkins (all credit to them, incidentally, he's one of the greatest movie monsters of all time).

So my two cents is that Harris tried to make the monster ludicrous in Hannibal, but didn't succeed in dimming his public's enthusiasm for him. (Why would they? Hack writers have created a whole genre with far less inventive and interesting sexual-sadist serial-killer plot points.)

So, now, with Hannibal Rising, he's returning again, this time trying to ground him in history and create a vaguely plausible way a brilliant, accomplished man could only find satisfaction in vivisecting co√ęds. (The original Hannibal Lecter was no "avenger." He was psychiatrist who largely killed his patients.) Which he knows is impossible, both in reality as well as fiction. Having dumped the "how serial killers work" as interesting or significant between Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, it must gall him to have to return to it.

Stephen Hunter claims the book is pretty decent, but I'm still not real motivated to pick it up.

Harris has the problem that he started to try an examine real evil, and has ended up as the bard of this era's Dracula or Moriarity. And I suspect he doesn't like it much.

Anonymous said...

I agree. After I was done reading Hannibal, it was very clear that he wanted nothing to do with the entire set of characters (Hannibal, Clarice, Barney and Ardelia.) Little did he know that Hollywood would get him to restart, at the beginning.

Did people enjoy "Hannibal" the book? I did, although the ending was very, very odd.