Monday, June 8, 2009

Notes for June 8th, 2009

This Day In Writing History

On June 8th, 1867, the great American writer Mark Twain set off on a boat trip for a tour of Europe and the Middle East, along with a large group of tourists looking to visit the Holy Land. Twain said of the trip, "It was to be a picnic on a gigantic scale."

At the time, Twain was just starting to make a name for himself as a writer. When he returned from the cruise, he reworked a series of travel letters into a book. Twain's publisher gave him six months to complete the book, and he met the deadline, delivering a finished manuscript of 600 pages. The book, The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrim's Progress, was published in 1869, and was a huge success. In fact, of all Twain's books, it sold the most copies.

The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrim's Progress was (and still is) considered controversial, mostly because of Twain's account of his travels to Italy, where he compares the vast wealth of the Catholic Church to the grinding poverty of most Italians, implying that poor Italians should consider robbing their priests. It was not the first, nor the last time he took the Church to task in his writings. He also took humorous pot shots at the Mormons.


On June 8th, 1999, Hannibal, the third in novelist Thomas Harris' series of horror novels featuring the character of Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, made its debut. Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist, classical music enthusiast, and gourmet cook turned cannibalistic serial killer, had been terrifying readers since his debut in Red Dragon (1981), where he assisted Will Graham - the FBI agent who captured him - in catching a new serial killer, Francis Dolarhyde, aka The Tooth Fairy. The sequel, The Silence Of The Lambs (1988) found Lecter called on again, this time by novice FBI agent Clarice Starling, to gain insight into the mind of Jame Gumb, aka Buffalo Bill, a depraved serial killer who has abducted a Senator's daughter.

In Hannibal, Lecter himself is Agent Starling's quarry - he escaped from custody in The Silence Of The Lambs. What Starling doesn't know is that someone else is pursuing Lecter - Mason Verger, a former victim of Hannibal's who survived. Verger, the wealthy heir to a meat packing empire, was a depraved, sadistic pedophile whose long list of victims included his own sister. When his father establishes a Christian summer camp for children, Verger uses it to prey on more young victims. Caught and arrested, Verger avoids jail time because of his family's powerful influence. He is ordered to perform community service and receive therapy. His therapist? Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

The good doctor's idea of therapy is to have Verger take hallucinogenic drugs, demonstrate his technique of autoerotic asphyxiation via hanging, then slash his face to ribbons with a shard of broken glass. Lecter then uses Verger's noose to hang him. Verger survives and is left a quadriplegic with a horribly mangled face. He wants to catch Lecter before Agent Starling does and take revenge. The revenge Verger has planned is a fate worse than death, and he has FBI agents on his payroll - including Starling's superior, Paul Krendler.

Hannibal received mixed reviews because of the ending, which was omitted from the film adaptation. I won't give it away, but I will say that it does make sense after all that happens to Clarice Starling throughout the novel. I for one enjoyed Hannibal immensely. I believe it's the best book Harris has written so far, second only to The Silence Of The Lambs. Stephen King, a big fan of the Hannibal Lecter series, proclaimed Hannibal, along with William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist, to be the two greatest modern horror novels of all time.

It was followed by a fourth novel, a prequel called Hannibal Rising, published in 2006. It told the story of how a remarkably intelligent young boy named Hannibal Lecter grew up to be the psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer we all know and love.

Quote Of The Day

“Nothing makes us more vulnerable than loneliness, except greed.” - Thomas Harris

Vanguard Video

Today's video is the first in a series of writing tips videos by horror / sci-fi author Lia Scott Price. Enjoy!

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