This Day In Literary History
On March 23rd, 1999, the famous American writer Thomas Harris delivered the completed manuscript for his classic fourth novel, Hannibal, to his publishers.
It was the third in a series of four novels featuring his most famous character - Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist, classical music enthusiast, wine connoisseur, and gourmet turned cannibalistic serial killer - who had been terrifying readers for nearly 20 years.
(Harris's classic debut novel, Black Sunday (1975), told the story of a psychotic Vietnam veteran who conspires with a terrorist group to bomb the Super Bowl. It was adapted as an acclaimed film in 1977, directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Robert Shaw and Bruce Dern.)
Lecter made his debut in Red Dragon (1981), where he was called upon by Will Graham - the FBI agent who captured him - to help profile a new serial killer, Francis Dolarhyde, aka the Red Dragon.
The sequel, The Silence of the Lambs (1988) found Lecter called on again, this time by trainee FBI agent Clarice Starling, to help her gain insight into the mind of Buffalo Bill, aka Jame Gumb, a depraved serial killer who has abducted a Senator's daughter.
Although Red Dragon was filmed first in 1986 as Manhunter, (featuring British actor Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter) it would be the film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs in 1991 that made Hannibal Lecter a pop culture icon.
Stylishly directed by Jonathan Demme and featuring stellar performances by Anthony Hopkins as Lecter, Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, and Ted Levine as Jame Gumb, the film swept the Academy Awards.
It became only the third movie in history to win all five major Oscars - Best Actor (Hopkins), Best Actress (Foster), Best Director (Demme), Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
After the huge success of The Silence of the Lambs, fans were clamoring for a sequel. It took over ten years for Thomas Harris to deliver. Hannibal was the result.
In this novel, Lecter himself is Agent Starling's quarry, as he escaped from custody in The Silence of the Lambs. What Starling doesn't know is that someone else is hunting Lecter - Mason Verger, a victim of Lecter'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 little sister, Margot. When his father established a Christian summer camp for children, Verger used it to prey on more young victims.
When he was finally caught and arrested, Verger avoided jail time because of his family's wealth and position. He was ordered to perform community service and receive therapy. His court appointed psychiatrist? Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
The good doctor's idea of therapy was to have Verger take hallucinogenic drugs, manipulate him into demonstrating his technique of autoerotic asphyxiation via hanging, then make him slash his own face to ribbons with a shard of broken glass and feed his mutilated flesh to his dogs.
Lecter then hanged Verger with his own noose, breaking his neck. Verger survived, but was 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 officials on his payroll - including Starling's superior, Paul Krendler. Hannibal received mixed reviews due to its controversial ending, which I won't give away.
I will say that it does make sense after all that happens to Clarice Starling throughout the novel, and fits in well with the dark surrealism (and dark humor) of the story for a chilling, memorable coda.
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. Horror master Stephen King, a big fan of the Hannibal Lecter series, proclaimed Hannibal, along with William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist (1971), to be the two greatest modern horror novels of all time.
Hannibal would be adapted as a feature film in 2001, with Anthony Hopkins returning as Lecter and Julianne Moore taking over the role of Clarice Starling.
Directed by Ridley Scott, it received mixed reviews from fans because the screenplay (written by David Mamet and Steven Zaillian) omitted a major character (Margot Verger) and changed the ending of the novel.
To placate fans, the screenwriters did include part of the novel's ending - the famous Grand Guignol scene where Dr. Lecter lobotomizes corrupt FBI official Paul Krendler and... well... serves him a most unusual gourmet dinner...
Unfortunately, the most shocking part of the novel's ending - the fate of Clarice Starling - was omitted from the screenplay, which featured a completely different outcome.
Thomas Harris followed Hannibal with a a fourth novel, a prequel called Hannibal Rising (2006), which was published seven years later and adapted as a feature film in 2007.
Expanding on flashbacks that appeared in Hannibal, it told the dark and chilling story of how a frighteningly intelligent little Lithuanian boy named Hannibal Lecter grew up to be the gentleman ghoul we know and love.
In 2013, a Hannibal TV series premiered. Featuring the great Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen in the title role, the series was a prequel to Red Dragon, with Lecter helping FBI special agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) hunt bizarre and sadistic serial killers.
An unusual friendship develops between the two men, but soon it becomes apparent that Graham's pursuit of serial killers - using his uncanny ability to enter their depraved minds - poses a serious threat to his sanity.
What Will doesn't realize is that the main serial killer he's been pursuing, the Chesapeake Ripper, is really the brilliant psychiatrist who's been assisting him as a consultant - Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
Stylishly gruesome and surreal, (and surprisingly graphic for network TV) the series, which ran for three seasons, was a hit with critics and viewers alike.
Quote Of The Day
"Problem solving is hunting. It is savage pleasure and we are born to it." - Thomas Harris
Today's video features the original theatrical trailer for the 2001 feature film adaptation of Thomas Harris' 1999 novel, Hannibal. Enjoy!