Lecter’s Last Revenge
Written by: Shannon Riley
According to critics, Thomas Harris’s latest novel, Hannibal Rising, is disappointing in many ways but primarily because it reveals too much of Hannibal’s motivations: “the trauma of his childhood and his lifelong torment over the murder of his little sister.” These experiences shaped his life, and acknowledging them turns the brilliant and cunning monster into a sympathetic character. Some readers prefer Lecter as a shadowy evil, unknown and unknowable, and as far as they are concerned, humanizing him takes all the bite out of the story.
Harris knew it would. He didn’t want to write Hannibal Rising. He had intended to let the series end with Starling and Hannibal together, outsiders forever but free.
There was only one small problem. He had sold the movie rights of the Lecter character to film producer Dino De Laurentiis, and Laurentiis wanted another dip in the money pool. When Harris turned down De Laurentiis’s request to write the prequel, the producer told him he would get someone else to write it. Harris couldn’t bear to loose control of his creative work, and according to all accounts, De Laurentiis’s literary blackmail forced him to write the novel.
To understand how this could occur, one must understand Thomas Harris and writers in general. Thomas Harris grew up in the most conservative area in the Bible Belt where violence in books and films is denounced as one of the most corrupting influences in society. Many churches and newspapers condemn horror and crime fiction. Many libraries and independent bookstores refuse to carry it.
He clawed his way up through stratified layers of fundamentalist repression to find a safe, dark corner to give birth to his vision and fought to keep his dream alive. He has lived with and nurtured Hannibal Lecter for the past twenty-eight years. For someone else take control of his creation would be like losing custody of a child. (Ridley Scott had butchered the ending of Hannibal and damaged the theme of the series badly enough already.)
So Harris wrote the prequel, Hannibal Rising, against his better judgment. He defanged the monster and destroyed the mystique, and many of us would have done the same in the same situation.Â Our work is that much a part of who we are.
But the ordeal may not yet be over. De Laurentiis has not ruled out another movie. While he admits that Hannibal Rising was disappointing, taking in only thirteen million when it was released on February 9, 2007, he is waiting for international box office results before making a final decision on the franchise.
In 2004, Harris signed an eight figure, two-book contract with Delecorte. Hannibal Rising is the first of the two books contracted, but the second book is not required to involve the character of Lecter in any way.
Harris may have been coerced into writing a prequel he would not have chosen to write, but the novel remained true to the theme of the series and it may have accomplished something else as well. It may have ended the story of the infamous doctor with a finality that Hannibal, the previous installment, could not. Two months after the book’s release it had sold only 270,000 copies out of a 1.5 million print run. Hannibal Rising is a story of revenge, but perhaps the good doctor’s last best revenge was to allow a brilliant series to die with dignity.
I eagerly look forward to Thomas Harris’s next book. I know the quality work this talented author is capable of producing. He has lifted the genre of dark suspense and crime fiction to a new level and his influence will be felt for decades to come.
Hannibal, in your creator’s own words, I wish you “blessed oblivion.”
“Some of our stars are the same.”