Thomas Harris: the father of Hannibal Lecter

I still remember that night when, sitting on my bed, I was reading the scene of “The Silence of the Lambs” where Clarice enters Buffalo Bill’s house.
I had palpitations.
And I’m not kidding.

I have read many books in my life, some really beautiful and exciting, but only “The Silence of the Lambs” made me feel that way. As I read it, I was Clarice and, between fear and horror, I was exploring the house in search of the senator’s daughter. I was also that girl (I cannot remember her name) who, locked in the well, begged Clarice not to leave her alone. But Clarice must first find the serial killer, so that both were safe.

All the novels by Thomas Harris, even if they are only five, have yielded in me the same effect: I felt inside the story, and I felt compelled to read at any time, whatever I was doing.
No author has ever managed to capture me so much with their prose to push me to read out from the usual places and times that I devote to this activity. There is something unique in his way of narrating that is in perfect harmony with me, without the slightest smear, so when I am asked about my favourite author, I mean the very first one in my ranking, the answer is only one: Thomas Harris.
The others come much later.

We don’t know much about him, as he is a very discreet person, elusive to the media. We know that in thirty years he wrote five books and that more than ten have passed since the last one. Each of them was turned into a successful movie; actually two movies came from his second book “Red Dragon”. Apparently he told Stephen King that writing for him is a proper torture and this explains why he isn’t very prolific.
In my small way I understand him perfectly. Writing is really a torture, but of course he is luckier than me, because he can afford a little more than a book for decades, given the success they have!

Like many, I learned about him with “The Silence of the Lambs”, but my favourite of his books is “Hannibal”, where the figure of Lecter, the perfect anti-hero, is shown in all its splendour to the reader. It is no coincidence that Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the serial killer also known as The Cannibal, for the habit of eating some organs of his victims, is also my favourite literary character.
What I love about Harris’s writing is his incredible ability to develop a character with clear negative connotations, but still be able to let me love it. No one like him can distort the very concept of good and evil.
In “Hannibal” in particular there is no good guy in the strict sense. There is so much evil in the characters that Lecter becomes the hero in all respects. And the way what dwells in his mind (the palace of memory) is shown makes me understand his motivations, why he became what he is, up to immerse myself in him and accept his actions, his malice.

Harris has shown me that a true villain like Lecter (and he is without a doubt a true villain, since there is no remorse in him nor the minimum search for redemption) can be the hero of a novel, appreciated and recognised as that by so many readers.

Lecter makes his first and brief appearance in “Red Dragon”. The first film based on this novel is “Manhunter” starring William Petersen (Gil Grissom from CSI), where Lecter, here oddly named Lecktor, is played by Brian Cox. Its second film adaptation, “Red Dragon” starring Edward Norton, instead shows Anthony Hopkins reprising his role in 2002 after “The Silence of theLambs” (1991), for which he won an Oscar in 1992 as best actor (the Academy also awarded Jodie Foster as Clarice, director Jonathan Demme, screenwriter Ted Tally, and the film itself), and “Hannibal” (2001).
The last novel in the series, “Hannibal Rising”, was published in 2006 and narrates the youth of the character. The story of Hannibal, however, ends with “Hannibal” (published in 1999), which has a completely different ending from that of the film.
A TV series was also dedicated to this character, “Hannibal”.

Before the Lecter Series, Harris wrote “Black Sunday” (1975), a novel that narrates about a terrorist attack with a dirigible against New Orleans stadium, where the Super Bowl is taking place. Even in this one the author investigates the minds of the villains, showing without any filter the logic of their intentions and actions to the reader.
I remember I started reading the book in 2001 and then I was forced to temporarily stop reading after the attacks of September 11, because it appeared too realistic to me. Then I picked it up again years later and finished it in a few days.

After “Hannibal Rising” I wondered what Harris could ever write, because the Lecter series seemed complete. Of course, there would be much to tell between the end of this novel and the beginning of “Red Dragon”, but I don’t know to what extent it would make sense to write a book out of it. Lecter is already perfect this way. Actually, I’d be curious to know what other frightening characters dwell in Harris’s mind. I would like to meet them.

I have no idea what Harris is doing now, but I sincerely hope that he is torturing himself at least one last time so as to give us another beautiful piece of his work.