|Thomas Harris: Hannibal|
TO: Hannibal Lecter, M.D.
Glenn Gould performs Bach's "Goldberg Variations" as I write. You remember, Dr. Lecter, you played this tape while butchering your guards and escaping custody in The Silence of the Lambs.
Seven years later, in Hannibal, you play the "Variations" on an ornate clavier in the Palazzo Capponi (once home to the Capponi, a thousand-year-old Florentine family). The palazzo's spacious halls and high ceilings delight you after the vile, windowless, dungeon cell in the Baltimore asylum.
You elude detection with collagen facial treatments and surgery removing your left hand's sixth finger. As "Dr. Fell," medieval and pre-Renaissance Florentine scholar, you seek permanent curatorship of the Palazzo Capponi library. The former curator "disappeared" after your arrival in Florence. Killed, but not eaten.
Florence and you, Dr. Lecter -- two entities of extremes. In both, elegance, enchantment, and erudition meld with evil and lead to intrigue, violence and death.
I suspect your tongue encircled your lips and red pinpoints gleamed in your eyes when Hannibal's release fomented fan frenzy. You enjoy creating chaos.
Readers either love or hate Hannibal. The writing style triggers debate. Throughout Hannibal, your chronicler changes tense and shifts points of view from the omnipotent narrator's to each character's. I welcome Harris's authorial anarchy. It expands the narrative. The omnipotent narrator reflects and comments on the characters' motives and actions. He smuggles us into your physical world and "mind palace," a sanctuary of images, sensations, memories and emotions. The individual viewpoints add variety.
Combining present and past tenses jars the reader stylistically and augments a perturbing plot.
Silence of the Lambs was Clarice Starling's story. Hannibal is yours. In Lambs, you coveted her innermost secrets; she demanded your insights about serial killer "Buffalo Bill." You forced her to exchange information quid pro quo. In Hannibal, Clarice still entrances you; you obsess her.
Your Florentine idyll ends when a local policeman discovers your identity. He sells you out to Mason Verger, one of your two surviving victims. You left Verger a faceless quadrapalegic. (Although, given Mr. Verger tortured for Idi Amin and raped children, your attack seems just.) He offers millions for your live capture, living only to torture and kill you. In contrast, Clarice cannot repress her compulsion to rescue -- even you.
Harris implies an atrocity precipitated your cannibalism. Has he destroyed your monstrous image? I think not. Even Satan evolved, plummeting into evil only after his rebellion against God failed.
Why? Abandon the classification "thriller." Describing "Buffalo Bill" in Lambs, you said, "He covets." Hannibal explores coveting -- coveting love, revenge, wealth, power, heroism, safety, the dead and, for you, another's soul. Each character's nature creates the desire. To covet generates consequences and affects the characters. This theme is one of two at Hannibal's core.
The second is ambiguity. Red Dragon and Lambs specify the evil and the good. Hannibal, however, jolts our moral sphere and hurls us into ambivalence, another form of chaos. Your win, Dr. Lecter.
Lynn I. Miller
WARNING: Hannibal contains graphic, savage violence.
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