Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris

St. Martin’s, 1981-1988, ??? pages, C$??.?? mmpb, ISBN Various

Red Dragon: 1981, 348 pages
The SIlence of the Lambs: 1988, 352 pages

They took away the student’s notebook when he entered the prison.

“You can’t be serious!” he protested “he can’t be that dangerous!”

“Amical Lecteur is a sick man” replied the orderly responsible for the student’s well-being. “He is the most dangerous reader you will ever meet. Always remember that.”

They went down the stairs toward the maximum-security wing of the prison.

“A few months ago, one of our nurses forgot a copy of The Bridges of Madison County near him. He read it in less than an hour, called it a pretty ordinary story about bad photography and cardboard characters. His pulse never went above seventy.”

“Gee.”

“We took away your notebook because you had written something in it. Lecteur will go frantic in the presence of reading material. We have restrained him, but you never know.”

They approached the last cell of the corridor. A chair had been placed in the middle of the corridor, facing the bars of the cell.

The orderly checked one last time and retreated, leaving the student with Lecteur. The student could only see the outline of the prisoner in his darkened cell.

“Doctor Lecteur? I’m here-”

“I know.” He advanced, and even despite the darkness of his cell, the student could see the heavy blindfold that had been placed upon Lecteur’s eyes. “-they might have tried to make me blind, but not stupid.”

The student gulped. “I’m here to ask you about-”

“The two serial-killer thrillers by Thomas Harris. Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. Am I correct?”

“Yes- Yes, sir.”

“Did you know that since 1977, Harris has only published three novels? All of them have been adapted to successful movies. The Silence of the Lambs even won a Best Picture Academy Award-”

“Yes. Were you aware of the movies when you read the book?”

“Aware yes. I even saw parts of that movie, but never all of it.”

“Did it help?”

“Curiously, seeing only disconnected parts of the movie probably set the tone, characterisation and overall atmosphere of the book while leaving most of the plot surprises intact. Then again, given the publicity surrounding The Silence of the Lambs, you don’t even have to have seen the movie.”

“What about MANHUNTER, the adaptation of Red Dragon?”

“I knew it existed. That is all.”

The student paused, thinking about his next questions.

“What did you think of the books?”

“Why is it important to you?”

“Why is that important to you?”

“You never learned never to answer a question by a question?”

“Who told you that?”

Silence.

“They’re both fairly good crime thrillers” finally says Lecteur. “You’ve got to realize, though, that both novels have basically the same premise.”

“Oh?”

“In both, you’ve got a protagonist asking the advice of this really sadistic psychopath, Hannibal Lecter, to catch a serial killer. In both cases, he’s able to do it and make life miserable for the policeperson sent to interrogate him.”

“Much like our discussion, then.”

“Do you have to point out the obvious?”

“Sorry.”

[Pause] “In both case, the result is an tense novel. The similarity of the plots even help, since Harris does it better the second time around.”

“How?”

“First off, Clarice Starling from The Silence of the lambs is a stronger, more interesting character than Will Graham from Red Dragon. The same also holds true for the serial killers, although both are portrayed as wimps. I guess this is to show off Harris’ centrepiece, which is Hannibal Lecter.”

“He’s chilling?”

“Utterly. Brains combined with complete evilness. A very memorable villain. The damning thing is that he’s also endlessly charming. Just as you think he’s a pretty likable fellow, well…”

“Are the books very violent?”

“Somewhat. They stay in the norm for crime thrillers. It’s the impact of that violence that remains with the readers, though.”

“So, which is the better book?”

Silence of the Lambs, without a doubt. Even though it’s a remake of the previous volume, readers having read Red Dragon first should read the sequel. The reverse isn’t necessarily true, though, as Silence of the Lambs greatly improves on the predecessor. Think of it as a computer game remade five years after the original, with better graphics and gameplay.”

“You recommend The Silence of the Lambs?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you sir. I think-”

“Don’t leave me like this! Give me-”

“I really must go.”

“Give me a book! A baseball program! A cereal box! Anything to read!”

The orderly rushed to the cell, electric prod in hand. As Lecteur became even more frantic, the orderly silenced him with flashes of blue-white electricity. Lecteur retreated in his cell.

“Sorry about that, sir.” said the orderly. “He gets violent from time to time.”

“At least he doesn’t kill people.”

“Sometime, we almost think it would be better that way.”

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