When the lambs stop screaming…

183187 I picked up my copy of The Silence of the Lambs last week and decided to give it another read. It’s one of my favorites, and there are few books that I’ll read more than once. It’s also one of my favorite book-to-film adaptations, even though there is so much more in the book than in the movie which prompted me to write this blog post.

I wish Thomas Harris would write more, but when you’ve created such a phenomenal and haunting character like Hannibal Lecter and you’ve told his story over four books, all made into successful films, why not stop there? Silence is actually Harris’s second book where Lecter appears.

The first is Red Dragon where Hannibal is already captured but you meet Will Graham, the agent who caught him. The third is Hannibal which tells the story of Starling and Lecter and what happened to them after Silence (it’s also the end of the story). But Harris followed up with a prequel called Hannibal Rising that tells the story of a young Hannibal in Germany. What we are missing, and what I’d love to read, is the story of Hannibal during his years as a psychiatrist and when he was a killer, though we got a taste of that from the two seasons of the short-livedTV series Hannibal.

Harris’s writing is very simplistic. He uses a lot of sentence fragments to paint a picture and at times acts as an omnipotent narrator to point out details. Most of the chapters in Silence are under ten pages so it’s a quick read. Some are only two or three. He uses strong dialogue to move the narrative along. If you know some of the  infamous lines from the movie, especially between Clarice and Lecter, you’ll certainly recognize them in the book. Jodie Foster was so good as Clarice that it’s hard not to picture her while reading the book.

Here are a few details that were left out of the book that I enjoyed:

– Lecter has a condition called polydactyly where he has six fingers on one hand. Not important to the movie, but in the book he uses this to distract the policeman in the courthouse when he escapes. He also has the finger removed in the third book and the investigator hunting him uses the x-rays from the operation to center in on Lecter.

– In Silence, we meet Agent Krendler and there is a chapter that introduces a conflict between him and Starling. He plays a huge part in the third book and Lecter seeks revenge against him for the way he treats her. He was played by Ray Liotta in the “Hannibal” movie. If you saw it, you might remember his grotesque demise at the dinner table.

– Agent Crawford has a wife named Bella who is dying with cancer. Her sickness, and death, play an integral part in the book as to how the reader sees Crawford as more than just an FBI agent and ultimately sympathizes with him.

– It was a horse that young Clarice ran away with, not a lamb. The “screaming lamb” metaphor is mentioned in the book but the movie made this front and center in her conversation with Lecter in the infamous courthouse scene.

– The murder of the two policemen in the courthouse along with Lecter’s escape plays out in much the same way in the book as it did in the movie, other than all the drama with the disemboweled man hanging from the ceiling. In the book, he’s just lying on the floor.

– Buffalo Bill skins and scalps his victims in the book, taking much more than just the darts on their back you saw in the film when Clarice is examining the body of one of the victims. He also doesn’t live in a house, but instead his “dungeon of horrors” is in an old storefront. The basement is like a huge maze and there are six other dead bodies found in various rooms after Bill dies.

– In the book, there is much more interaction between Starling and Crawford as she begs him to keep her on the case, even though she’s risking getting “recycled” at the academy for missing classes.

– In the end, Clarice ends up dating one of the entomologists that assisted with identifying the moth cocoon.

– Also in the end of the book, Lecter hasn’t left the country yet and is busy performing plastic surgery on himself to change his appearance. He writes a letter to Chilton warning him of what’s to come, and he also writes a letter to Clarice rather than calling her on the phone.

If you haven’t read it, I highly suggest it. It’s a quick read that I finished (for the second or third time) in under a week.


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