I was a few years out of University when I decided to go back to school to try to pursue a career in the social services. It was a natural fit and it’s opened up a career for me that I’m so grateful to have. But before I ever started studying social work I got my degree in Criminology. When people asked me why I decided to study Crim I couldn’t really say why and eventually I couldn’t even remember what drew me to it in the first place. Then I read Silence of The Lambs and remembered entirely why this was my first passion. This book wasn’t just a wonderfully written work of fiction, but it also served as the unofficial history book to the birth of Criminology and Criminal Profiling. Not to mention that it based the villains off three of the most evil/terrifying serial killers in history. In fact even Clarice is based on the FBI’s first female agent in the Behavioural Science Unit. The book isn’t only gripping because it’s a terrifying story but because so much of it is based on fact and actual events, which when you think about it, is just all the more terrifying. This has been my favourite book on the reading list so far, and here’s why……..
The Main Character
At the moment my wife and I have gotten invested in the new fall series Quantico. A show about a group of FBI recruits who all seem to have hidden agendas, who know ALL of the subject material and are all cool under pressure. It makes it a little hard to relate to a single character and that’s what I was expecting with Clarice, the FBI trainee who was an experienced forensic analyst with a degree in psychology and criminology who ranked near the top of her class. What I found out though was that Clarice was an incredibly vulnerable human being, with a lot of uncertainty who is constantly self-conscious about her lack of experience. More often than naught she’s panicking because she’s unsure how to take charge of a situation and she’s shy about approaching her superiors when she does have an opinion. But as the book moves forward she really grows and develops as a character who eventually finds her voice when mouthing off to superiors, suspects and other police officers. She becomes so take charge by the end but not the point where she’s just stone cold, but rather it’s the confidence of someone who’s riding a high. She figures out how to decipher Hannibal’s clues, she makes independent decisions that contribute to the case and becomes crafty in finding ways gathering restricted information. After her final fight with Buffalo Bill you’d expect a character who has now found the confidence to finish her FBI training and move onto being an agent. However Thomas Harris decided to move against the cliché ending and instead wrote her as a character who’s experiencing severe trauma after coming so close to death and killing another person for the first time. She’s believable, she’s relatable and she’s one of the best female characters I’ve ever read. I loved Clarice almost as much as Hannibal Lecter did….ALMOST as much.
It’s tough to say who the villain is here. And I know that’s been said about the novel/movie a thousand times and at times Hannibal has been labelled an anti-hero (which is ridiculous to me). The way I saw it, Hannibal didn’t influence Buffalo Bill in any sort of way but her certainly influenced and manipulated events throughout the entire book which makes him kind of the overall villain. Whereas Buffalo Bill served as the minor villain in the overall Hannibal story. Either way both were terrifying and here’s why. Ed Gein, Ted Bundy and The Green River Killer were three of the most terrifying serial killers in history. Not just in North American history but in Earth’s history. So combining all three of them and producing two super serial killers just made these villains more believable and more terrifying. Hannibal was one of the most manipulative and just straight out evil character’s I’ve ever read whereas Buffalo Bill was one of the most unstable. Both of their climax’s summed up their stories so well with Hannibal’s being a massive plot that was orchestrated to the finest detail that allowed him to escape. Whereas Buffalo Bill’s involved pure fear and unplanned, unstructured attacks. There wasn’t a point where I wasn’t terrified reading either of their chapters and yet as a Criminology Major I was so fascinated with them as well. They brought forth the two thoughts we as a society have of serial killers. One was incredibly intelligent and crafty while the other was violent and unpredictable. Regardless of who you think the main villain was, you can agree that both are terrifying for different reasons.
There’s not much I can say here that I didn’t say before. The final fight between Clarice and Buffalo Bill is terrifying as she’s blind in his house of horrors. The escape by Hannibal is terrifying as he outsmarts an entire police department while taking down four people in his wake. But perhaps the thing that’s most terrifying are the scenes in the well. That whole storyline freaked me out the most as I pictured what would I do were I to wake up in someone’s well who was psychologically torturing me before they murdered me. For me this was the most psychologically terrifying thing in the entire book and what’s more terrifying is when they state that they only know of 6 of his murders and that he most likely committed many more so imagine how many people Buffalo Bill had in that well! It also showed how detached he was from his victims as he never referred to them as “she” or “her” but rather “it” and “the thing” which shows his disconnection. I always felt unsettled in his chapters and sped through them to move back to the safety of a Clarice chapter. Overall it was definitely terrifying.
Originally when I watched Silence of The Lambs I thought to myself, is Hannibal so creepy because Anthony Hopkins did a good job at creating a monster? OR is Hannibal so creepy because that’s how the character was written? It turns out that both are kind of correct. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Mads Mikelson as Hannibal in the Hannibal TV Show (rest in peace), and he 100% made the Hannibal character his own. He didn’t just try to play Anthony Hopkins play Hannibal. The thing of it is though Hannibal is portrayed as incredibly arrogant, manipulative and he takes great pain in seeing pain in others. Anthony Hopkins played the role with a sinister grin on his face the entire time whereas Mads played it with a blank, cold expression. I love both but I can understand why Hopkins won an Oscar for it. In terms of the actual movie Silence of The Lambs, it’s nearly scene for scene identical but you definitely lose a lot of the inner monologue of Clarice, Hannibal Buffalo Bill and Jack Crawford. So that’s why I suggest, even if you’ve watched it countless times, read the book so you can enjoy this amazing movie on an even deeper level.
This is absolutely a book I recommend to most people. If you love horror, psychological thrillers or crime then you will absolutely love this book. These are three broad areas but this book covers all three of them so it’s definitely a must read. If you’re mostly into the paranormal then this isn’t the book for you at all, and if you’re a little queasy then some parts of this will definitely not be to your taste. Even if you’ve seen the movie a hundred times you should read it because this book is so well written and paced. Overall an amazing read!
Next up I’m going BACK to the paranormal and reading Shirley Jackson’s Haunting on House Hill!