I’ll admit upfront that I’m cheating here, using a memory to launch a theory, but so it goes. I first met Hannibal Lecter in the Michael Mann version of RED DRAGON, renamed MANHUNTER. Somewhere in the Internet ether, there’s an essay I wrote for Tart City about how I prefer Brian Cox’s Lecter to Anthony Hopkins’s, an opinion that no one seems inclined to share with me. So be it. At any rate, the Mann film launched me into Harris’s work. I loved the first two books, but decided not to continue with HANNIBAL because Lecter is Harris’s least interesting character to me. Heck, I’d be more inclined to read a novel about Freddy Lowndes. Of course it, like HANNIBAL RISING, would need to be a prequel.
But as the reviews of HANNIBAL RISING come in, I’d like to venture this question: Has Hopkins hijacked Harris’s character? Has his portrayal — which is good and vivid and memorable, just not my favorite — changed the way that Harris thinks/writes about his own creation? Or is it just the public appetite for Lecter (sorry) that has led Harris to put this character at the center of two novels, when so many agree that he worked better as a secondary character?
I recently had lunch with another crime writer (not named here because all meals are assumed off-the-record) who believes that Harris’s recent choices are meant to underscore the fact that the character belongs to the writer. Perhaps. But could it also show that the character doesn’t belong to the writer, that an actor’s singular performance or the public’s imagination can transform the character? Who owns a character?
These are not moot questions for me. Today I sat down and, as I have for every Jan. 2nd over the past decade, started a new novel. This one’s a Tess and while my audience is a mere fraction of Harris’s, I am keenly aware that quite a few readers will come to this book with a longterm relationship with Tess. How to introduce her, again? How to start, again?
I’ll tell you this much: She comes into the book backward, going very fast, with the inevitable consequences. Today’s writing tally: 1,066 words, a little puny, but it’s the entire opening chapter and meets the 1,000-word minimum. 89,000 to go, give or take, and more revisions than I want to think about just now.
(P.S. I’ve only read summaries of HANNIBAL RISING in various reviews, but am I the only one to notice a slight similarity to THE PAINTED BIRD? Wartime atrocities lead to mute boy? No? There I go again.)