A beautiful, compassionate woman's love transforms a Beast into a man worthy of love. But do all Beasts wish to become human? And how great a sacrifice should Beauty undergo to effect the Beast's redemption? How far into the darkness can she travel to redeem her Beast, without herself succumbing to his curse? The climax of Hannibal, Thomas Harris' sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, takes an unexpected turn into a dark, surrealistic realm with mythic overtones. The novel's denouement may be considered a distortion or outright violation of Harris's strong heroine, Clarice Starling. Stephen King calls Hannibal a "smart and scary retelling of 'Beauty and the Beast'" (4), and Locus reviewer Edward Bryant says "the final scenes suggest a happy ending after a fashion," but one that "underscores a remarkably disturbing payoff" (56); however, such positive responses have been far from universal. Charles de Lint maintains that the ending "simply doesn't work," being "implausible and somewhat misogynistic," and that the novel's "disturbing subtexts . . . are disturbing for all the wrong reasons" (38). In the opinion of S. T. Joshi, Harris "destroys the uneasy relationship between Lecter and Starling that lent such vivid tension to The Silence of the Lambs" (12). Is it possible to interpret the conclusion of Hannibal in a way that preserves the integrity of Clarice's character?
I propose to attempt this project by reading The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal against an earlier story of a "monster" enmeshed in a relationship with a strong human female—The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas. These novels' heroines both become involved with "Beasts" who entice them from the territories bounded by their professional expertise into dark realms beyond the borders of the mundane; they embark on an archetypal excursion that has been called the Night Journey. According to Clute and Grant's Encyclopedia of Fantasy, the Night Journey "constitutes a central moment in the rite of passage undertaken by fantasy protagonists" (685) and "is usually but not always depicted as a literal act of travel" (686). In the literal or metaphorical "dark country" to which the character travels, "matters of significance to that protagonist's life are met, confronted and defeated (or, possibly, not defeated). Recognition scenes attend or follow" the Night Journey (686). Harris's Clarice Starling encounters her Beast at the beginning of her career, while Charnas's Floria Landauer meets hers at midlife, during a period of weariness and self-doubt.
Serial killer psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter and vampire anthropologist Edward Weyland, however, are not monsters in the same sense. Though Weyland indeed seems monstrous from the human viewpoint, because of his sanguinary diet and near-immortal lifespan, his physiology and behavior are normal for him, as far as a "norm" can be established for a unique creature. His predatory lifestyle is "natural" for his species (of which he is the sole survivor). Lecter, on the other hand, is physically human (though with some anomalous traits, such as maroon eyes, an extra finger, and a sense of smell as keen as an animal's) but mentally and spiritually monstrous. As a sociopath, completely devoid of conscience, he displays few of the emotions and reactions "normal" to human beings. For example, when he breaks a nurse's jaw and swallows her tongue, his pulse never rises above 85. Among the members of our species, he stands out as "unnatural." Whereas Weyland literally feeds on human blood, Lecter behaves like a metaphorical vampire, feeding on human pain. Clarice Starling's mentor, Jack Crawford, warns her that Lecter will regard her with "the kind of curiosity that makes a snake look in a bird's nest" (Silence 6). Crawford also cautions her, "You don't want any of your personal facts in his head" (6), an image of absorption, analogous to the literal cannibalism no longer available to the imprisoned Lecter. After her first interview with him, "Starling felt suddenly empty, as though she had given blood" (24). In Hannibal the mother of "Buffalo Bill's" last victim tells Clarice that Lecter "just sucked down [her] pain" (302). It is interesting that Hannibal reveals Lecter's origin as a descendant of Eastern European nobility, like the stereotypical literary vampire.
In "The Unicorn Tapestry," the central section of The Vampire Tapestry, Weyland, the vampire, undergoes therapy with Floria Landauer, a psychologist who discovers his secret and catalyzes his unwilling growth toward humanity. As an anthropologist, Weyland, like the sociopathic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter, studies human behavior from an outsider's perspective. When asked what Lecter is, Crawford characterizes him as "a monster. Beyond that, nobody can say for sure" (Silence 6). The omniscient narrator of Hannibal tells us that "there is no consensus in the psychiatric community that Dr. Lecter should be termed a man" (136-7) and that he "has long been regarded . . . as something entirely Other" (137). Dr. Chilton, director of the facility where Lecter is imprisoned in The Silence of the Lambs, gloats over the fact that his hospital holds a "pure sociopath," since "it's so rare to get one alive," as if Lecter were an endangered species of wild beast (11). Similarly, throughout The Vampire Tapestry Weyland is characterized as a predatory animal, hawk or lynx or saber-toothed tiger. The boy Mark in "The Land of Lost Content," the second part of The Vampire Tapestry, sees Weyland caged like an exotic specimen, reduced to drinking his own blood, and remembers "the image of a trapped coyote . . . chewing off its own foot to escape the steel jaws and death by thirst" (98). Floria, doing therapy with Weyland, recognizes in him "[h]armony, strength, clarity, magnificence—all from that basic animal integrity" and admits to herself, "Of course I long for all that" (160). Both Weyland and Lecter, though in different ways, stand apart from the human beings whom they analyze and prey upon.
"The Unicorn Tapestry," in particular, portrays Weyland not only as a highly intelligent predatory animal but as a mythical creature. He views himself as a unicorn in danger from the allure of the lady who attempts to bait him within the hunters' reach. He imagines Floria, as the lady, saying, "Unicorn, come lay your head in my lap while the hunters close in. You are a wonder, and for love of wonder I will tame you. You are pursued, but forget your pursuers, rest under my hand till they come and destroy you" (161). Vampire Dreams, Charnas's play based on this section of the novel, highlights the ferocity as well as the magical beauty of the unicorn, the power that "gores" his enemies to "bloody rags" (55). In response to Weyland's fear that she will tame him, Floria explicitly rejects the role which myth and fairy tale assigns her: "I won't be the temptress, I am not the seducer out of legends whose touch defiles the pristine hero, the woman whose love destroys the magic beast" (67). In Hannibal the mythic archetype of Beauty and the Beast is evoked only to be dismissed—by a conspicuously unreliable character, the odious, self-aggrandizing psychiatric consultant, Dr. Doemling. "No matter how the tabloids . . . might want to romanticize it, and try to make it Beauty and the Beast," he says, "his [Lecter's] object is [Clarice's] degradation, her suffering, and her death" (276). Because the discounting of any fairy tale parallel comes from a character already shown to be prurient, egoistic, and prone to superficial judgments, the reader is alerted to the likelihood that this analogy does, in fact, have some valid application to Clarice and Lecter.
In Hannibal, remembering her intimate conversations with Lecter, Clarice reflects, "On really short acquaintance he told me some things about myself that were true. I think it's easy to mistake understanding for empathy. . . . When you see understanding used as a predator's tool, that's the worst" (48). Just as Weyland, pretending to be human, acts out human rituals such as courtship in order to lure victims, Lecter expertly simulates "normal" social responses. True, he uses his genius maliciously rather than compassionately, but he nevertheless dazzles both Clarice and the reader, as well as granting her some genuine insights about her past. The brilliant FBI trainee who is, herself, educated in psychology, becomes one of the few people for whom Lecter displays some degree of respect and whom he decides not to harm. "I have no plans to call on you," he writes to her after his escape in The Silence of the Lambs, "the world being more interesting with you in it" (366). Clarice herself declares that he will not pursue her because that would be "rude" (356).
Floria in The Vampire Tapestry also meets her monster in the course of her professional duties. She becomes an "exception" for Weyland, one of the few human beings he does not view as prey, just as Clarice becomes an exception for Lecter. As Weyland tells her in Vampire Dreams, "You've opened me like a swordstroke. My defenses are in ruins, anyone might enter; and you'd like that no more than I. Who wouldn't want to be the only one to have touched the unicorn?" (70) Well aware of her potential to control Weyland, she declines the temptation to use this power. "I could have kept you," she tells him; "I could have made long chains of words to keep you here with me. . . . I could make chains to hold even you" (70). Instead of chaining the Beast, she is satisfied to visualize Weyland "still prowling through the world exploring [his] own nature" (67). In the novel he does continue to prowl for a while, although ultimately the process of self-discovery to which Floria has contributed impels him to seek refuge in the long sleep of suspended animation, lest he become a "predator paralyzed by an unwanted empathy with his prey" and a "creature fit only for a cage and keeper" (161). In the play, which accelerates the change that proceeds more gradually in the novel, Floria functions as the immediate catalyst for Weyland's flight from the temptation to become human. The transformation to which she invites him seems to Weyland "too much like death" (67).
Why does the image of the Beast fascinate us, to the extent that we feel disappointed by his transformation into human shape? Charnas addresses this question in an essay, "The Beast's Embrace." Aside from the monster's strength and intelligence, demonstrated in his survival against all odds, we respond to "the seductiveness of the Other, the stranger, the mate who is almost of another species, adding the thrill of the forbidden" (3). Equally significant, however, is the Beast's response to his human lover, the only one who accepts him in full knowledge of his monstrous nature. As Beauty embracing the Beast, we alone "can give him the love he craves and needs" and "soothe the thousand hurts the world has dealt him" (2). Yet it is important that "we can't actually cure him . . . because if he can't be cured, our monster will always need us" (2). Floria thus rejects the temptation to tame her predator; domesticating him would, as well as violating his nature, undercut the allure he holds for her. In Hannibal Clarice apparently leashes Lecter without transforming him.
A particular appeal of the Beast, according to Charnas's essay, consists of his willingness to fight for his beloved. "With this fearsome creature, we alone are safe" (Embrace 1). Lecter, as already noted, treats Clarice as an exception to his general view of the rest of humanity as his legitimate victims. With Floria only, Weyland engages in a sexual union for the sake of intimacy rather than predation. The rest of the world enjoys no such exemption from the predator's ferocity: "But when it comes to anybody who insults or injures us, they will assuredly get theirs at the hands of our loving monster. Though afterwards we may deplore his violence on our behalf, we'll be secretly glad" (1). In Vampire Dreams Floria acknowledges the dangerous awareness that "to you and to you alone all his danger and his beauty and his magic defer" (55). Floria's friend and colleague Lucille highlights the ethical problem of being the monster's exception. If Weyland is dangerous, why has Floria not reported him to the police? "Because it's you and him against the world, right? The outlaw's gal is faithful to the end" (53). As Lucille sees it, the heroine whose role Floria has assumed loves the outlaw—or the Beast—because he can "act out for her all the rage she's packed down inside herself because of everything she wasn't allowed because she was female" (53-4). Embracing the Beast means she can rejoice in the destruction of her enemies while sidestepping the guilt.
This possibility does not become actual in the relationship between Weyland and Floria. Rather than fighting for her, he performs a mirror image of that act; he refrains from killing one of her other clients who stalks and endangers him. Weyland says of this young man he would once have drained to death without a second thought, "He called your name like a dying man calling for his mother or praying to his god. And I let him live" (63). As for Lecter, he commits violence on Clarice's behalf from the beginning of their acquaintance. "Do you know why Dr. Lecter made Miggs swallow his tongue?" she is asked in Hannibal. "He killed him for offending you" (92). At the climax of the novel, Lecter captures her persecutor, Paul Krendler, and kills him before her eyes. Though Lecter's earlier indirect murder of Miggs had caused Clarice profound discomfort, she suffers no such emotion at the death of Krendler, since Lecter has her drugged and hypnotized. She unknowingly crosses the boundary into a forbidden realm by violating the taboo against cannibalism, when Lecter shares cooked slices of Krendler's brain with her.
The Beast always transports Beauty outside and beyond her familiar world. In most versions of the fairy tale the Beast's castle occupies an enchanted space remote from civilization, accessible only by arduous travel and sometimes only by magic. Within the text of The Vampire Tapestry Floria does not make a literal journey, but she does undertake a metaphorical one. She sees her encounter with the vampire as occurring in a magical space outside the normal world: "Weyland and I met hidden from the hunt, to celebrate a private mystery of our own" (177-8). When inviting him into her embrace, she says, "Since we started, you've pushed me light-years beyond my profession. Now I want to travel all the way with you" (174). The figurative travel represented by their sexual union leads to a physical journey implied but not shown in the novel. Floria meditates on the Japanese belief that "in middle age you should leave the claims of family, friends, and work, and go ponder the meaning of the universe while you still have the chance" (181). An offhand remark in the last section of The Vampire Tapestry hints that she has indeed made such a pilgrimage. This journey presumably expands the new self-awareness she has gained from her interlude with the monster. At the end of Vampire Dreams she leaves familiar territory because she has no choice, Lucille having threatened to expose her unprofessional conduct with Weyland. "Floria the therapist" is dead, she acknowledges to Weyland; her "professional life is over" (64). In Lucille's eyes, she has "thrown away everything for a fling with a glamorous psychopath" (69). Weyland correspondingly remarks in gentle mockery, "To lose your career for a mere man . . . how banal, how comical. But to lose it for a great monster—there is grandeur in that" (68). Floria faces the prospect with courage, however, and with the claim, "I like to think that I'm taking the important stuff with me" (69).
Clarice, too, travels beyond the limits of her profession because she has no choice. At the climax of Hannibal Krendler has engineered her downfall; she is stripped of her status as a federal agent and figuratively staked out as bait for Lecter. Even though by the letter of the law she no longer has the authority to act on its behalf, she remains loyal to the spirit of her lifelong vocation. Consequently, when she learns that Mason Verger has kidnapped Lecter in order to have him grotesquely and painfully murdered, she intervenes to rescue him. In the ensuing fight, she is wounded, and Lecter flees with her to his nearby house, isolated in the Maryland woods. There he nurses her to physical health, shelters and pampers her, and subjects her to systematic brainwashing with drugs and hypnosis. The Night Journey, we have been told, entails the confrontation and possible defeat of the protagonist's demons, with "recognition scenes" as the final outcome. Thanks to her interaction with Weyland, Floria in The Vampire Tapestry rediscovers the "inward choreographer" she feared she had lost (174). She recognizes that Weyland's "strength . . . had revived her own strength" (178). Now she "can see straight" when necessary (181). Clarice undergoes a more ambiguous process of recognition. While holding her physically prisoner, though amid luxurious surroundings, Lecter engineers her psychological freedom from the memory of her father. Costuming a skeleton to represent Clarice's dead father, Lecter induces her, under the influence of psychotropic drugs, to discharge her anger and grief. "What you need of your father is here," Lecter tells her, "in your head, and subject to your judgment, not his" (452). Though still for his own manipulative purposes, Lecter again proves himself a brilliant psychiatrist. In the enchanted space he has created, using potions (medication) and spells (hypnosis), he performs his transformative magic upon Clarice. Ultimately, however, she in turn transforms him—perhaps.
At what point in Hannibal does Clarice's behavior become problematic? Her attempt to save Lecter from death by torture in order to see justice fulfilled by due process of law is entirely in keeping with the principles by which she has lived. Only after her Night Journey begins, and she awakens in a contemporary version of the Beast's castle, does she become transformed into a woman some readers consider unrecognizable as the same character. While Floria relates to Weyland as an equal, Clarice's encounters with Lecter enact a constantly changing power imbalance. Upon their first meeting in The Silence of the Lambs, Lecter, though incarcerated and outwardly helpless, holds information Clarice needs. He also intimidates her through his superior professional status, as illustrated by his demand that she use his title while he calls her by her first name. During the climactic battle at Verger's estate, Clarice charges onto the scene as rescuer, in control of the field, but after she is wounded, Lecter takes control. In his home she plays the role of a sheltered convalescent and pampered captive. Through his brainwashing techniques he, rather than she, effects a transformation.
That she behaves in these scenes unlike the character we know can plausibly be attributed to the drugs that keep her mind clouded. Moreover, she has been torn away from the familiar and reliable environment and role to which she has devoted her life. Since the authority she served has unjustly rejected her, her vulnerability to Lecter's hypnotic suggestion believably follows. In her isolation, he alone understands and appreciates her. She has every excuse for succumbing to "Stockholm syndrome," an emotional dependence on her captor. I do not believe Clarice realizes that she has crossed into forbidden territory by eating sautéed slivers of Krendler's brain; the text's careful attention to Lecter's positioning of the large floral centerpiece on the dinner table implies that she cannot see the doctor's vivisection of Krendler. If, however, on some half-conscious level she grasps the fact of shared cannibalism, the chemical and hypnotic lowering of her inhibitions sufficiently accounts for her cooperation. Her likely subliminal desire to inflict some such punishment on Krendler cannot be discounted. Like the Beast who, according to Charnas, is prepared to destroy "anybody who insults or injures us," Lecter enacts the vengeance that Clarice in her right mind could never perpetrate.
When the couple moves into the drawing room for after-dinner drinks, however, the balance of power shifts from Lecter to Clarice. While they discuss his obsession with the possible reversal of entropy to make a place in the world for his lost sister, Mischa, the quick wit of Clarice's response delights Lecter—and disturbs him: "Perhaps he felt a vague concern that he had built better than he knew" (476-7). Now she, not he, controls the conversation. It is no longer certain that she is fully hypnotized at this point, for she receives another moment of recognition: "For an instant many windows in her mind aligned, and she saw far across her own experience" (477). She possesses enough of herself to remember a chance remark Lecter once made about breast-feeding. When she asks him, "Hannibal Lecter, did your mother feed you at her breast?" (477), this is the first time she has called him by his given name, signifying that the power in their intercourse now rests with her. Clarice offers her own breast to replace the one he had to give up as a child. The quasi-maternal act may signify the monster's rebirth as a new creature, whose Beast nature she has tamed. If she has indeed tamed him, though, she has not obliterated the Beast in him. Animal imagery dominates when the narrative voice tells us that Lecter "went on a knee before her chair, and bent to her coral and cream in the firelight his dark sleek head" (477). The submissive posture brings to mind Floria's meditation about her vampire/unicorn, that she might become the one person to whom "all his danger and his beauty and his magic defer" (55).
Floria can legitimately decline to tame Weyland, however, because as predators go he is relatively innocuous. Floria contrasts him with human predators, to the discredit of the latter, and compared to the wholesale bloodshed committed by human beings against their own kind, Weyland's monstrousness appears modest indeed. Lecter, on the other hand, is one of the human monsters against whom the vampire is judged. In playing Beauty to Lecter's Beast, Clarice becomes complicit in his crimes. In the final chapter of Hannibal the omniscient narrator suggests that "Clarice Starling could frighten" Lecter and that his "envelopment" by her in sexual union (a reversal of the absorption he used to inflict on his own victims) is "far beyond the bounds of his experience" (483). Their flight to South America represents a metaphorical Night Journey beyond familiar territory for both of them. Should not Clarice use her newfound power over the Beast, then, to bring him to justice, rather than dwelling with him in an enchanted palace where the servants "are forbidden to enter the top floor . . . before noon" (482)? At this point drugs and hypnosis "have had no part in their lives for a long time" (484). We may speculate that she remains with Lecter in order to keep the monster leashed. Is it possible that she voluntarily sacrifices herself to protect the rest of the world from him? In favor of this hypothesis, we may cite the evidence that she now holds the superior position in their relationship and lives with him on her own terms, building her own "memory palace" (483). Michelle West characterizes their story as "a twisted, incestuous, and compelling read throughout which the dark heart of Beauty and the Beast can be found, beating loudly" (30).
Weyland remains an untamed predator, although at great cost. Floria undergoes transformation and loss—in the novel, of her settled world view, and in the play of her professional security as well—yet emerges stronger in her sense of selfhood. The Vampire Tapestry, therefore, preserves the integrity of both its principal characters, human and monster. Does Hannibal, through the evocation of mythical archetypes in Clarice's relationship with Lecter, preserve her integrity in the midst of its shocking denouement? In the fairy tale paradigm, Clarice corresponds to the underappreciated youngest child sacrificed to the Beast for the welfare of her father and sisters. We might argue that she embraces this role with the same single-minded determination that distinguished her FBI career. Or does Harris's novel unpardonably distort both of his characters? In the last two sentences of Hannibal, the omniscient narrator warns that to delve further into their relationship "would be fatal," for we "can only learn so much and live" (484).
[Editor's Note: An earlier version of this essay appeared in Black October (2001).]
Bryant, Edward. "Reviews by Edward Bryant." Locus 43, 5 (November, 1999): 29-30+.
Charnas, Suzy McKee. "The Beast's Embrace." 27 March 1996. http://www.suzymckeecharnas.com/Esy_Beasts.html
———. Vampire Dreams. Drama. Unpublished manuscript.
———. The Vampire Tapestry. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980. Rpt. New York: Pocket Books, 1981.
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De Lint, Charles. "Books to Look For." Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 98, 1 (January 2000): 35-39.
Demanski, Laura. "Enigma of Murderous Evil Is the Job of Serious Fiction." Rev. of Hannibal, by Thomas Harris. The Sun (Baltimore, MD) 24 October 1999: F13.
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———. The Silence of the Lambs. New York: St. Martin's, 1988. Rpt. New York: St. Martin's, 1989.
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West, Michelle. "Musing on Books." Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 98, 2 (February 2000): 27-33.