Although I am unsure about those younger than me, I would like to think that humans around my age, and above, can pretty much agree it is preferred to read the original print version of a piece of work, prior to seeing a cinematic take. Quite often, at least for my generation, it is a challenge to succeed at this, though the sentiment is there. However, I’d wager the majority of people my age saw at least one version of Dracula before even seeing a copy of Stoker’s novel and the numerous other examples can go from there. Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs was one of those titles that would have been around the house at the time of its release, yet I never picked it up for myself. Sure, I saw the film when it came out, but for reasons I cannot explain, I never bothered to read Harris’ novel until a couple of weeks ago. It’s been long enough since I’ve even seen the film where I believe Jonathan Demme’s vision did not interfere. Sure, knowing what the ending was essentially going to be kind of sucked, but since there are always modifications between print and screen I didn’t know how it was going to unfold, which made the experience as mysterious as it could be. Hey, reading Dracula the first time was quite different to Browning’s film, as I’m sure most of you know! Demme, to his credit, actually followed these moods quite well and even a lot of the situations and dialogue are intact, from what I recall. Don’t be lazy though, as these words are absolutely worth the time to take in. Harris did an amazing job creating an environment of pure gray suffocation!
It almost seems tragic: now that I’ve read this I find myself wondering why it doesn’t get name checked more often. After all, other than King, Koontz and Rice, we don’t usually hear about literary tales of suspense and horror being associated with the 1980s. Unless you are speaking of the real-life events that took place in those days: Reagan/Bush, Dahmer, New Kids on the Block, the death of Optimus Prime, all of which were pure horror! (Actually, Prime’s death didn’t bother me that much). The story that unfolds in Silence of the Lambs is so perfectly creepy you absolutely find yourself thinking about what you’ve read for some time after. You can sympathize with Clarice Starling’s reality and you are rooting for her to find Buffalo Bill. The way Hannibal Lecter is written is as chilling and intriguing as you’d expect him to be, and I am inspired to check out the other books with this character, Red Dragon and Hannibal. And finally, Jame Gumb is an absolutely evil villain (yes, it is spelled that way). And I mean evil in such darkened realms it has to be read to truly appreciate its cold. Even the supporting characters are equally valuable to the fabric of the story: when Starling’s boss, Jack Crawford, is having a conversation with her you know the exchange actually means something to the mood and the plot, and Dr. Chilton at the asylum is the kind of schmuck you’d root for Jason Voorhees to hack up in a Friday the 13th film.
Even with the excellent descriptive power in these pages, taking us into settings that are absolutely believable, if it hadn’t been for the impact of these characters, you’d have a boring story with interesting backdrops at best. If you are into such things, I will suggest checking out one of those tourism VHS tapes that were marketed to the easy-chair humans, during those days. If nothing else, those are good for a giggle.
Perhaps this novel will see a resurgence, one day. Much like the Horror masterpieces that preceded it, it is an absolutely worthy addition to anyone’s library! Considering I had been reading Elmore Leonard novels all year, Harris’ journey into the extreme was a welcome breath of rotting air. If you’ve never read this, don’t wait as long as I did, check it out!
Quid pro quo, reader.
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