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‘Silence of the Lambs’ has been our nightmare for 25 years

The Silence of the Lambs: 25th Anniversary Edition by Thomas Harris with a new author’s note; St. Martin’s Griffin, 338 pages ($15.99 paperback). Now we know. In the introductory note to the new 25th anniversary paperback edition of Thomas Harris’ uniquely influential late-20th century novel, Harris reveals where the idea of Hannibal Lecter came from in the book – an insane inmate at the Nuevo Leon state prison in Monterey, Mexico, whom he met as a 23-year-old journalist on assignment for Argosy Magazine.

The inmate was a “murderer,” Harris was told. “As a surgeon he could package his victim in a surprisingly small box.”

As Harris tells his anecdote to introduce the 25th anniversary edition of his novel, it is characteristically and grippingly written.

It has long seemed to me that Harris has long since eclipsed Stephen King as the most powerful pulp fictional imagination of our time (even though he, like his predecessor Raymond Chandler, writes too well to be hopelessly consigned to the humbler ranks of ordinary “Pulp Fiction”).

What we have to understand is that his fantasies about Hannibal Lecter – his earlier novel “Red Dragon” and “Silence of the Lambs” – are not only replicated constantly in every new TV season and many of each season’s cable TV movies (the latest quasi-Harris series is NBC’s “The Blacklist”) but his first novel “Black Sunday” responded to the terrorizing of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics with a Super Bowl full of Middle Eastern terrorists that anticipated with truly hideous clairvoyance the events of 9/11. The possibility none of us want to think about is that someone in Al Qaida got ideas either from Harris’ novel or John Frankenheimer’s movie of it (which would make Frankenheimer an accidental prophet of apocalyptic American trauma. His classic film of Richard Condon’s “The Manchurian Candidate” predated the Kennedy assassination by very little.).

No one who has read this brilliant popular novel has ever questioned for a minute why it has had the pervasive influence it has had. And now Harris has sharpened the focus on the novel’s creation.

– Jeff Simon