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NBC's Hannibal Breathes Different Life Into Thomas Harris' Words.

Possible spoilers about the Hannibal Lecter novels, if it’s possible to spoil books that are 16+ years old.

I just finished binge watching season two of “Hannibal” in prep and excitement for the start of season three June 4th. However, this is the first time I have watched the show since I have read three of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novels: Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal (I haven’t got to Hannibal Rising yet).


If you are a fan of the TV show and movies and have not read these yet, what are you waiting for? Bryan Fuller’s source material is pure gold! There’s enough copies of these floating around you can find them at a used bookstore or thrift store to save yourself some money. My copy of The Silence of the Lambs is 20+ years old and I know this for it’s the movie tie in version; I got to carry Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins around with me. But I digress...

As I rewatched season two this time, the exact quotes or slightly changed quotes stuck out to me. I suddenly felt like I was part of the cool kids club because I knew exactly where it came from. But I was also conflicted; it was like Bryan Fuller took a beautiful piece of art, cut it apart and made his own beautiful collage out of it. Lines were taken out of context, given new context and made about a different character. I want to discuss a couple of the ones that really stood out to me as completely changed.

It occurred to Dr. Lecter in the moment that with all his knowledge and intrusion, he could never entirely predict her, or own her at all. He could feed the caterpillar, he could whisper through the chrysalis; what hatched out followed its own nature and was beyond him. - Thomas Harris “Hannibal”

Here in the novel Hannibal is contemplating despite all he’s done, he realizes Clarice Starling might not stay. It is a rare moment in which we get to see Dr. Lecter vulnerable; we get to see that not only does he has nerves but that Clarice has actually left one exposed and he does not know how to deal with it. He wants her and has tried to possess her the only way he knows how, manipulation and control, but that might just not work. Clarice is too strong to completely succumb to it.

In season 2, episode 8 “Su-zakana,” Hannibal says a variation of this quote to Will Graham when he prevents Will from shooting the social worker who has just emerged from the horse he was sewed into. Even while whispering how he can feed the caterpillar (Will this time) but can’t control what comes out, Hannibal comes across as confident, not in a moment of vulnerability. He prevents Will from shooting the social worker, thus denying Will what he wants. In this moment, Hannibal gets what he wants, control of Will.


This is the exact opposite of despite all the drugs and manipulation Clarice still might leave me, where did I go wrong?

“We’ll withdraw now, while they are dancing on the terrace— the wise Barney has already left town and we must follow his example. For either of them to discover us would be fatal. We can only learn so much and live.” - Thomas Harris “Hannibal”


The beautiful closing lines of Hannibal. While visiting Argentina, Barney, Hannibal’s handler and orderly from his days in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane recognizes both Hannibal and Clarice. While Hannibal was always civil to Barney and Clarice respectful of him, Barney is a smart man. He leaves without them ever knowing he saw them. The final line is directed at us the reader. Thomas Harris’ characters are richly grey, there isn’t a single character who isn’t flawed or that you won’t want to punch at some point. He gets you thinking about the dark side of human nature and his characters under your skin to the point that for a while you’ll learn too much to live. Like Will on the show you’ll question your sanity when you start making lists of the pros and cons of running off to Argentina with Hannibal like Clarice.

However the like “We can only learn so much and live,” becomes a bit of a throw away in season 2, episode 10, “Naka-Choko.” Freddie Lounds actually says it to Alana Bloom when she approaches Alana as she’s leaving a lecture. The punch of the line and what it’s supposed to make you think about is lost in Freddie’s quest to find out if Alana is sleeping with either Hannibal or Will.


I sometimes think Bryan Fuller threw in as many of these quotes and novel references as he could for the sake of doing it. At the time he didn’t know if “Hannibal” would get a 3rd season and just wanted to get as many of his favorites in as he could. I can’t really blame him, his history shows he never gets more than two seasons. But now he finally has a show with a 3rd season!

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, I LOVE this show. It’s my favorite show. “The Silence of the Lambs” is my favorite movie. It’s just like with 99% of everything else: the books are always better.

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