by Sarah Marshall
Hannibal Lecter has appeared in four books and five film adaptations to date, and, with each installment of his saga, he’s spun farther along the unlikely trajectory from serial killer to ladies’ man. A supporting character in Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, he graduated to main character status in The Silence of the Lambs, where he simultaneously beguiled and repulsed FBI trainee Clarice Starling, only to finally win her hand in Hannibal, which ended with the pair canoodling in Buenos Aires. (The subsequent film adaptation stopped short of this ending, but still presented Hannibal and Clarice as thwarted lovers.) Reviewing the novel for Talk (oh, 1999!), Martin Amis described the book as “a necropolis of prose,” noting also that “having gone gay for Hannibal, the author has palpably wearied of Clarice.”
So, it seems, have readers, who welcomed 2006’s Hannibal Rising with open arms. Here Hannibal is a full protagonist at last. Telling the story of his early life, the novel seeks to explain away his later crimes with the rationale that Nazis ate his sister, a fact that presumably gives him the right to eat as many overfed Americans as he wishes. As with Hannibal, the book was also treated to an immediate film adaptation, in which Hannibal was played by French dreamboat Gaspard Ulliel. All vestiges of his previous unsuitability for dating — from the icy sociopathy to the unflattering prison jumpsuit — had finally been shed. As Hannibal tells Clarice in Jonathan Demme’s (great) adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs, “the significance of the moth is change.” And the significance of a few (okay, countless) gory murders in a man’s past also changes, apparently, based on how well one knows the murderer in question. If Clarice can be persuaded not only that Hannibal deserves pardoning, but that he’s also an ideal romantic partner, then what could our objection possibly be?
Let’s begin by talking about Clarice Starling, and about The Silence of the Lambs itself. It’s the book that first elevated Hannibal to his current prominence in the minds of readers, and the first horror movie that swept the Academy Awards. But what is Lambs really about? A brief description, for those of us whose moms wouldn’t let us rent it from Joe’s Videos n’ Pizzas, and who’ve been afraid of it ever since:
A young woman, cut loose for the most part from family and community, comes to live in a strange new land. After she arrives she is told of a brilliant but mysterious and, by all accounts, frightening man, whose reputation is based at least in part on his inability or refusal to relate to any of his peers. When he meets the young woman, however, he is immediately transfixed by her, and their strange kinship — which mystifies and in some cases frightens other characters — fuels the resulting narrative.
If this sounds familiar to you, then you probably recognize it from (a) Jane Eyre; (b) nearly every subsequent romance novel ever written; or, more recently and most prominently, (c) Twilight. And if that particular take on Hannibal and Clarice’s relationship surprises you, then you’re probably unfamiliar with the place where Hannibal Lecter, romantic hero, can be found most frequently outside the confines of Harris’ novels: fanfiction.
At present, Fanfiction.net boasts 1,397 individual pieces of Hannibal Lecter-inspired fanfiction, placing it just outside the top thirty most-written-about movies on the site. Some stories follow secondary characters, such as Rinaldo Pazzi, the corrupt policeman in Hannibal, or Clarice’s colleagues, Jack Crawford and Ardelia Mapp. Some pieces, like duffie83’s “Iron Chef America: Flay vs Lecter “ (alternate title: “Flay FilletedI”) take a more tongue-in-cheek approach, but are typically met with a chilly reception. Some pieces take the form of verse, as in MajorBachman’s “ Clarice’s Poem,” which begins:
Holding you tight
Against my bosom
No longer need I fight
Never again play possum
I was, you said, a dove
Before becoming lioness
After those words came love
Let me now please undress
The overwhelming majority of Lambs/Hannibal stories are in this vein. And the Hannibal/Clarice pairing is the clear favorite among authors on the site, with stories rated “M” — i.e. for a mature audience, usually because of graphic sexual content — accounting for just shy of a quarter of the category’s offerings.
“No More a Savage Life,” a piece by the prolific lovinghannibal, is another, and fairly typical in emotional contour, example of the Hannibal/Clarice pairing. The story — whose sequel, “No More a Savage Life: Chapter Two” currently clocks in at 418,047 words, with no sign of slowing down — begins where the filmed version of Hannibal ends, with Hannibal kidnapping and drugging Clarice, dressing her in an evening g gown, and treating her to a gourmet meal of another FBI agent’s brains. Despite the fact that the owner of the brains in question has been attempting to destroy Clarice’s career throughout the preceding narrative, the evening still leaves much for fanfiction authors to improve upon, and ends with Hannibal kissing Clarice and then making a break for it before police arrive.
In “No More a Savage Life,” lovinghannibal starts off with the other FBI agents expressing concern about what Hannibal might have done to Clarice during their time together. After refusing to let physicians run a rape kit on her (both because she believes Hannibal would never do such a thing and to conceal her virginity), Clarice finds herself in a conversation with male colleagues who are bent on uncovering more gossip about Hannibal’s (in this story, at least) sexual conquests. Asked if he raped her, Clarice replies, “No, it wasn’t rape because I didn’t have sex with Hannibal Lecter — awake or asleep. I don’t think he’s so desperate that he needs to knock a woman out to get laid.”
One of the FBI agents tells her that “opera chicks and snooty symphony bitches” are always throwing themselves at Hannibal because they “have a tough time finding a guy that likes that culture crap that isn’t gay.” He asks her if she’s seen a site called “‘Lecter’s Lovers’ where a bunch of the women he’s had sex with give all these crazy details about him.”
While sick with jealousy, Clarice is still able to correct the assumption that Hannibal uses a gun: “’He doesn’t carry a firearm, ever. His weapon of choice is a Harpy. It’s a hooked blade favored for its cutting and ripping abilities.’” Later, her jealousy is mitigated by the revelation that there’s one intimacy that Hannibal, like Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman, refuses all his conquests:
“He wouldn’t kiss them. He never kissed any of them. Well I shouldn’t say that — he kissed them pretty much everywhere else but never ever on the mouth. He told them it was too intimate. Crazy isn’t it? I mean what’s more intimate than muff diving and from what I’ve read he sure as hell didn’t object to that…a couple of them begged but he wouldn’t kiss any of them on the lips.”
Following this conversation, Clarice goes home to find that Hannibal has broken into her bedroom, an intrusion to which she reacts with little surprise. Hannibal tells her the story of his murdered little sister — arguing that he and Clarice are indelibly linked by both losing family members as children — and then takes her to bed. Though Clarice joins him willingly, there’s still one point she wants to clear up:
“Do you feel love? After all you have been through are you still capable of that emotion?”
“I feel love very deeply Clarice. Probably more than most men for I have lost more in my life in the name of love than most men, but I do not give that love freely. I am offering you my love… that offer to you should not be taken lightly.”
He reached for her hands, placed the object in her open palms and closed her fingers around it.
Clarice did not have to open it. She could tell immediately… it was Hannibal Lecter’s Harpy.
Obviously, this kind of relationship logic never leads to anywhere positive, except in fanfiction and vampire novels written by Mormon women. But here Hannibal’s indifference to humanity at large makes his devotion to Clarice count all the more.
Just like her younger counterpart, Bella Swan, Clarice is much more anxious about her lack of sexual experience than she is about the bloodlust of her suitor. Upon revealing that she’s a virgin, Clarice is relieved when Hannibal says, “’You don’t understand me…I’m not upset that you… waited… I would have expected no less of you. You are a warrior. You would never succumb to petty dalliances of lesser men.’”
After removing her bra, he tells her that her beauty “[rivals] Venus.” Soon it becomes apparent that Hannibal can do more with his tongue than enjoy a nice Chianti: “Hannibal continued to move downward. Clarice’s face flushed when she realized he would not stop at her abdomen.”
Later, Clarice defers to “the Good Doctor”:
“You’re the expert. Is there anything I should know? This is all new to me.”
“Only that I was not born in this country, Clarice and as such I am uncircumcised. I hope that it does not put you off. Some women prefer a cut man.”
Clarice reached for his silk boxers, barely containing his erection and, no longer embarrassed by their intimacy slipped the silken fabric down his leg releasing him. Boldly, she regarded his body, running her hands up and down his chest, to his stomach, brushing her fingers down the length of him. She grasped and stroked his arousal and smiled.
“I prefer you.”
It’s unfair to scrutinize fanfiction too critically — it being written, after all, more as a fan’s tribute to beloved characters than as a meticulously worded standalone work — but I will just note that “cut man” seems here an unfortunate choice of words given the person speaking.
But Hannibal, it turns out, is a courteous lover. First he brings Clarice to climax (“Between each sanguine breath escalating her rapture, matching the rhythm of her exhalations, she called out his name. ‘Ha…Ha…Ha…Han…Hanni…Hannibal!’”), before, at her urging, finishing as well (“Slowly, a deep primal groan raged up from deep within him like the threatening rumble of an oncoming storm.”). Then like anyone with good manners, he says his thanks-yous (“’Thank you, Clarice…Thank you.’”).
In her bio, lovinghannibal notes that she is “a wife, a mom, and artist, and potentially a writer- perhaps you can judge whether or not I am qualified enough…!” and under “Things I love,” writes “My husband and my children, they are my life,” followed immediately by “Anthony Hopkins in anything and everything! He is brilliant!”
Biographical sketches like this are standard in fanfiction author pages, as are lists of likes and dislikes for genre stories. An Australian author who goes by “Twisted Love Stories” writes that he or she “refuse[s] to read… Stories in which Clarice Starling plays a single mother, abandoned and all alone with Hannibals child,” saying they can’t believe that Lecter would be the “type of man to knock up the only woman I can picture him being with, and then leaving her to fend for herself while caring for his child.” A Tennessean author who writes as Demeter73 describes herself as “relatively new at writing fanfiction. It has been a really great experience in terms of creativity, research and new reading — it takes a lot to keep up with Dr. Lecter’s vast intellectual resources — and revisiting books I read a long time ago and am enjoying re-reading with fresh eyes and the lens of broader life-experience.” ROSELLA1 identifies herself simply as “a Christian who loves God.”
The authors writing primarily in the Lecter fandom on Fanfiction.net range in age from thirteen or fourteen to late middle age, but most who give a moderate amount of biographical information are women in their twenties and thirties who describe themselves as having rewarding careers and home lives but often add that they themselves are somewhat introverted. Among them, Hannibal is frequently referred to as “the Good Doctor.”
To the uninitiated, the idea of Hannibal/Clarice fanfiction is odd, strange, counterintuitive (he’s a serial killer!). But read enough of it, and the parallels to the Twilight fan fiction written about Edward and Bella become more and more striking. (And here let’s remember that E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey began, somewhat unsurprisingly, as Twilight fanfiction.) What does it mean when a number of women — by all accounts, happy, fulfilled ones‐pick characters like Edward Cullen or Hannibal Lecter to be their imaginary boyfriends?
Fanfiction.net’s official motto is “Unleash your imagination,” shortened from “Unleash your imagination and free your soul,” an adage which graced the page for several years in the mid-2000’s. For the most part, fanfiction authors are not after fame or even the vague hope of parlaying their work into for-profit publication; they are interested in letting their desires roam free, and perhaps in finding a few friends and readers in the process. Grown women with husbands and children who write about Hannibal Lecter “[placing] tender kisses on the tops of Clarice’s feet” (or, for that matter, about Edward Cullen doing the same thing) aren’t expressing discontent with their marriages but with the rules that govern mortal love.
Any woman in her thirties with even the slimmest understanding of romantic relationships knows that they do not consist of 24-hour doting, caressing, coddling and cunnilingus, and any woman in her thirties writing about Hannibal treating his beloved to the above knows that she won’t find the same by signing up for a death-row pen pal. The appeal of Hannibal and Clarice’s relationship is, at heart, the same as the appeal of Edward and Bella’s: it’s an early-adolescent relationship fantasy made manifest. It’s woman as idol with the longed-for a prone worshipper before her. It’s love unmitigated by compromise or circumstance. And once you’re past adolescence, it’s a dream that lets you accept the limitations that adult life inevitably imposes.
Which brings us to an interesting question. Which of these men is more dangerous: Edward Cullen or Hannibal Lecter? Edward is a vampire; Hannibal is… Well, as Clarice responds, upon being asked by a Tennessee beat cop if Hannibal is “some kinda vampire”: “they don’t have a word for what he is.” If you met a woman in her thirties with an interesting life, would you think it odder that she spent her free time writing about Hannibal eating out Clarice, or Edward trying to hold himself back from eating Bella? (Or would you just want to be friends with her either way?) If you had a teenage daughter, would you rather she join millions of other teenagers in becoming a Twihard, or that she turn into a Lambs fan? And would you rather she live vicariously through Bella Swan, or step into Agent Starling’s cheap shoes?
I, for one, don’t need much time to decide: Lambs all the way. Not because Hannibal is that much more compelling a love interest than Edward, whose staring, praise, and stalkerish tendencies would get old awfully fast. He isn’t, or at least not the version of him we see in Hannibal and fanfiction about “the Good Doctor.” The unfortunate fact is that for Hannibal Lecter to be remade as a romantic hero, he had to surrender most of the attributes that made him such a compelling character in Silence of the Lambs. It’s telling that that book, the best in the series, is told from Clarice’s viewpoint, and that she’s the one character Harris ever created who was able to go head-to-head with Hannibal and surrender nothing. Even Hannibal’s first beloved, Hannibal Rising’s Lady Murasaki, ends their relationship by fleeing in terrified disgust, and Will Graham, the seasoned FBI agent who uses Hannibal’s expertise to catch a killer in Red Dragon, is by book’s end brutally wounded and questioning his integrity as a human being.
Clarice does not, as other agents are claimed to, feel invaded or sullied by her dealings with Lecter, but instead uses the experience to reckon with her past and mature both as a person and an agent. She’s intelligent, hard driving, and kind, devoid of vanity or pretension, and unrelenting even in the most terrifying of circumstances.
She has, in short, a real personality, and does not exist simply as a point of entry for the consumer — and in the end, when it comes to the question of Edward v. Hannibal, vampire v. cannibal, we can perhaps learn the most by looking at the heroines, and by examining exactly what traits her murderous lover deems worthy of unending worship. With Clarice, it’s tenacity, courage, kindness, smarts and (inevitably) open mindedness; with Bella it appears to come down to an intrinsic Bella-ness, helped out by an intrinsic Bella smell. All of which is to say that, if I ever have a daughter who starts writing Hannibal/Clarice fanfiction, I’ll support her. I will buy her whatever even more terrible novel Thomas Harris has composed by then — The All-True Adventures of A Serial Killer in Love or Lecter, My Protector or Cannibal, Schmannibal! — and then I will take her to see the even terrible-er movie adaptation that will inevitably follow. Somehow, it’s hard not to put sociopathic sex fantasies in perspective if you’ve dodged the Twilight bullet.
Hannibal Lecter has been the protagonist of at least one inspired piece of tomfoolery: Jon and Al Kaplan’s Silence! The Musical, which was first distributed on the Internet in 2003, and gained such a cult following that it made its off-Broadway debut in 2005. The musical consists of a tongue-in-cheek retelling of the film version of Lambs, with song titles such as “Quid Pro Quo,” “Are You About a Size 14?” “Put the Fucking Lotion in the Basket,” and “If I Could Smell Her Cunt.” Of all of these, “If I Could Smell Her Cunt” might be the best, partly because of its salty irreverence and partly because, while maintaining a sturdy foothold in comedy, it so perfectly describes the aspect of Hannibal and Clarice’s relationship that has led so many fans to obsession. In the Kaplans’ version, Hannibal sings:
If I could smell her cunt
She’d help me taste humanity again
And if I promise not to eat her
Then perhaps she’d even be my friend
If I could smell her cunt…
Lonely lonely lunatic
I want to know what makes her tick
If only she would let me pick her pretty brain
How closely this meshes with most fans’ version of “the Good Doctor” is something that only they can tell you for themselves. But if you have neither the time nor the inclination to read “No More a Savage Life,” its sequel, or any of the myriad other works that explore the same territory (though some far less explicitly), then the second-best way to get acquainted with the Hannibal/Clarice mythos is to watch one of the dozens of fan videos currently populating YouTube. Most incorporate montages from the films&mash;drawing heavily from Hannibal in particular — set to songs fans think of as helping the viewer to get into the characters’ heads. Somewhat unsurprisingly, “Mad World” makes an appearance. So like any good terrible movie, let’s end with a musical crescendo, shall we? On the next page (to keep anyone’s browser from breaking) is a list of some my favorites of these videos. If you’ve ever wanted your Cyndi Lauper with a side of premeditated murder, then this is the fandom for you.
Sarah Marshall uses Evian skin cream, and sometimes she wears L’Air du Temps…but not today.
Next: The fan videos!
Songs are ranked here in order of incongruity of song to subject, from least to most.
11. REM’s “Losing My Religion” (“She found her religion in him.”)
10. Some haunting orchestration by Immediate Music, a company that produces scores for movie trailers:
9. The Ting Tings’ “Shut Up and Let Me Go”
8. Gary Jules’ “Mad World” (“Hannibal and Clarice live in a mad world.”)
7. Natalie Merchant’s “My Skin” (“This is a sweet little vid I made about how Clarice has been through so much and then good old Hannibal comes and takes her away from he pain^-^”)
6. Cascada’s “Everytime We Touch”
5. Jon McLaughlin’s “So Close,” the theme from Enchanted
4. “Can’t Help Falling in Love”
3. t.A.T.u.’s “Not Gonna Get Us”
2. Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”
1. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from The Lion King (“The Lion King meets Hannibal. Its cute, and I think Mason Verger sounds like Tiomne”)