25 years can go by in the wink of an eye. At least that is what it feels like when we remember something that seems like it was just yesterday but really happened 25 years ago.
A quarter of a century ago this month, Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs was published. At the time, this was a ground-breaking novel, setting a high bar for the serial killer novel. And 25 years later, Silence of the Lambs still is the standard for the serial killer novel.
The appeal of Harris’ novel was not the details of the killer dubbed Buffalo Bill, but rather the relationship between the novice FBI agent Clarice Starling and the brilliant and deranged killer Dr. Hannibal Lector. We had seen fictional killers before but never one so intelligent, a psychiatrist no less, and so manipulative.
Silence of the Lambs, of course, made an engrossing movie starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. The 1991 film won five Academy Awards: best picture, best director for Jonathan Demme; best actor for Hopkins, best actress for Foster and best writing for adapted screenplay for Ted Tally. Silence of the Lambs was third film to win those five major Oscars.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, naturally a new edition of the novel has been released. What is surprising about this new edition of Silence of the Lambs is that Harris has written an “author’s note” describing his inspiration for the novel.
Harris says that during a trip to a prison in Monterrey, Mexico, to interview an American inmate accused of murder, he met a prisoner, whom he nicknamed “Dr. Salazar.” This interaction lead him to create Hannibal Lecter.
Harris first introduced Lecter in Red Dragon and followed up Silence of the Lambs with Hannibal, a well-plotted novel that showed what happened to Lecter and Starling. We should completely forget the feeble Hannibal Rising, the fourth novel about Lecter.
I well remember staying up late to finish Silence of the Lambs.
Later, I lent the novel to my boss at the time who told me he had missed a couple of meetings because he was so engrossed in the story.
The novel still holds up.