Exploring Villains: Hannibal Lecter
I've always said that a well-written villain is equally as important to the hero. Villains should have as much personality, background, and purpose to the main character otherwise they fall flat. If a villain isn't interesting enough, it hurts the hero and the plot of the story. Sometimes the villain is too interesting and they wind up stealing the spotlight. But when you get it just right you can create a villain who becomes iconic.
Just in time for the spooky season, I'll be taking a look at some truly epic villains in books. All of these villains are so iconic they made it to the big screen. Over the next few weeks, we'll explore what makes them so good at being bad.
Let's start with a truly great villain....
Hannibal Lecter is a fictional character created by novelist Thomas Harris. He was first introduced in the 1981 novel Red Dragon. But it wasn't until The Silence of the Lambs in 1988 that Lecter truly became one of the most well-known, and terrifying villains in fiction.
Though he starts off behind bars, Lecter still gives off a sense of danger. Once a respected forensic psychiatrist, he knows how to manipulate the mind. So, even as he helps FBI agent Graham, and later agent Clarice Starling, he does so in a manner where he holds the power even incarcerated.
In the 1991 film adaptation of the novel, Anthony Hopkins portrays Hannibal Lecter as a refined serial killer with a dark mind. He almost came across as an evil genius through the ways in which he plays upon Starling's own troubled past.
Having a cannibal as a villain could easily turn into something comedic if not handled right. But Harris broke the mold with Hannibal Lecter by giving him a solid backstory. Lecter has a brilliant mind and was once considered a top rated psychiatrist, despite his contempt for the subject. Socially, he fit the bill of most methodical killers as he charming and not at all dangerous. Unlike other cannibalistic serial killers, Lecter didn't partake in the killing for any sexual or sadistic pleasure. He also seemed to kill almost without visible pathology, at least at first.
In the film, you never see any physical depiction of how he killed his victims until the very end. The suspense of this also played well into building the character into something almost mythical.
In 2006, Thomas Harris explored more of Lecter's backstory in Hannibal Rising where he revealed Lecter's dark and tragic childhood. He has also said that the character was based on a surgeon in Mexico who was convicted of murdering and cutting up his lover.
A strong backstory, excellent writing, and superb acting have cemented the character of Hannibal Lecter in the zeitgeist of fictional villainy for eternity. No matter the interpretation, Harris' novels sparked the conversation with his creation of a vivid personality and not just a stereotype.
"Original Cyn" Cynthia Vespia writes fantasy novels for deviant minds including urban fantasy vigilantes and heroic adventure fantasy.