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The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris

Thanks to an indelible performance by Anthony Hopkins in the film version of this 1988 crime novel, fictitious homicidal psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter has become a symbol of human evil in American popular culture. Lecter isn't your average serial killer: his monstrous criminal behavior—which earned him the nickname "Hannibal the Cannibal"—stands in stark contrast to his intelligence and sophisticated (some might even say elegant) personality. In The Silence of the Lambs, as well as its sequel, Hannibal, this complexity of character creates in readers a feeling of uneasy empathy that forces us to recognize the more shadowy impulses within ourselves.

Recalling the darkly-themed doodlebug folklore of the United States, the brief passage below provides an example of Lecter's imaginative (albeit sinister) wit. In the story Lecter suddenly ends a therapy session by fatally stabbing his patient, Raspail, through the heart:

The slender handle of the stiletto wiggled as Raspail's spiked heart tried to keep beating, and Dr. Lecter said, "Looks like a straw down a doodlebug hole, doesn't it?" but it was too late for Raspail to answer.

[From Chapter 26, page 158].

References

Harris, Thomas. 1999. Hannibal. New York: Delacourt Press.

Harris, Thomas. 1988. The Silence of the Lambs. New York: St. Martin's Press.

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