Dracula. Similar to Hannibal Lecter in ‘Silence of the Lambs’?
Let me tell you how I first got started on this. In the reading assigned for today, when Dracula visits Renfield at the lunatic asylum in Chapter Twenty-One, Renfield explains how Dracula “began promising [him] things – not in words but by doing them” (Stoker, 239).
Renfield then goes on to explain how Dracula did so just “by making them happen; just as he used to send in the flies when the sun was shining…and big moths, in the night, with skull and cross-bones on their backs” (Stoker, 239). It is here that Van Helsing recognizes the moth Renfield is talking about and he whispers to Dr. Seward that it is the ‘Death’s-head Moth'” (Stoker, 239).
I had read Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris a few summers ago, and I absolutely loved it. I also saw the movie a little while later with my brother, which was quite good as well. If you’re not familiar with the novel, you can find a link here to a web page with a summary plot. But the reason I’m bringing the novel up at all is because, a head FBI agent – Jack Crawford – sends out young FBI trainee Clarice Starling to present a questionnaire to forensic scientist and cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter, but Crawford’s real, underlying motive is his hope that he can enlist Lecter’s help in catching a serial killer dubbed ‘Buffalo Bill’, who has a habit of inserting a moth pupa into the throats of his victims once he’s killed them. And the type of moth? You guessed it! The Death’s-head moth, pictured here.
Image: Hartsell Source: Flickr
The skull isn’t as defined as one would think it to be, but in my opinion it’s still undeniably the empty-socket eyes of a skull. Interestingly enough, in a novella I was working on over a series of summers – and I’m still working on it! – I turned the whole idea of putting moths into the throat into a metaphor. I always marvel at what the human brain can recall seemingly out of nowhere when you’re writing, not to mention how two seemingly unrelated things can be deftly connected through metaphor. I think that’s one of the true marvels of reading novels, and writing them!
So…after all that, is there any connection to be made between Thomas Harris’ fictional character Hannibal Lecter and Bram Stoker’s fictional character, Dracula?
To touch on some things we had talked about in class on Thursday, one of the ideas that had come up was that monsters manipulate the weaker aspects of people. From what I remember of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs that’s exactly what he does with Clarice Starling. In exchange for a final clue about the identity of Buffalo Bill, he demands to hear her worst memory. Starling goes on to say that after her father died she was sent to live with a cousin who owned a sheep and horse ranch. One night, she discovered him slaughtering the spring lambs. This terrified her so much she decided to steal one of the lambs, to save it. But it was so heavy she didn’t get very far and was caught by her cousin. Lecter asks “what became of your lamb, Clarice?” (imdb.com). She answers with “they killed him” (imdb.com). Later on in the novel Starling receives a letter from Lecter, and within it he had said something along the lines of “I hope the lambs have stopped screaming.”
Why does Lecter demand to know Starling’s worst memory? Perhaps it’s because he’s a psychiatrist and is simply curious to understand how she came to be the person he sees in front of him. How do such actions relate to Dracula? Well, along with the discussion in class of monsters manipulating the weaker aspects of people, there was also discussion of how such an action causes us – as humans – to become prey. In the past, before the Industrial Revolution, humans were basically at the status of prey, but since then we’ve elevated ourselves to the status of predator. However, monsters like Dracula, bring us back to that prey status, putting us at his mercy.
If I may turn back to my first blog post, where I talked about Renfield and whether or not I think he is a monster – I voted no – when looking up quotes online from Silence of the Lambs I came across an interesting one by Dr. Fredrick Chilton talking about Hannibal Lecter: “Oh, he’s a monster. Pure psychopath. So rare to capture one alive. From a research point of view, Lecter is our most prized asset” (imdb.com). There are so many interesting things within this quote, the first being the fact that Dr. Chilton has seemingly equated the word ‘monster’ with ‘psychopath’.
This got me interested in how the dictionary defined the word ‘monster’, so I typed it into Dictionary.com and this is what I got: “a legendary animal combining features of animal and human form, or having the forms of various animals in combination, as a centaur, griffin or sphinx”, “any creature so ugly or monstrous as to frighten people” and I think most interestingly: “any animal or human grotesquely deviating from the normal, shape, behavior or character” (dictionary.com).
The first definition brings to mind Dracula doesn’t it? After all…it’s proven in the novel that he can turn into a bat and even non-animal forms like mist. The second definition brings to mind Mr. Hyde, because throughout the novel people kept saying something was ‘off’ about him, not to mention the mere glimpse of his face brought on fits of terror. But what to make of that third definition? Because he ate people – “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti” (goodreads.com) – would that qualify Lecter as a monster? After all, that would certainly most qualify for”deviating from the normal, shape, behavior or character”. But even still, I find myself going back to Dr. Chilton’s quote in which he equated the word ‘monster’ with psychopath, which leads me still further back to my first blog post about Renfield, and how I had adamantly stated that simply because he was deemed a lunatic and confined within an asylum doesn’t make him a monster.
In turn, concerning the case of Buffalo Bill – the serial killer in Silence of the Lambs – when the Senator’s daughter, Ruby, is taken as his next victim, FBI agent Jack Crawford becomes desperate and he releases Hannibal Lecter in hopes that he will shed light on Buffalo Bill’s identity to help aid in the safe return of Ruby. Upon meeting Ruby’s mother,Senator Martin, Lecter gives her a clue, however it ends up being a hoax. Lecter even waits a while before telling Senator Martin, enjoying her anguish. Would such an act deem Lecter as a monster? I don’t believe so. Yes, it certainly deems him as lacking compassion and empathy – basic human emotions, I think – but it certainly doesn’t deem him as a monster. To go back to Crawford’s intentions for involving Starling with Lecter in the first place, Lecter does eventually give Starling a useful clue in identifying Buffalo Bill. He tells her “What does he do” – meaning Buffalo Bill – “Clarice? What is the first and principal thing he does, what need does he serve by killing? He covets. How do we begin to covet? We begin by coveting what we see everyday.” From that clue, Starling is able to seduce that Buffalo Bill knew his first victim.
Since I seem to be on a dictionary.com stint today, I decided to look up the word covet to see what kind of definitions I could get: “to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others”, “to have an inordinate or wrongful desire.” Again, Dracula fits this profile with his lust for blood. He freely takes from others – like Lucy and Mina – what is obviously theirs, with no regards to their well-being or the fact that he’s violating them. Going back to the whole weakness thing, he also preys on them when they’re at their weakest…sleeping. I don’t believe when Lecter demanded to know Starling’s worst memory that he was yearning to catch her at her weakest point, but rather he was simply curious to crack the gate even a little bit into her brain.
Which leads me to another thing, the fact that Hannibal Lecter was at one point a well-regarded and respected psychiatrist, thus putting him into the realms of the upper class. Just as Dr. Jekyl and Dracula were both upper-class. Dr. Jekyl was no doubt just as highly educated as Lecter, and Dracula had immense respect and notability in England. This subject, too, was touched on in class, as well as the fact that although all three of these men were upper-class they undoubtedly all demonstrated lower parts of humanity through their actions. Does this harken back to the whole idea of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde? That within all of us lies the possibility for unspeakable evil? Even as he is eating the liver of a census taker who once tried to test him, Lecter couldn’t forego the fava beans and a “nice chianti”, which I’m assuming is some kind of high-class wine.
As an ending, I’d like to leave you with another quote from Lecter, while he was talking to Starling from within his cell at the asylum: “I collect church collapses, recreationally. Did you see the recent one in Sicily? Marvelous! The facade fell on sixty-five grandmothers at a special mass. Was that evil? If so, who did it? If he’s” – meaning God I’m assuming – “up there, he just loves it, Officer Starling. Typhoid and swans, it all comes from the same place” (goodreads.com).
Was that evil? You decide.