Being Evil – The Dispatch

Some great writers are terrible editors of their own work – and sometimes terrible custodians. Walt Whitman is a famous case of this, indignation Leaves of grass with later revisions. Franchises built around Silence of the Lambs and The Addams Family each operates on a less diluted literary level and involves many authors beyond the original creator, but a similar dynamic is at work in the Netflix series Wednesdayabout which I have a few specific observations that are much smaller than a full review.

Trust me—there’s a point beyond TV endorsements.

Thomas Harris was a pop-fiction one-hit wonder of sorts, but his hit wasn’t a particular novel (although The Silence of the Lambs made him a rich man when the movie was made), but a special character, that of Hannibal Lecter. I don’t appreciate the one-hit wonder too much: most musicians, writers and artists never even produce a single hit, and if “Video Killed the Radio Star” isn’t as deeply etched in the musical mind as the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth, it’s not that far off – limited success is most intensely despised by those who have never felt success at all. But Harris finally lacked the confidence to follow Hannibal Lecter’s best advice: The Silence of the Lambs, there is a very memorable passage where Lecter mocks FBI intern Clarice Starling for trying to explain his monstrous crimes in psychotherapy terms: “You have given up good and evil for behaviorism. … You have everything in your pants of moral dignity” – “pants of dignity” are adult diapers, in case you were wondering – “nothing is anyone’s fault.” With special disdain, he considers that his rages are the result of some childhood trauma: “Nothing happened to me”, he declares in the most poetic line of the novel. “It happened to me.”

Great mushy stuff, right up there with the best of Mickey Spillane. But Harris ended up providing Lecter with exactly what his character didn’t need: a traumatic backstory explaining cannibalism, the lack of which was a big part of what made Lecter such a terrifying and interesting character to begin with. Harris has also gone to considerable lengths to morally rehabilitate Lecter, having him kill, disfigure and eat characters who – guiltily agree – somehow deserve it. The presumably innocent Princeton students and enumerators are replaced by a series of monsters, or at least very rude people—”free-breed rudeness” as Lecter calls them—whose suffering, in the moral universe of Harris’s novels, is exaggerated but not entirely undeserved. One of the big differences between the novels and the movies is that in the books, Starling ends up running away with Lecter after finally deciding that in a world as ugly and corrupt as ours, Lecter’s way is the right one.

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