– Thomas Harris – Creating And Holding Tension Essay, Research Paper
One book I could and have read many times over is “Hannibal” by the highly acclaimed thriller writer Thomas Harris. This book is a stylish, smart journey through the two relationships between Hannibal Lecter and his counterparts Mason Verger and Clarice Starling, its style of writing such that it makes it very difficult to put down, I speak from personal experience having read the 103 chapter book in a space of a few days, it was extremely gripping and exiting.
One of the thing that most struck me about the book was how the writer used various techniques such as structure, chapter and section headings, dialogue and point of view to hold the reader to the book and create and hold tension throughout the book. Therefore I have decided to demonstrate how the writer uses these techniques to create and hold tension.
“Hannibal” is the story of Hannibal Lecter, the mass murdering and insane fugitive of law, and his relationship with Clarice Starling, the FBI agent who is on his trail, but its also clear she has a far greater personal agenda with him. It also deals with Hannibal’s relationship with his first victim, but survivor, Mason Verger, who is terribly mutilated and who has put up a $1,000,000 reward for anyone with information on Hannibal’s whereabouts.
Right from the opening sentence of the book the reader is gripped to the story. The first chapter heading reads “You would think such a day would tremble to begin…” which grabs the reader’s attention to why the day might tremble, because it is obvious some kind of action will follow. The opening is set around a drug raid in which Clarice Starling kills the offender, Eva Drumgo, but while Eva is holding a baby, also another FBI agent is killed. This whole sequence takes place in the first chapter and this structure, I think, shows the frantic pace of action in which Harris intends to carry this book.
The immense amount of research put in to the book to make it more readable and educational is quite extraordinary. Harris uses his research to make Hannibal Lecter more appealing to the reader as he is seen as a nice looking, elegant man not like ugly, fierce men usually associated with mass murderers. This is very ironic, as you don’t often hear of mass murderers going to opera’s or theatre productions, living in elegant estates or sitting down to a glass of Chateau d’Yquem. By the end if the book I think the writer is attempting to show Hannibal as one of the “goodies” in the book. I can back this claim up by the fact the basic plot is set around the handsome, elegant, mild mannered Hannibal and the beastly, inaudible, pervert Mason Verger who is trying to hunt Hannibal down behind the back of the FBI so he can hurt and torture him. Also the fact the book is not the conventional good guy versus bad guy, it more of a bad guy versus a bad guy so the reader has to sway to someone’s side and I personally found myself swaying towards Hannibal’s character as he is the most well mannered, good spirited (in his own way) and best dressed person in the whole story.
The amount of detail put into describing and developing each of the characters is terrific, it really makes you believe you know who the person is and what their true feelings are in a situation, it makes the reader want to find out more about the character and it therefore adds to the tension present in the book. It took Thomas Harris 10 years to write this book, following up from Silence Of The Lambs in 1989 and by the end the reader will just want to story to carry on going.
The setting of the book adds to the curiosity of the reader. After the opening scenes of the book, the plot moves to the wonderful, beautiful city of Florence, Italy where Dr Hannibal Lecter has taken up residence under the name of Dr Fell. The writer describes a setting in which “Bats will chase the mosquitoes across the clocks glowing face until dawn”. This sets a beautiful picture of a calm, undisturbed city and sets a sense of calmness into the reader that carries them through even the horrific killing which Hannibal commits to his chaser, police officer Rinaldo Pazzi.
The book has a very shocking, even disturbing but very effective conclusion which is responsible for making the reader want to find out more about the characters due to the huge amount of techniques used by the writer. Mason Verger’s sister Margot kills her housekeeper by blowing a hammer off the side of his head; a separate paragraph is taken for the line “She did not feel anything”. This, I think, adds to the effect of a cold chilling feel to the murder. Then she murders Mason himself and the word choice present really adds to the chilling, hard tone present in the murder. She kills Mason by taking the human size electric eel from its tank and placing it on Masons chest, while letting it climb into his mouth and by doing this drowning him in his own blood. His use of phrases like “blood blew out Masons nose hole and he was drowning” really add effect to the fact that Mason has been brutally murdered and make the reader realise the coldness with which it is being carried out. Also, the repetition used like “with the other (hand) forced it (the eel) down Masons jaw, forced it down” and “not letting go, never letting go” add emphasis to the fact the eel is being thrown into his mouth and that the eel had an extremely tight grip on Mason’s tongue and wouldn’t let go for anything.
The dialogue in this sections shows how cold Margot is in killing her brother. As she is placing the eel on Mason’s chest she says only “wiggle, wiggle Mason” which shows the complete absence of feeling in her body. Also as she is stuffing the eel into his mouth she says “you should have taken the chocolate” and this cold humour is used to represent not only how sick she is, but also to convey the anger and obvious hatred she has to her brother because, after all, Mason was an extremely sick character.
The main body of the conclusion however comes under the last section heading, “ A LONG SPOON” which is conveying that if you eat with the devil you should use a long spoon, and Thomas Harris is making it out to be Claris Starling is eating with Hannibal Lecter who is the devil in the story. It is shown in the conclusion that Lecter and Starling are sitting to dinner with Starling’s FBI nemesis Paul Krendler, but the thing is, Lecter has removed Krendler’s skull and he is quite obviously dead although he is talking to them both like normal, this illusion is obviously due to huge amount of drugs Lecter has put Starling under. The calm tone throughout this section adds a huge amount of shock to the reader when they realise what is going on and makes them want to read on and find out more. “All we ask is that you keep an open mind,” Lecter says as he removed the top of Krendler’s skull, this shocking use of humour is an indication of the true sickness in Lecter’s mind.
The calm tone is backed up by statements such as “Dr Lecter’s method of removing the top of Krendler’s skull was as old as Egyptian medicine”, this is showing that the removal of a skull could be viewed as normal to people. Also the paragraph that wholly reads, “The pinky-grey dome of Krendler’s brain was visible above his truncated skull.” really makes it sink in and makes the reader think of what kind of being would mutilate another man so much and make them want to know what else he is capable of, which adds tension to the story.
Thomas Harris’s writing techniques applied in Hannibal separate this book from other run-of-the-mill thrillers. This book’s commanding use of language, its hugely detailed characters and its setting add to the tense thrilling plot and his use of ironic, dry humour is something which I believe makes the book a pleasure to read. I think the amount of detail and research put into the book could easily make the reader more cultured and even smarter having read it.