Recently I have finished all of the Hannibal movies with Anthony Hopkins. I find them very interesting, but I have one disappointment. In the movies, even though it is shown as if the serial killers were analyzed, we don't get enough information about them. In order to clarify, let me give some examples:

  1. In Red Dragon transformation was in order to suppress the real identity, and Edward Norton's character tells about how difficult was the killer's childhood, and no more clues for why he chose this way of transformation

  2. In Silence of the lambs, Dr. Lecter tells Agent Clarice that suspect thinks that he is a transsexual, but the real pathology is far more than that, and again no clues about "real pathology" and why the killer has chosen this method.

I want to ask people who have also read the books, do the books give these answers?

  • 1
    TBH, this is more of a question about the books, so I'm not sure if it fits here. But as someone who read them, yes, these characters are much more developed in the books, esp. Dolarhyde who's almost the main focus of Harris' Red Dragon. But this is inevitable in almost any book adaptation. We're talking about hundreds of pages of text vs. a 100 minute film. Lots of background information will be lost.
    – Walt
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 17:21
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    Yes of course, it is hard to depict a whole book. My point is still some movies are referred as a masterpiece due to transferring the idea. Even though I enjoyed the movie plot a lot, I still was disappointed when I realized that fact that it didn't go that deep. I am talking about intellectual aesthetics, it was illustrated via Italian "Medici, and Pazzi" stories, and some other details. Apart from that it is abstracted in my opinion for the sake of acquiring audience. I just wanted to understand if the author of the books really explained everything in detail. Thanks for your reply.
    – UserRR
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 17:35
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    But when the films are concerned, only The Silence of the Lambs is considered a masterpiece by many, really. Anything else - Red Dragon, Hannibal and Hannibal Rising - received middling to bad reviews, and I mostly agree with them.
    – Walt
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 17:43
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    I haven't compared the movies, but whatever are the sequels/prequels, they are all part of the whole story, and we can't ignore them. For instance, I read the first 5 Harry Potter books, and watched all of the movies many times. I find the last two movies lost the spirit of the series, but still I will watch them anyway. Same applies to Predator movies, I find the second movie not that professional, but clues that it give are very important, so will have to watch it :) Well I guess I got pretty far from the question topic. Again thanks for your opinion. Conclusion: I will read Hannibal books .
    – UserRR
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 17:53
  • 2
    Did you know that Red Dragon is actually a remake of a 1980s film called Manhunter? Having watched both versions, I actually prefer the original. Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 19:42

1 Answer 1


There are few rapid answers in the books.

  1. In Red Dragon

Dolarhyde is a disturbed individual who is obsessed with the William Blake painting The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun (which the book misidentifies as The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun ). He is unable to control his violent, sexual urges, and believes that murdering people — or "changing" them, as he calls it — allows him to more fully "become" an alternate personality he calls the "Great Red Dragon", after the dominant character in Blake's painting. Flashbacks reveal that his pathology is born from the systematic abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of both his sadistic grandmother and his stepfamily.

Francis was abandoned by his mother at a very young age and was taken in by an orphanage until the age of five, when his grandmother adopted him. However, his grandmother was extremely abusive toward him, and his anger grew so great that he tortured animals as a means of venting it. Soon, his grandmother suffered from dementia, and Francis was then taken in by his biological mother and her family, but, they, too, abused him violently. The abuses he endured by the people who took him in caused him to develop a second personality; a deadly and ruthless one.

He was returned to the orphanage after hanging his stepsister's cat, and, after being caught breaking into a house as a young adult, enlisted himself in the army.

Soon, Francis, while on tour for several countries, had cosmetic surgery done to seal his cleft palate shut and later was hired to be the production chief of the home movies division of Gateway Corporation. The home movies the customers (and would-be victims) sent to Francis were crucial in his killing spree, as they showed footage of every inch of the house the family resided in, which allowed Francis to know how to work his way around.

Later, Francis came across the William Blake painting, "The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in the Sun." The painting gave voice to Francis' other half, and so, he named his other personality "The Great Red Dragon."

Francis then started a killing spree. His tendency to bite the flesh of his victims with a set of dentures which contained crooked and deformed teeth (modeled after his grandmother's) earned him the name "the Tooth Fairy" among the media. He also had molested one of the corpses and often sexually gratified himself to the films he made while killing his victims.

In order to capture Francis, agent Will Graham, who reluctantly stepped out of retirement in order to help capture him, sought help from a criminal he imprisoned; the intellectual Hannibal Lecter, in the hopes that the psychotic, cannibalistic man could give some insight into the "Tooth Fairy's" pathology.

Thomas Fleming in The New York Times gave the book a generally favorable review. He compared the development of the story to the gradual acceleration of a powerful car, but complained that the explanation for Dolarhyde's behavior, trauma in his youth, was too mechanistic.Wikipedia / Wikia / NewYorkTimes

  1. In Silence of the lambs

According to the novel, Gumb was born in California on October 25, 1949, and abandoned by his mother — an alcoholic prostitute who misspelled "James" on his birth certificate — and then taken into foster care at age two. The film's screenplay omits Gumb's backstory, but does imply that he had a traumatic childhood. In the movie, Lecter summarizes Gumb's life thus: "Billy was not born a criminal, but made one by years of systematic abuse."

The novel goes on to tell of Gumb living in foster homes until the age of 10 before getting adopted by his grandparents, who became his first victims. The story then puts him in Tulare Vocational Rehabilitation, a psychiatric hospital where he learns to be a tailor. Later, Gumb has a relationship with Benjamin Raspail. After Raspail leaves him, he kills Raspail's new lover, Klaus, and flays him.

Both the novel and film tell of Gumb wanting to become a woman but being too disturbed to qualify for gender reassignment surgery. He kills women so he can skin them and create a "woman suit" for himself.

At the start of the novel, Gumb has already murdered five women. Behavioral Science Unit Chief Jack Crawford assigns gifted trainee Clarice Starling to question incarcerated serial killer Hannibal Lecter about the case. (Lecter had met Gumb while treating Raspail.) When Gumb kidnaps Catherine Martin, the daughter of U.S. Senator Ruth Martin, Lecter offers to give Starling a psychological profile of the killer in return for a transfer to a federal institution; this profile is mostly made up of cryptic clues designed to help Starling figure it out for herself, although Lecter does directly inform Clarice about Gumb wanting to have a sex change operation (Buffalo Bill believes he is a transsexual, but isn't really transgendered, and is making a "woman suit" because he "covets" their flesh)

Jonathan Demme told HuffPost Live’s Ricky Camilleri that many of the arguments against the movie’s portrayal of serial killer “Buffalo Bill“ were misinterpreting the character, in that he wasn’t intended to be transgender.

“He didn’t wish to be another gender,” Demme said. “He didn’t really have a sexual preference. He loathed himself — he wanted to transform himself so that there was no sense of him in the ‘new’ him [and] becoming a woman...that was his method of doing it.”He then noted, “He wished he was a woman not because he always wanted to be a woman. This was another way to escape.”

Harris based various elements of Gumb's MO on six real-life killers:

  • Jerry Brudos, who dressed up in his victims' clothing and kept their shoes.

  • Edward Gein, who fashioned trophies and keepsakes from the bones and skin of corpses he dug up at cemeteries. He also made a female skin suit and skin masks.

  • Ted Bundy, who pretended to be injured (using an arm-brace or crutches) as a ploy to ask his victims for help. When they helped him, he incapacitated and killed them, dumping their bodies far away.

  • Gary M. Heidnik, who kidnapped and tortured six women and held them prisoner as sex slaves.

  • Edmund Kemper, who, like Gumb, killed his grandparents as a teenager "just to see what it felt like."

  • Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer (still unidentified at the time of the novel's writing), who, like Gumb, dumped women's bodies in rivers and inserted foreign objects into their corpses. Wikipedia / Huffingtonpost

  • I read your post, it answered my question that book indeed clarifies background of the characters. Thank you very much for an answer with such a rich and interesting content.
    – UserRR
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 20:28

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