Friday, August 10, 2007

Lecter Under Scrutiny

You likely know all about my fondness for talking of books in bars, thanks to recent posts about ThrillerFest and the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. But let me give you some advice, just in case we ever meet over drinks somewhere: Do not--I repeat, do not--utter the name Thomas Harris unless you want your entire evening gone discussing his work, as his novels are a huge passion of mine. And I can gab coherently about Harris and his work for decades.

So it was with delight that last year, I was asked by Australian literary editor and writer Benjamin Szumskyj to contribute to Dissecting Hannibal Lecter, a comprehensive academic volume (due out in September from Australian publisher McFarland & Company) that looks closely at Harris and his monstrous creation, “Hannibal the Cannibal.” Until now, the only other book about Harris and Lecter was David Sexton’s The Strange World of Thomas Harris, published in 2001 by Faber and Faber. That was a concise volume by the editor of the London Evening Standard, who like me, is a longtime student of Harris’ work.

Szumskyj’s book is a much heftier tome, and bang up-to-date, capturing a dozen essays from various writers and academics, all discussing Harris’ fiction--both as it appears in print and on the screen. McFarland’s Web site promotes the volume thusly:
This comprehensive study of author Thomas Harris’ popular works focuses particularly on Harris’s internationally known antihero Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter in the classic novels Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal. In 12 scholarly essays, the work examines several themes within Harris’ trilogy, including the author’s artistic exploration of repressed desires, his refinement of neo-noir themes and the serial killer motif, and his developing perceptions of feminine gender roles. Several essays also focus on Harris’ works before and after the popular trilogy, examining themes such as gothic romance in Harris’s first novel Black Sunday and the making of a monster in the trilogy’s 2006 prequel Hannibal Rising.
I was drafted into this project late, and it was rather a struggle to meet my deadline, since I already had commitments to write large sections of Barry Forshaw’s forthcoming Harcourt Encyclopaedia of British Crime Fiction and myriad other smaller pieces. But as that old adage goes, “If you want something critical done, ask a busy man.” I managed to finish Dissecting’s Chapter 9, “Hannibal Rising: Look Back in Anger,” just under the wire.

And in the course of that effort, I got to know a little more about editor Szumskyj. As it turns out, we share a love of the works of Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, H.P. Lovecraft, and others. Szumskyj is a high-school teacher and library technician, and also serves as the general editor of the scholarly journal Studies in Fantasy Literature. He is the editor, too, of Fritz Leiber: Critical Essays (McFarland, 2007), Fritz Leiber & H.P. Lovecraft: Writers of the Dark (Wildside Press), and Two-Gun Bob: A Centennial Study of Robert E. Howard (Hippocampus Press). He lives in Melville, Western Australia. For more information about Szumskyi’s work, check out his blog.

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