The Silence of the Lambs became the third novel published by Thomas Harris. His freshman effort about a mad bomber using a blimp to terrorize America at its very cultural soul—the Super Bowl—appeared to acclaim a dozen years earlier. Black Sunday was followed in 1981 by Red Dragon which featured a plot about a brilliant FBI criminal profiler hunting down a notorious and elusive serial killer known as the Tooth Fairy. It would not be the Tooth Fairy that readers would remember nor it would it turn out to be the actual villain of the novel that most captured Harris’ literary interest. In his quest to get inside the mind of the Tooth Fairy that FBI criminal reluctantly turns to another such creature he had already successful put behind bar before the story begins, nearly losing his life and sanity in the process. It would turn out to be the serial killer already sitting in jail that would transform Thomas Harris from a writer of two novels receiving far more critical acclaim than readership.
The novel collected a handful of awards for Harris including Best Novel of the Year from the Bram Stoker Awards and the Anthony Awards. Readership increased significantly over the introduction to Hannibal Lecter published seven years prior and Harris seemed on the verge of enjoying the kind of life that comes with being a dependably capable writer working within a specific genre. And then Jonathan Demme decided he wanted to direct a film version Silence of the Lambs despite the fact that Hannibal Lecter had not exactly given Rambo or Freddy Kruger much competition in a film version of Red Dragon retitled Manhunter which opened to widespread critical appreciation but relatively empty theaters in 1986.
A recasting of the actor playing Lecter, the addition of Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster and—most importantly—Demme’s direction which lifted the story from pulp crime fiction to Oscar-sweeping glory changed everything. Harris became with The Silence of the Lambs not only an author now selling in the Stephen King sphere, but an author who had created a character that quickly eclipsed both Rambo and Freddy Kruger in the pantheon of American pop culture. As a result of the film’s success and its impact on the readership of the novel, Harris took up the challenge to do something akin to what had been done to Bram Stoker’s Dracula—but not by Stoker.
With the release of a sequel titled Hannibal, Lecter had officially transformed from irredeemably vile and disgusting cannibal into a romantic figure capable of seducing women characters and readers alike.