Hannibal Lecter’s Creator Cooks Up Something New (No Fava Beans or Chianti)

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“Hannibal Lecter is like Coca-Cola or Kleenex or some other amazing brand,” says Ben Sevier, Harris’s editor. “It’s come to mean more than the fictional character Tom invented.”

But as the franchise grew, fans began to tire of the cannibal. “Hannibal Rising” was a commercial and critical disappointment. The producer Dino De Laurentiis, who adapted “Hannibal Rising,” told Entertainment Weekly that Harris hadn’t been interested in a prequel, and only agreed after De Laurentiis told Harris that he owned the character rights, and that he would get someone else if Harris said no.

Harris doesn’t entirely dispute this account, but recasts it as cordial persuasion by De Laurentiis, who died in 2010. “He did have continuation rights to the character and could have done whatever he wanted to,” Harris says. “He had a lot of enthusiasm for a movie, and it was contagious, I suppose.”

Readers’s enthusiasm, however, started to dissipate. In 2006, Harris’s publisher ordered a first printing of 1.5 million copies for “Hannibal Rising,” but the novel only sold around 300,000 hardcover copies, according to NPD BookScan. Some critics panned the book as a crass attempt to squeeze more material out of a fading franchise, and noted that Harris’s once supple dialogue seemed stiff and affected. (Harris says that’s because he wrote some of the exchanges between Hannibal and his aunt, Lady Murasaki, in the poetic style of the Heian period, as a homage to the 11th-century Japanese novel, “The Tale of Genji.” The allusion was apparently lost on some readers.)

A television adaptation, “Hannibal,” developed a cult following but was canceled by NBC after three seasons. (Harris says he hasn’t seen it, but plans to binge-watch it when he has time.)

Even Harris’s literary agent, Morton Janklow, saw signs of fan fatigue.

“The audience had had enough of it,” Janklow says. “He had exhausted the character. As my grandmother used to say, ‘Too much is plenty.’”

Harris wouldn’t rule out writing more books about Hannibal, but said it was a relief to get some distance from him. “I was making room for something else,” Harris says.

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