Fuckable Fictional Characters: Francis Dolarhyde

Last weekend I had an interesting conversation with one of my really good friends (don’t worry, Stephanie, those posts we talked about are coming, so stay tuned). We talked about a personality quirk (disorder?) that we share in common. The desire and attraction we feel toward all things that dwell in darkness. No one should have to make apologies for what they find attractive or erotic. We all fall somewhere on the spectrum of sexuality and desire, Honey. I’ll try not to judge you if you don’t judge me, unless you’re hurting people (physically, mentally, or emotionally) without their consent.

Darkness promises mystery, adventure, and fear, an unburdening of the perception that we must always remain on the straight and narrow, and yes, even pain. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, some folks just aren’t happy unless they’re unhappy. I know I’m not alone in this troubling and confusing state of being. I don’t like the fact that I continually seek out inappropriate relationships. At least I don’t climb into cars with strangers anymore. I’m trying to break myself of these self-defeating and potentially life-threatening habits. It’s a work in progress.

I like monsters. A lot. But I don’t want to date them in real life. That still won’t stop me from getting all hot and bothered for them. Vampires? Love ‘em. Werewolves? I’d hit that. Fallen angels? Do you have a few hours to talk over coffee or Bourbon? I’ll admit that my taste in fictional characters might be a little unsettling to some people, but once again, I’m not going to apologize for what turns me on.

February 25: Francis Dolarhyde

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Francis Dolarhyde is a glorious monster. When you talk about Thomas Harris’s work—his novels, the films and TV show they have spawned—most people automatically think of Hannibal Lecter. Actually, most days I find it hard NOT to think about Hannibal Lecter. In the novel Red Dragon, Harris masterfully created a character who, in my opinion, is just as scary as Dr. Lecter. Without a doubt, the monster at the end of this book is the Red Dragon, Francis’ alter ego and the driving force behind his well planned, cleverly executed serial murders.

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At first glance, I didn’t like him very much. Every slight, every dirty look, every unkind word gets tallied up by Francis, as if he’s some maladjusted, compulsive, vengeful bean counter and the rest of humanity are the beans. I hated when he spit on the woman in the convertible simply because his gaze made her uncomfortable, self-conscious. I hoped he wouldn’t end up being just another emotionally crippled misogynistic jerk.

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Do you want WWIII? Because this is how we get WWIII.

Thankfully, as the story unfolded and I learned about Dolarhyde’s unbelievably traumatic childhood I became more interested. And, with every new horrible discovery about his past, I grew to love him more and more. I mean, come on, this serial killer has it all. He is physically deformed at birth, abused and abandoned by his mother and grandmother, sexually repressed, and a voice inside his head tells him to kill families that remind him of the family his mother formed without him. The family he was allowed to visit, but never welcomed to join. He is an outsider that many readers can relate to, and if not empathize with, at least feel some sympathy toward.

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He seemed like such a nice, quiet man.

Dolarhyde’s childhood was wonderfully atrocious, and Harris’s descriptions of his life in Grandma’s house reminded me of several dark Victorian classics. Dolarhyde’s two personalities made me think of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, especially toward the end of the novel when Francis tries to stop the Dragon and form a relationship with his love interest, Reba. His two sides struggle for dominance as Francis tries to protect the woman he believes he loves. At other times I thought of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, with his physical deformities and inability to join “polite” society. Francis is filled with rage and envious of the “normal” people around him. He kills them to ease his pain and take revenge on the people who abused him. The Dragon is essentially the end result of Grandma’s psychological experiments on Francis that further transformed his already damaged psyche.

And then, we have Grandma’s dentures. Quite possibly one of the most disturbing images I have encountered in a novel, the dentures almost have a life of their own, which ramps up the body horror aspects of this tale. Grandma’s choppers allow us to venture down several literary paths. We could go Big Bad Wolf here, “oh Grandma, what big teeth you have.” Or we could take the Gothic Horror path since Dolarhyde makes a pretty convincing Dracula with false teeth filed into sharp points. He literally bites his female victims to death.

As I said, Francis Dolarhyde has a lot going for him as a character designed to make us check under the seats before turning the key in the ignition and double deadbolt the doors at night. Thomas Harris created an amazing killing machine that commits unspeakable acts and yet somehow convinced me to cheer for him when he fights against his murderous urges. I hoped he would escape capture at the hands of the FBI and Will Graham.

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This is my design.

There are elements of romance in the novel. Apparently Thomas Harris believes that even serial killers deserve love. Or maybe he’s suggesting that if they received love in the first place they may not have chosen to murder people. Harris elicits even more sympathy for Francis when he meets a woman who is attracted to him. He reciprocates and they begin dating.

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Lucifer offering Eve an apple.

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This is how a grown man reacts to being shown love for the first time.

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He’s never seen anything more beautiful.

They are the perfect fairy tale couple, a blind princess (literally, not just too dumb or unwilling to see the truth) and her prince who is magically transformed into a dragon by an evil wicked witch. Bryan Fuller made all of my dreams come true with the intense  emotional and physical connection between Francis and Reba in season 3 of Hannibal. Their sex scenes were gloriously erotic. I must have rewatched the sex scene at least six times after I watched episode 10. So effing hot. Seriously, when he grabs her, picks her up, and carries her to his bedroom, I was like SPLOOSH!

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I hoped Reba’s affection would be strong enough to rescue and redeem him in the end. His own delusions and lack of impulse control ultimately lead to his demise. Rather than trusting that Reba cares for him, he listens to the Dragon. His immaturity, lack of experience with live women, and delusions prevent him from achieving a normal and healthy life with Reba. Like most of us, our faults and bad habits tend to undo our efforts to improve ourselves no matter how hard we try to overcome them.

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You should probably let someone get to know you a little better before you show them your dark side.

I don’t just like this monster. I am sexually attracted to him and find him totally fuckable. He’s fuckable in the novel and as portrayed by Ralph Finnes (Red Dragon, 2002) and Richard Armitage (Hannibal, 2015) (especially Richard Armitage), but the thoughts I have about him make me a bit uneasy. Why? As I said, I love monsters. I have no problem with the idea of liking Dracula or the Big Bad Wolf. Maybe my feelings of unease come from the fact that I know those monsters are fictional, make-believe, fairy tales, but serial killers are very real. While I’m fascinated by their crimes and their motivations to commit them, I do not idolize real serial killers. I want the police to catch them and punish them to the full extent of the law. Serial killers cause me to waffle about my stance on the death penalty.

Francis Dolarhyde is a fictional character, but Harris breathed so much life into him that he seemed disturbingly real. Serial killers are real. Dracula is not. Monsters that are created to represent the darker aspects of the human psyche or to examine and comment upon questionable societal norms are safe. The aging Goth teen queen inside me craves stories about monsters who prevail despite their physical deformities and emotional immaturity. Weird and horrifying is acceptable as long as it has a message or a purpose. But here is the Red Dragon standing before me, engrossed in his own gloriously terrifying acts of violence against women and their families, and somehow I find beauty there. My adoration of this character gives me pause.

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Even his death is beautiful.

Typically, I would use the excuse of Hollywood’s knack for putting attractive actors in horrifying roles. The Devil is tempting not only because he encourages you to do the sinful things you crave, but also because he shows up as the thing you want most, and probably wearing a nice suit. Even before Bryan Fuller provided us with a visual buffet of horrific beauty on Hannibal, I desired Francis Dolarhyde.

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Sometimes you can’t ignore the voices.

But Bryan Fuller cranked up the voyeurism, spectacle, and the eroticism of evil by making Francis exceptionally desirable and giving him an object of desire that I could relate to. I could imagine myself in her place. Eroticism is subjective, but when erotic images and art mirror your own fantasies, that’s not only psychologically satisfying, it’s magical.

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They make a beautiful couple.

For the Love of Monsters

1843-Alice-in-Wonderland-Zombie A few days ago, a good friend of mine, poet and fellow fiction writer, Lana Hechtman Ayers, contacted me to let me know that she really enjoyed my new blog. She said the title reminded her of a poem she had written a few years ago. My curiosity was immediately piqued. You see, I am a fan of Lana’s poetry and fiction, so I couldn’t help wonder how my blog connected with her writing. What she sent me is a poem that spoke to me in ways that I am still processing. Internalizing. Devouring.

The poem, “Alice’s Blind Date With Frankenstein’s Monster,” which previously appeared in Eye to the Telescope, and can also be found in Lana’s poetry collection, Chicken Farmer I Still Love You, examines one of the topics I hope to address more fully in future blog posts: falling in love with monsters.

Monsters are sexy.

I recently used that line in my online dating profile, and have yet to find myself in a shallow grave along the interstate. In retrospect, it was a potentially dangerous statement to make in a public social media forum designed for people to stalk each other online and ask each other inappropriate questions about their sexual preferences. Honestly, I’m surprised I didn’t attract more weirdoes. Do I sound disappointed? Maybe I am. Just a little. Although, I’m still not convinced the guy I’ve been dating for the past year isn’t a serial killer.

I posted that line within the context of talking about the kinds of media I consume: books, comics, movies, etc. And, at the time, I was in the midst of writing my first novel, which is a supernatural slave narrative. In the novel, Invisible Chains, a young slave tells her story and how she dreams of reaching freedom. In her travels and day-to-day life, she encounters many monsters, literally and figuratively, and she must learn to navigate a very dangerous world where she is seen as a possession, an object, to be bought and sold, and used however her owner pleases. We soon discover that monsters with fangs and fur may not be as scary as the men who uphold the institution of slavery in the Antebellum South. My protagonist develops a fondness for a vampire, but is quick to let him know she never wants to become like him. She never wishes to become a monster. Eventually, she discovers that her strengths are found in the parts of her others might perceive as monstrous. By befriending and trusting monsters, she learns to trust herself.

Lots of people have written about falling in love with monsters, and most people who read horror fiction or enjoy horror films can recall at least one instance of feeling empathy for a monster due to the fact that they connected with the monster’s plight. The more we love monsters, the more we see ourselves reflected back to us, like mirror images of ourselves – distorted, transformed, fragmented – hauntingly familiar, but simultaneously alien.

Crushing on monsters can be dangerous, which may be why vampires and werewolves and other creatures of the night have become so popular in YA speculative fiction. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past nine years and haven’t heard of Stephenie Meyer’s paranormal romance series, The Twilight Saga, the novels follow the drama-filled life of misanthropic teen, Bella Swan, and her ill-advised love triangle with vampire Edward Cullen and werewolf Jacob Black. These novels are not only popular among misunderstood teens, but also confused middle-aged women still looking to fill the void that no amount of Häagen-Dazs could ever accomplish.

I don’t mean to make light of this phenomenon. In fact, I take it very seriously. Monsters have always spoken to me in a way that I find exciting and somewhat unsettling. Monsters are sexy. And scary. And a little sad. As a teen, I sought them out – in fiction, in films, and unfortunately in some of the boys I chose to date. Monsters typically have a hard time fitting in and they seek the company of others like them – dark, damaged, melancholy, missing parts. As an adult, I haven’t completely outgrown my love of monsters and probably never will. Like my protagonist in Invisible Chains, as I learn more about monsters, I learn more about myself.

I feel like I have a lot more to say on the subject, but before I get too far into things, I need to spend a bit more time meditating on why I love monsters. So, without further ado, please enjoy Lana’s poem.

Alice’s Blind Date With Frankenstein’s Monster

by Lana Hechtman Ayers

Where the personal ad read, tall,
Alice assumed dark and handsome.
Where it read, Loves moonlit walks through the cemetery,
Alice surmised, romantic.
And the bit, Firebugs need not apply,
she thought quirky charm.

So what harm could come by answering?
Only that learning reality is a bitter cake
that sometimes shrinks one’s hopes.
That he wasn’t handsome,
was an understatement.
But in his favor, he had a friendly laugh

and looked deeply into Alice’s eyes.
He didn’t bat an eyelash (in fact he had none to bat)
at her whole Looking Glass story
the way her parents had upon her return,
then sent her to bed without supper yet again.
The cemetery her blind date picked for their picnic

was wide and well-lit under the full moon
and though he was creepily patched
from mismatched skins of the dead,
his green pallor glowed a warmer hue.
He wore his fears on his ragged sleeve:
fire, villagers, dogs, and shed a few tears

telling her of his longing for a true companion.
He wasn’t the worst date she’d ever had.
Also, he seemed to completely grasp
yearning for wholeness, the very thing
Alice herself wanted, but had not the words to express
since the incidents with the older gentleman

that began when she was only six.
Her truth was that monsters
don’t always look the part.
Those that do can turn out not frightening at all
and can have quite a good heart
(even if electric shock is necessary to get it started).

Frank, he’d asked her to call him,
just Frank, and not wanting to wait
for things between them to cool too much
she did when she rang
him up the very next day
to ask him out on a second date.

Sally

Frankenstein and Alice’s love child.

While reading Lana’s poem, I couldn’t help but think of Patricia Lillie’s amazing speech, “Down the Rabbit Hole,” given back in January at Seton Hill University’s graduation ceremony for the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program. If you weren’t there, I feel sorry for you. You totally missed out.