Beginning with Red Dragon (1981), horror icon Hannibal Lecter thrilled audiences as the ultimate unreadable reader, consuming minds and bodies behind the polished veneer of aristocratic taste and psychological expertise. Yet by the end of the twentieth century, Lecter had shifted from monster to hero. This article argues that Thomas Harris’s prequel novel, Hannibal Rising (2006), makes Lecter more palatable by portraying his serial murders as an act of vengeance against a postwar society that allowed war criminals to rejoin the consumer milieu. Hannibal Rising uses graphic depictions of the atrocities of the Second World War—including freezing, starvation, immolation, and enslavement—to mitigate Lecter’s cannibalistic classism and restore his humanity. Lecter is rendered mute by the trauma of consuming his sister, the patrician Lecter Castle becomes a Soviet orphanage, and Lecter’s eventual victims are war criminals who have reintegrated into society across the Western world. In return, Hannibal Rising’s readers are asked to project the specter of Lecter’s trauma and these war criminals’ violence onto all of Lecter’s victims. No act of cannibalism, Hannibal Rising suggests, is more monstrous than the war crimes and subsequent Allied apathy that Hannibal fights and bites against.
Hannibal Lecter as Avenging War Orphan in Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Rising
Korine Powers is a doctoral candidate in English at Boston University. She studies violence and masculinity in postwar American film and fiction, with an emphasis on the valorization of wounding and mental illness in popular texts.
Korine Powers; Hannibal Lecter as Avenging War Orphan in Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Rising. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 March 2020; 66 (1): 125–146. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-8196740
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