Profet's Book Club
Thomas Harris - »Hannibal«
Profet's Chief Ideologue Filip Lindström sits down at Hannibal Lecter's dining table and takes a good bite out of the ever so dull question of good and evil.
To all new readers, a warm welcome to »Profet’s Book Club«, a platform for us to draw attention to literary work that we believe is worthy of your time (and sometimes a channel for us to warn you about books that aren’t at all worthy of anything). This, dearest reader, is the first part of »Profet’s Book Club« (but not the last) written in English. A primary rule of reading is to, at all costs, experience literature in its original form. What’s lost in translation is your medium to broaden your knowledge of a language, and of course the lingual nuances intended by the writer. Whenever I have the chance, I much rather choose to read an English language author in English than the sometimes unflattering Swedish translations.
For this first rendition of »Profet’s Book Club« in English, I have leapt into a character who has intrigued me for years, a figure that inhabits the space between fine and trash culture. This multi-culture-dimensional fiend, Hannibal Lecter, appears as the main antagonist in Thomas Harris’ various criminal thrillers taking place in and around the bureaucracy of the FBI.
Crime thriller novels are, at least in my corner of the world, seen as simple entertainment for mindless mobs whose sole requirement in a book is a riddle to ponder, and the guarantee of the riddle’s eminent solving. Because of this prejudice surrounding the genre, I am slightly ashamed of reading Harris’ »Hannibal«, the part of the series where the cannibal psychiatrist plays a main part rather than a supporting one. I try to defend my reading by claiming my fixation with Dr. Lecter’s personality and the puppets he chooses to play with, I don’t live for the obvious reveal of a killer’s identity. You see now, more than ever, how important being different is to me. I couldn’t endure knowingly enjoying the same snippets of a book like »Hannibal« as a tiresome true crime enthusiast looking for the thrill of a kill. I guess these generic genre readers are interested in the eternal struggle between good and evil, which this novel is actually about, but they might choose the fast lane to get there and only get to see the outer layer of the classic confrontation of will power.
The turn the biblical battle takes in »Hannibal« is in the balancing of the characters’ traits, making them all multi-faceted and interpretable to the fullest. At first, the sides are set. There are the undeniable devils, and the angels allowing the demons to be. Dr. Lecter is the absolute nemesis of all other characters, and therefore initially is marked as the story’s monster, indescribably evil as only a monotonous caricature can be. Lecter’s foes are all on the right side of the law, whatever that may mean in an ethical discussion, and are in that way somewhat iconized as heroes compared to their manhunting enemy. Clarice Starling, ever so righteous, more or less mans the search for Lecter on her own, and has to walk with her back straight through pestering from colleagues and national press. In comparison to Will Graham, the protagonist of Thomas Harris’ »Red Dragon«, Starling is described as a strong person with a frail side to her. Both Starling and Graham has faced Lecter, and their reactions to him are depicted variously in Harris’ writing, leading to only one conclusion: Thomas Harris must have a deep respect for all men, and a very shallow understanding of all women. Graham and Starling are equally cold in their hearts, but Harris makes Starling cry in her hardest times where Graham only treats himself to a potent Martini and deep thoughts.
In the case of Mason Verger, a billionaire surviving victim of Lecter’s, the issue of angels and devils returns. Verger is viciously deformed, after the good doctor made him feed his own face to his dogs, and he is seeking his revenge. Rightfully, according to some. The mutilated rich man is partially one of the angels, because he has been damaged and needs his retribution to find serenity. That's almost a bit angelic, right? At least his strive to end the Monster’s days would be considered admirable, if he would not be doing it for selfish reasons. You see, Mason Verger has no interest in turning Hannibal Lecter, the man responsible for his faceless reality, in to Clarice Starling nor to her self-righteous superiors. Neither does he care about tormenting his financially locked down sister with the memories of him raping her as a child, and he looks forward to feeding Dr. Lecter to genetically modified pigs whenever he gets his hands on him. Is Mason Verger an angel just because he has been a victim of great torture at the hands of Hannibal Lecter? Or is he just as bad as Lecter, if not worse? Here, the definition of good and evil starts to crack.
Paul Krendler, big shot executive in the midst of the FBI, is fighting the good fight in the eyes of his peers: He is a married man at the beginning of the height of his career, a man upholding the law and committing to the capturing of the Monster. Does this make Mr. Krendler one of the angels? Well, it certainly doesn’t make up for his true nature, which allows him to purposely sabotage Clarice Starling’s career after she has denied his sexual demands, and to be on Mason Verger’s paycheck with the task of finding Lecter for the millionaire’s pleasure.
Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter and Gary Oldman as Mason Verger, in the 2001 film »Hannibal«
In the light of these persons on the »right« side of the law, Hannibal Lecter seems more sane, no matter how cruel his actions may be. His humanity when remembering and missing his dead sister is only mirrored in Clarice Starling, as the other characters can feel cartoonish in their malice (especially when Mason Verger indulges in Martinis made with children’s tears). The clearest likeness between Starling and Will Graham is their knowledge of Lecter’s thoughts, coming from similarity in all three personalities. What makes Starling and Graham come close to Lecter is a mutual understanding and shared mannerisms (again, on two sides of what is deemed »right«)
Why is Mason Verger entitled to freedom (within the imprisonment of his malfunctioning body) when Lecter is pursued as one of the world’s most sought after criminals? Doesn’t his intentions of throwing the doctor to hungry mutant swine, and his gruesome treatment of all beings around him, make him a horrific Monster too?
The real dramaturgy of »Hannibal«, and so also all Harris’ novels featuring the doctor, is not the finding of a murderer and the coverage of all related procedures. The finesse of the story is starting off with direct opposites, say black and white for example, and slowly mixing them together until you end up with several different shades of grey. The elements of good and evil are thrown aside, and left behind is nothing but human weakness.