Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Hannibal Lecter: Origin, Facts and Fiction


When he grows up, Lecter targets men he considered petty and uncouth.   Raspail the inferior flutist, Krendler the vindictive bureaucrat, Pazzi the corrupt cop, the census taker, even Mason Verger the former libertine who managed by a miracle of medical science to survive Lecter's wrath—all of them are nothing more than stand-ins for the deserters who ate his sister.

Anthony Hopkins, Hannibal
Anthony Hopkins in Hannibal

Obviously he eats his victims because they ate Mischa.  An eye for an eye.  But why the gourmet preparation?  Why serve their organs sautéed in butter and shallots?  Why spend exorbitant amounts of money on vintage wines to go with these human entrees?  Because Lecter knows he's better than the troglodytes who killed his sister.     He has refinement and a noble lineage.  He would never eat meat roasted on a stick.  He does it the most sophisticated way possible.  His meticulous preparation of human flesh is his way of throwing it in the faces of the deserters who gnawed on Mischa's bones.

Though Harris taunts his readers with the expectation that Lecter will hurt Clarice Starling the moment he gets the chance, Clarice is the safest of anyone in the books because she becomes Lecter's surrogate Mischa.  Lecter states it directly after he has her securely under his spell: "'And so I came to believe,' Dr. Lecter was saying, 'that there had to be a place in the world for Mischa, a prime place vacated for her, and I came to think, Clarice, that the best place in the world was yours.'"

This is Lecter's fantasy—to seek revenge on Mischa's slayers and restore her to the place of dignity and refinement as she has always deserved.  By the end of Hannibal, the third and latest book in the series, Lecter has achieved his goal.

But does this mean that Lecter's reign of terror is over because he's finally satisfied his fantasy?  He's righted the wrongs and brought back his dear sister in the person of Clarice.  What more is there for him to do?

In real life a serial killer's fantasy is never fulfilled.  It evolves, becomes more elaborate, consumes more of the killer's being.  He keeps killing because there is never any closure.  Similarly, a fictional series character goes on and on as long as the public thirsts for more adventures featuring that character.  The series detective returns time and again in book after book to solve more and more crimes.  Dracula springs fresh from the grave in new movies and books season after season.  The spirit of Lecter will go on as well, if not directly from the pen of Thomas Harris, then in the myriad serial-killer clones he has spawned on the page and on the screen.

But there's no adequate substitute for the real Hannibal Lecter, and hopefully there's no substitute for the real Mischa.  Clarice may not satisfy that lust within Lecter forever.  The doctor's many fans eagerly wait for him to feel a bit peckish again, hoping that his insatiable urge to dine on the "deserters" returns so that Mr. Harris will bestow upon us another installment in the deliciously horrifying exploits of Hannibal Lecter.


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