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Hannibal Rising

Hannibal Lecter hypnotized and terrorized readers of Thomas Harris’ two magnificent books, “Red Dragon” and “Silence of the Lambs,” because he stood so far to one side of humanity. He was too brilliant, too charming, to sophisticated, and too sadistic to compute on a human scale.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Lecter was that he simply seemed to be wired differently. He even admonished us, “don’t look for an explanation for what I am – I just am this way.” Thus, Lecter became the shark from “Jaws” – a “perfect eating machine,” as Richard Dreyfuss might put it.

But Harris for some reason has been unwilling to keep this side of Lecter going. Even in “Hannibal,” Harris gave us two villains who were even more reprehensible than Lecter . . . and as a result we ended up sympathizing with Lecter just a little bit. Still, by the end of that completely over-the-top novel, thanks to Lecter’s corruption of Clarisse Starling (which did not occur in the movie version, by the way), we were still morbidly fascinated by this monster.

With “Hannibal Rising,” Harris abandons his earlier stance and makes Lecter a victim of childhood trauma and also an avenging angel. Lecter no longer preys on innocents among us – I cannot think of a single “innocent” who dies in “HR.” This book is supposed to be our “explanation” of where Hannibal the Cannibal came from, and there is just nothing in this character that would become the man who would later famously eat an innocent nurse’s tongue while not having his pulse go above 85 beats per minute.

Perhaps the most disappointing attempt to make Lecter into a good guy is the final sentence of the book, where Harris allows Lecter to see stars, just like Dante when he emerges from Hell. Yeesh.

In short, Thomas Harris has rewritten his best character, and that’s a shame. For once Hannibal becomes less than the Hannibal of “RD” or “SotL,” he becomes considerably less interesting. Sure, there are hints of the old Harris style in “HR,” but this is nowhere near as fascinating a plot as the first three Lecter novels.

This is probably a must-read for Lecter fans, but it’s hard to imagine any serious Lecter fan reading this book and thinking that it contributes meaningfully to the Lecter legend.

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