Hannibal Rising – A Review

Hannibal RisingI have always been curious about the Hannibal Lecter stories, especially the movies, which I enjoyed. I have recently watched the entire series of Hannibal on NBC and I’m totally digging that – not only are the main cast fantastic, but it’s fantastic to see Eddie Izzard sink his teeth into the role of a serial killer. With this enthusiasm in mind, I decided to turn to the books for the first time, and see how Thomas Harris writes.

I suppose it is perhaps wrong to start with the latest book in the Hannibal Lecter series, but I was more than curious to see how Lecter as a child develops into the formidably brilliant killer. I was not disappointed. Harris’s writing is poetic and thought-provoking, a narrative worthy of Lecter himself. Much like Lindsay’s ‘Dexter’, you immediately love and sympathize (hesitate to say empathize) with young Hannibal, as the dark forces play and shape his mind towards the inevitable. Of course we know what Lecter becomes, but this in no way diminishes the enjoyment to be had as Harris sits the reader in a front row seat in Lecter’s nascent shadow.

I recently watched a video from the online magazine Slate, entitled Which Movie Psychopaths are the Most and Least Realistic. An audience of forensic psychiatrists sat down and watched a number of movies featuring psychopathic killers. Lecter (as played by Hopkins in the movies) was dismissed as being too much of a genius, a characteristic which is rare among normal populations, let alone psychopathic killers. Being a genius, though, just makes his character less probable, and not necessarily less realistic.

In later incarnations of Lecter, you never see him lose control or see him at odds with his drives and desires. In Hannibal Rising you get to witness the death of his innocence and the masterful acceptance of his fate.

5 thoughts on “Hannibal Rising – A Review

  1. Lynette d'Arty-Cross

    I always liked the Lecter books and read them in the order that Thomas wrote them. I also thought that “The Silence of the Lambs,” with Hopkins and Foster, was stellar. I’ve often wondered how realistic Hannibal might be – he certainly came across to me, as you point out, as possible but not probable.


      1. Lynette d'Arty-Cross

        “The Silence of the Lambs” was my favourite. From a literary point of view, Harris hit his stride with that one and I often thought later that Lecter’s past should have been a part of that book. It would have provided more depth to the “relationship” between him and Starling. The idea of a “brilliant” psychopath like Lecter seems to defy reality, as you’ve already said. If my experience with a narcissist is anything to go by, and it’s so pale by comparison as to be almost non-existent, the characteristics of psychopathy would crater the intelligence. My former husband is a very smart man – graduated at the top of his class as an engineer, generally did very well in any kind of academic environment. But his narcissism would get him every time he tried to exercise his education in a professional setting. He was frequently fired. Relationships were a wasteland, also. He eventually wound up working in the “oil patch” on jobs that called for isolation, although even there he was often “let go.” I think he worked for most of the various oil producers, kind of being handed off from one to the other. It’s hard to get engineers up there. So I guess that makes me wonder how Lecter, as a professional, could have gotten as far as he did, particularly as a therapist. Or, is this why he entered a profession where, for the most part, people work alone? Are psychopaths sometimes good enough at simulating normal behaviour that they can get that far, through all the examination and practica? A long response to your question but I have wondered about this. 🙂


      2. Jack Pemment Post author

        I can see how the ‘traits’ of the psychopath could interfere with living the life of a genius. Psychopaths often suffer poor impulse control and tend to engage in thrill seeking behavior. It’s so easy for them to do things that get noticed by law enforcement, and so in a way having a superior intelligence is necessary if they want to continually get away with it. It’s often joked in TV and movies that these people give themselves away eventually. It seems like the more powerful or dark the impulses, the more ‘power’ is needed in the reasoning to suppress and control these urges.
        People have published lists of common professions for psychopaths. Many of them involve public office and the medical profession, where it could be argued they are given positions of power, which of course they would love.
        There’s a lot of ‘mindfulness’ theories going on in clinical psychology at the moment, which I believe promotes the idea of learning to live with your own thoughts and feelings and accepting yourself. I think successful psychopaths do this. They know themselves very well, and can predict when they’ll need to engage in certain behaviors. With this knowledge they can plan out where they’ll be and who will be around them. As a double whammy, if they do get caught, they have the pathological lying thing going on to make getting a confession all the more difficult.

        I thought you hadn’t written in a while, Lynette, because I used to get the e-mails of new posts. Turns out g-mail was putting them in another folder! I’m so awful and awkward with social media.


      3. Lynette d'Arty-Cross

        Thanks so for your response. It’s interesting that you mention how mindfulness can benefit psychopaths and that together with the lying, they really have all their bases covered. Looking at them objectively, they are tremendously interesting, if frightening in their pragmatism and cold self-promotion. Make no wonder that they are considered to be untreatable – they are really trapped in a kind of mental/behavioural prison. I don’t feel sorry for them, though.

        I’m not much good with social media, either -that makes two of us! 🙂


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