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The Mythological Trickster Essay

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Hannibal Lecter Brenna Collier HUM 115 October 21, 2010 The mythological trickster; to some he is a deviant bent on bringing about chaos and evil, to others he is a helpful aid to society, poorly misunderstood. Trickster comes in many forms and can serve many purposes. It is said that trickster has some common traits yet it is also said in “Mapping mythic tricksters” (Hynes, 1993) that trickster is indefinable. Still we can use certain trait definitions to show observation of trickster at his best and perhaps his worst as well.

It is pointed out by Hynes (1993), that there are six characteristics most commonly associated with trickster, trickster can be ambiguous and anomalous, a deceiver and trick player, a shape shifter, a situation inverter, a messenger and imitator of the gods, and sacred and lewd bricoleur. Any trickster that we look at will fit many if not all of these characteristics. Hannibal Lecter, a vicious killer and cannibal from the movie Silence of the lambs is a modern day trickster.

At first glance Lecter appears to be nothing more than a psychotic freak with a taste for human flesh but upon closer inspection one can see that he is far more. At first glance Lecter seems to be a well educated man with good manners and well developed taste. However, one must look behind the facade and remember that Lecter is a brutal killer who in his own mind has done nothing wrong. It is necessary to know a bit about Lecter’s history in order to properly see how he fits into the trickster stereotype rather than just that of a monstrous psychopath. Lecter was born in Lithuania on January 20, 1933 to parents of nobility.

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At about the age of 10 his family moved to their cabin in the woods in an attempt to stay safe from the war efforts that were going on but his mother and father both ended up dead leaving Hannibal and his little sister Mischa to fend for themselves. Eventually some men came to the cabin and took shelter there but rather than help Hannibal and Mischa they held them captive. Eventually Mischa is consumed by the men and fed to an unknowing Hannibal as well. Hannibal manages to escape and is taken back to his families own castle which has been turned into an orphanage.

Hannibal eventually leaves the orphanage and heads to France in search of his Uncle. Upon his arrival in France he finds that his Uncle has passed but his Aunt, the Lady Murasaki is more than willing to take him in. Hannibal is at this point, provided with the best of education and resources but still holds anger and revenge deep inside of his tortured soul. A local merchant makes a comment that Hannibal feels is very unpleasant and rude to his aunt and ends up becoming Hannibal’s first kill. The authorities however, are unable to prosecute Hannibal for lack of evidence.

Hannibal heads off to medical school only to hear information about the men who had a hand in eating his sister and decides it is time to exact his revenge. He does so of course and with each man that he kills, cuts off a portion of their cheek while telling them “a cheek for a cheek” and then proceeds to eat it. At this point we are brought to Hannibal’s memories of the men testing his sister’s cheeks for fatness before they killed her. At this point Hannibal has risen and has become the serial killer we all know from such movies as The silence of the lambs (1991), Red dragon (2002), and Hannibal (2001).

The next time we see Hannibal is in The silence of lambs when FBI agent Clarise Starling attempts to use him to profile another serial killer known as Buffalo Bill. Hannibal helps of course but not without his own motives. This is where we begin to see the real trickster that is Hannibal come into play and from this point of we refer to Hannibal as Dr. Lecter or just Lecter. Though Lecter is incarcerated for vicious killings of his own and therefore looked at as a menace to society he becomes detrimental in the case against Buffalo Bill.

In this way he has become godlike if we look at the traits listed by Hynes, (1993) because he holds in his mind several keys to the unraveling of Buffalo Bill and the saving of a young woman being held captive by him. We can see here what is being discussed in Introduction to mythology (Thury, Devinney, 2009) in the chapter about Raven. It is mentioned that at the same time Raven plays pranks to get what he wants he also provides both practical and moral lessons to humans, this is what Lecter does. In many ways Lecter actually plays mentor to agent Starling and forces her to confront the events of her paste that plague her today.

Lecter does this to help her so that she will be prepared to take on Buffalo Bill. Lecter is able to easily cross many boundaries and does not hesitate to do so. He is physically deformed which crosses a physical boundary even though the deformity is not his fault, Lecter has an extra middle finger on one hand, but there is some discrepancy as to which hand between the novels and movies. He crosses the moral boundaries of most people because he kills without hesitation or remorse. Lecter does this however, only because he feels he is cleaning the earth of rude, manner less, individuals and Lecter despises rudeness.

Lecter has a penchant for leaving the majority of people fully intact unless they offend his distinguished sensibilities in some way. In fact when Miggs, a man in the cell next door makes comments about liking the small of Starling’s “cunt” Lecter is not pleased and the next morning Miggs is found dead in his cell. It never says how Hannibal manages to kill Miggs but makes it only too obvious that he does. Another interesting thing about Lecter is that he never takes a souvenir from his victims, though some say the souvenir is the flesh that he eats.

Lecter is even able to cross social and geographical boundaries easily because he comes across as such a well cultured man, and really if one thinks about it, he is. Many times Lecter is able to get out of the country or mix in with police, or other socialites when he is on the run. Lecter is easily able to change situations to fit his needs. He usually does this through use of his psychiatry skills but whichever method he uses on any given day, Lecter is usually successful. He is not immune to getting caught in his own trap though as we see by the fact that in Silence of the lambs he has been incarcerated.

This goes to show that he is vulnerable just as any trickster. One of his other vulnerabilities is agent Starling. To Lecter Starling becomes Mischa in a way and he views her as his to love and protect. Starling can be his undoing at almost any time because though Lecter remains on guard with her, there are moments where that guard drops in her presence. Though most of us may despise Lecter for the monstrosity that we feel he has become I think it can be more beneficial to look at the many lessons he can teach all of us about how we live our lives on a daily basis.

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