Thomas Harris

By: Devin McKinney
April 11, 2013


To say that Hannibal Lecter is the only thing THOMAS HARRIS (born 1940) is known for is like saying that Invisible Man is the only important thing Ralph Ellison ever wrote. To have invented such a character, one representing so purely a set of American angers and anxieties, that is yet so specific, so previously unimaginable, should be enough for any author. We’d been living with serial murder for many years before Harris published Red Dragon in 1981 and brought the classical descent-into-hell narrative to bear on all the elements of Tabloid Nation — slaughtered bodies, lurid headlines, barren-eyed killer-monsters. Seven years later, The Silence of the Lambs achieved perfection by matching the earlier novel’s support player, psychiatrist-gourmand-killer Hannibal Lecter, to an antagonist, Clarice Starling, who was the finest incarnation of the trembling mass of readers: smart if not brilliant, terrified, courageous, and, against Lecter, badly overmatched. That Harris’s interest in Lecter as more than a cash cow has clearly diminished since that peak of intensity — Hannibal (1999) a gross Grand Guignol, Hannibal Rising (2006) a contract fulfillment, movies increasingly obligatory, now a “Hannibal” TV show — may mean only that, having let the monster loose, he is as eager as anyone to domesticate it. To dull the very edge he sharpened; to put away, as if he could, the dread suspicion that in a world belonging to the Lecters, we are only lambs.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: June and Jennifer Gibbons, Adriano Olivetti, Vincent Gallo.

READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).


HiLo Heroes, Literature