THE ORIGINS OF THE AMERICAN LITERARY TRADITION (PART 8)

In a critical consideration of Brown’s narrative deployment of uncertainty let us consider two antagonists within American fiction: Hannibal Lector, from Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Rising and Leonid Danilovich Arkadin from Eric Van Lustbader’s The Bourne Objective. Both are intelligent, cunning and ruthless yet sympathetic characters with a predilection for ultra-violence. Hannibal is a young man whose sister is murdered by plunderer’s during World War II who vows to find them and make them pay for their crimes. Arkadin is a assassin with a troubled past, highly skilled in his trade; yet, despite his ruthlessness he is also given over to empathetic outbursts, “Maslov’s chief assassin at the time had killed a child – a little boy no more than six years old – in cold blood. For this obscenity, Arkadin had beaten his face to pulp and dislocated his shoulder.”1 Arkadin’s presence is recognized, Bourne is certain that Arkadin is a killer and he knows that such a being is after him, hellbent on his destruction whereas in Hannibal, the budding serial killer goes unnoticed by his adversaries (with the exception of the inspector) until the climax begins to draw near. Though the reader knows that Hannibal deigns the various plunderer’s deaths, the villains and side-characters do not; they are uncertain of the danger that awaits them. As such, when leveraging the dread both characters are able to invoke it is Hannibal Lector who emerges as the more imposing foe (he did triumph over his sister’s killers, after all, whereas Arkadin is dispatched by Bourne). The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that the more a thing (in this case, a villainous character) is starkly revealed, to either the character’s within a work or to the reader, the less terrifying they tend to be; hence the horror-trope of the unseen monster which is typically only ever revealed some significant portion of the way into the film, generally near the middle or end (yet rarely ever at the beginning; where a monster is introduced in the very beginning of a horror film and is shown, it is typically not its true form, but rather a husk, shadow or vessel). Brown utilizes just such a trope, not with a particular character, but with a mysterious voice; what it is, if it even is, such things are not explained until deep into the text and as such, work to generate a intensive sense of dark confusion and impending doom, given the fate of the elder Wieland. When all is uncertain, darkness reigns.

1Eric Van Lustbader, The Bourne Objective (Vision, 2010), p. 96-97

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Futurist, artist and published fiction writer whose work asks the question, Of what use is the art which does not ruthlessly seek to force life to imitate it?

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