A cult classic, Red Dragon is the novel that first introduced the sinister serial killer Hannibal Lecter to the world. Filled with nerve-tingling acts and eerie characters whose complex mix of maniacal instincts and intellect create the stuff of nightmares. The central character of Will Graham offers a glimpse of normality against the broad spectrum of abnormal sinister murderers. Graham is a retired FBI profiler who is recruited by his former boss, Jack Crawford, to hunt down the perpetrator of a string of recent family murders. Nicknamed ‘the Tooth Fairy’, the killer is believed to stalk random families and conduct murders during full moons. Graham soon realises that his only hope for understanding him is to consult the killer from his last case, the psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter.
The true identity of the Tooth Fairy is revealed to the readers to be Francis Dolarhyde, a production chief at a film processing company. Dolarhyde has a deep obsession for a William Blake painting: ‘The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun’. His psychologically disturbed nature causes him to be violent – believing that by murdering or ‘changing’ people, he is able to become the Great Red Dragon that features in the painting he idolises. Certainly a book for adults due to its gruesome and graphic subject matter, Red Dragon is a smart plot brimmed with twists and shocks; in short, everything you could want in a crime thriller.
Do you think that Harris creates believable portrayals of serial killers and if so, what features do you think make them appear realistic?
A lot of comparisons are made in the text between Dolarhyde and Graham, what effect does this have and why do you think the author chose to do this?
How do you think Dolarhyde compares to Lecter?
Why do you think Lecter sent Dolarhyde Graham’s address? Would Lecter not want to kill Graham himself or was he toying with Graham?
What aspects of Hannibal’s character make him appear sinister?
Why do you think Dolarhyde is so angry to be misrepresented as a homosexual? Do you think that part of him is insecure in his sexuality?
Do you think that Reba’s blindness plays a part in Dolarhyde’s attraction to her?
Do you think Will Graham is portrayed as an intellectual equal to Lecter?
How do you think Hannibal views his relationship with Will?
Do you think Hannibal is ultimately a victor in the story? Red-Dragon-Discussion-Questions.pdf
Will Graham hopes to lure the Tooth Fairy out of hiding and uses an interview with the journalist Freddy Lounds – who has previously pretended to be the Tooth Fairy. Graham purposefully lies and says that the killer is a homosexual. Dolarhyde is angered by the misrepresentation and kidnaps Lounds. Making Lounds discount the suggestion that he is homosexual, he then bites off his lips and sets him on fire outside the newspaper office.
Dolarhyde starts dating Reba-McClane, a blind work colleague. He becomes conflicted between Reba and his urge to kill.
Graham discovers that the killer must have known the layout of the victim’s homes before performing the acts. He deduces that the information was obtained from home videos and so goes to interview Dolarhyde’s boss. Seeing Graham at his work and realising that it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a suspect, Dolarhyde travels to collect Reba. Arriving at Reba’s house, he witnesses Reba kissing her boyfriend Ralph Mandy, not knowing that Reba has just broken up with him and that it was a goodbye kiss. Dolarhyde becomes infuriated and kills Mandy out of jealousy. He kidnaps Reba and takes her back to his home where he sets the house alight, intending for them to die together, though he can’t bring himself to kill Reba. There are gunshots and Reba hears a body hit the floor.
Graham returns home to his family. However, Dolarhyde is actually still alive and arrives at his home, attempting to kill him. A tussle occurs and Graham gets stabbed in the face, leaving him with serious injuries. Dolarhyde is shot by Graham’s wife Molly. Crawford reveals that the man who died that night during the fire was a gas station attendant that Dolarhyde abducted to fake his own death. During Graham’s recovery, Lecter sends Graham a letter hoping he is in good health and not too facially disfigured.
Red Dragon is the first of four novels featuring Hannibal Lecter. The most recent was published in 2006.
The character of Hannibal Lecter was based on a real-life doctor-turned-killer whom Thomas Harris refers to as ‘Dr Salazar’. Harris claims to have met his muse while visiting a Mexican prison as a twenty-three-year old journalist. The identity of ‘Dr Salazar’ (a pseudonym Harris created to protect his identity) is believed to be Alfredo Balli Trevino, a former surgeon who was sentenced for the murder of his fellow medical intern/lover whose throat he slit with a scalpel after a lovers’ quarrel. He then cut up the body up into tiny pieces to dispose of it in an empty lot. Trevino was reportedly very intelligent and inquisitive, features that Harris passed on to his character Dr Lecter.