Red Dragon

Red Dragon

By Thomas Harris


I’ve given a lot of thought to want I want to say about this book. It was not my first time reading it. I remember reading it after I read Silence of the Lambs. Silence of the Lambs terrified me. Hannibal Lector lurked in my closet waiting to bite my face off. So I remember finding Red Dragon and devouring it as well as the subsequent sequels. While I recall that I liked the book Red Dragon, I don’t recall being afraid and the only images I could remember were those of the movies (there were two based on this book. One starring William Peterson called Manhunter from 1986 and one starring Edward Norton in 2002).

Now, I will always be a fan of Lector and therefore, I have to give Harris a lot of credit for bringing this complex madman to life. That says a lot about a writer when he can create a character that will live in infamy forever. You’re doing something right. And without re-reading Silence of the Lambs critically as I have Red Dragon, I only speak to the writing in it.

The writing in this book is flat for me. I wanted to feel more for Will Graham than I did. The story is told in third person and mostly from Will’s POV, but even so, you never get close to him. As for the rest of his cohorts, I couldn’t keep them straight. I knew Jack Crawford from SOTL but the rest all blended together because none of them sounded different or spoke differently enough to tell them apart. How can a man who wrote one of the greatest villains of all time fail to write a standout protagonist (remember, I am talking about this book only)?

One other thing that bothered me was the head-hopping. As I said most of the book was from Will’s POV yet occasionally in the middle of it, there would be a sentence or two thrown in from another character’s POV. Which threw me off and made me stop. Never a good thing, right? Now, when I have a problem with a book, especially a popular novel, I like to read reviews by others to see if anyone else felt the same. I found a review by a person who stated they were too young to have ever seen the movies or read the book when it came out. So, take this for what you want, they made a great point that maybe Harris did the head-hopping to show how Graham’s brain worked; i.e. always trying to see through other’s eyes. Maybe that’s true and if so, I guess I missed that. So, not sure if it’s me that is too dense to get a genius idea or if we’re giving Harris too much credit.

One thing I did notice and found interesting was in the one scene with Lector (yeah, the book that advertises itself as the book that introduces Hannibal Lector has one scene with him in it), whenever Harris gives a description of Lector, he does it in present tense. It ups the creep factor. Hannibal is not Hannibal was.

Speaking of creep-factor, how about that Mr. D? Very creepy, yes. Sad though, because we learn about his traumatic childhood and if that isn’t sympathy-inducing enough, we also learn that he is struggling in the end when he finally finds someone like Reba to love him unconditionally. By then, he is too far gone. It’s easy to forget what he did to the Leeds and Jacobis. It’s hard not to root for him at least to survive. I knew and cared more about Dolarhyde than I did Graham. I got hints at Graham’s past but never enough of his internal thoughts or memories to care.

The story was good, although perhaps cliché (especially the “twist” at the end. Oh no, the killer isn’t dead? I didn’t see that coming when he died with three chapters left in the book) Still, I enjoyed watching Graham figure it all out and Dolarhyde struggle with his inner dragon. I liked the book, I read it quickly. But could it have been better, sure maybe even a lot better. But the tale should come first, the fancy shit is just the icing on the cake.


4 thoughts on “Red Dragon

  1. Tamar says:

    I really liked that you mentioned that the head hopping might actually be Graham entering /understanding other characters’ point of view. Sure, I knew he had an extraordinary ability for empathy; it’s mentioned repeatedly, but I had never considered that the head hopping was a side effect of that (though, personally, I didn’t really notice the head hopping period). It gives me a whole new level of respect for the author.


  2. Great catch on Harris’ use of present tense when he talks about Lector, Joe-La. You’re right, somehow it ups the creep factor. I also thought Dolarhyde was a more sympathetic character than Graham. All we get about Graham is a bunch of vague implication that Lector both hurt, and scared the shit out of him, during their last encounter. I also wondered about Graham’s culpability with what happened to Freddy Lounds. Did he put his arm around Lounds in that picture to taunt the Tooth Fairy? Pretty heinous if he did.


  3. I didn’t even notice the present tense when talking about Lector. It definately reinforces the idea that he is still as dangerous and psychotic as ever. Perhaps it is also a hint at how Graham sees him. That Hannibal is a threat and is dangerous, despite being locked up, not was. I also get where your coming from when you say we get more of a feel for Dolaehyde than Graham, especially with his history and background. But I also think we get all that we need to know about him, as the investigator to the case. I love the quote you got from someone else about how Graham trues to see through others eyes, and that for me makes him interesting enough, especially as he is essentially putting himself in serial killers’ heads all the time. In a way I took the lack of information and the almost closed off feel of his character as something that links to his own psychotic break and time in an institute.


  4. Great post as always. I wonder, though, if we learned more about Graham than what was actually said? His ability to connect with a crime scene makes me wonder if he was so much the protagonist, or was it his capacity to feel–and through him, ourselves– that was the real star. Perhaps Harris was saying, “hey, there are monsters out there, but as long as we have people that care, everything may turn out okay.”

    Or maybe we weren’t meant to understand Will as much as Dolarhyde. Maybe the real protagonist is the Dolarhyde we meet near the end, and the antagonist is the Red Dragon?

    Or maybe I’m just trying to find a reason to disagree with you? Maybe you’re the real protagonist and I’m the Great Red Dragon?

    And maybe things just got awkward.


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