Red Dragon Summary

Thomas Harris

Red Dragon

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Red Dragon Summary

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Red Dragon, a novel by Thomas Harris (1981), was adapted into a film called Manhunter in 1986, which did not do well, although it later developed a cult following. However, the 1991 sequel, The Silence of the Lambs, became a very successful hit. The next sequel, Hannibal, won an Oscar for Anthony Hopkins. A new, self-titled adaptation of Red Dragon was released in 2002, which did much better financially and critically. Hannibal is also a popular NBC television show. Red Dragon, Harris’s second novel, included much real life research.

In 1975, Will Graham, an FBI profiler, captured Hannibal Lecter, a serial killer. Graham suffered serious injuries from this encounter and, soon after, he retired. Three years later, another serial killer, “The Tooth Fairy,” is on the loose. This killer stalks and murders entire families at random, but does so only during the full moon. The Jacobi family in Birmingham, Alabama, is the first family killed; the second, the Leeds family in Atlanta, Georgia. Graham’s mentor, Jack Crawford, visits Graham and pleads with him to help, saying only Graham can figure it out. Graham reluctantly agrees. He looks over the case of The Tooth Fairy and decides he must visit Lecter for help.

The Tooth Fairy’s identity is revealed only to the readers. He is a production chief at a processing firm, named Francis Dolarhyde. He is disturbed, believing himself to contain an alternate personality called “The Red Dragon.” He cannot control his violent, sexual urges, and believes murdering people can help him fully become The Red Dragon. The reader is told of the many abuses Dolarhyde suffered as a child, which, it is argued, is responsible for his pathology.

Graham continues to investigate, and is followed vigilantly by Freddy Lounds. Lounds is a sleazy tabloid reporter looking for a smear job. Hannibal’s de facto jailer, Frederick Chilton, discovers the secret correspondence between Lecter and Dolarhyde. In this letter, Lecter tells Dolarhyde Graham’s address. Graham’s wife and stepson are quickly evacuated, as Graham tries to intercept the letter secretly, but Lounds notices. Lounds discovers the letter and tries to trick Graham into revealing information, but is found out. Graham tries to lure the Red Dragon into a trap, giving Lounds an incorrect interview, calling the Dragon an impotent homosexual. This angers Dolarhyde, who kidnaps Lounds, and tortures him. Eventually he dies.

Dolarhyde falls in love with a co-worker, the blind Reba McClane, which makes him question him actions. Dolarhyde tries to resist the Dragon’s possession, but fails. He assaults a museum worker, and eats the Blake painting that originally inspired him.

Graham discovers the killer had to know the layout of the victims’ houses. This leads him to the film-processing lab, where Dolarhyde has access to everyone’s home videos that arrive at the business. He sees Graham, and realises he will be caught. He goes to see Reba one last time; she is talking to a co-worker whom she does not like. Dolarhyde murders the co-worker, and kidnaps Reba, thinking her unfaithful. He takes her to his house and sets it on fire. He plans to kill her and then himself, but ultimately, he cannot shoot her. The shotgun suddenly fires, and a body hits the floor. Reba manages to escape just before the house explodes. When Reba finds out what Dolarhyde has done, she is distraught, but Graham manages to comfort her by saying that there is nothing wrong with her, and the kindness she showed Dolarhyde probably saved lives.

The Graham family believes Dolarhyde is dead, and feel safe enough to move back into their Florida home. But suddenly, Dolarhyde appears, alive and unhurt. He stabs Graham in the face, scarring him permanently. Before he can do much else, however, Graham’s wife, Molly, shoots Dolarhyde, and he finally dies.

Graham begins his recovery process, and Crawford comes to explain the events. Dolarhyde had been hiding the body of another man he had fought with, a gas station attendant, in his house. Staging his own death, Dolarhyde used this body as a decoy, and tricked Reba into claiming she witnessed his death.

Crawford intercepts a letter from Lecter to Graham. Lecter bids him well and hopes he is not too badly disfigured. Crawford destroys the letter. Graham has a flashback to when he visited a Civil War battle site, shortly after catching Hobbs, a serial killer from before Lecter. At the time, he had thought that nature is haunted by the events that took place there, such as the Civil War site, Shiloh. Graham decides nature is indifferent to traumatic events, but men can be haunted forever.