- Like the serial killers that terrorize people
in his novels Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs,
Thomas Harris is an enigma. Information on his life is scarce
and difficult to find, and that seems to be the way that Harris,
author of three huge national bestsellers, likes it, but as with
those elusive serial killers, a little information can be discovered
that leads to a greater picture of the man as a whole.
This much is known about Thomas
Harris. He was born in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1940, but at a very
young age, his family moved to his father’s hometown of Rich,
Mississippi, so his father could become a farmer. He lived and attended
school there until he left for Baylor
University in Waco, Texas. While pursuing an English major by
day and working as a reporter at the News-Tribune by night,
he met and married a fellow student named Harriet. They had one
daughter, Anne, before they divorced in the 1960s.
Harris began to pursue his writing
career at this point, sending macabre stories to magazines like
True and Argosy. According to friends, these stories
exhibited many typical Harris trademarks, most notably his incredible
attention to detail. When he graduated in 1964, he spent a brief
period of time traveling through Europe before he began a job working
for the Associated Press in New York, where he was a general-assignment
reporter from 1968 to 1974. It was this job that would give him
valuable insights into the world of crime, which he covered daily.
It also led to the writing of his first novel.
Black Sunday, published
in 1975, is the story of a group of Arab terrorists who with the
aid of a Vietnam veteran commandeer the Goodyear Blimp and use it
in an attempt to bomb the Super Bowl. The idea for the story was
concocted by Harris and two other reporters from work, Sam Maull
and Dick Riley. They initially researched and began writing together,
but eventually Harris took over the project. The book was sold to
Putnam, and the three split the advances. It was Harris, however,
who would reap the rewards of the novel. The novel received mixed
reviews but became a bestseller and a popular movie, and suddenly,
Harris had a new career on his hands.
After the book’s release,
he devoted himself full-time to writing fiction. Unlike some suspense
writers who crank out a new book each fall, Harris spends an exorbitant
amount of time researching each book, striving for perfection. For
that reason, his next novel, Red Dragon, was not completed
until six years later in 1981. The novel tells the story of an FBI
agent’s search for a serial killer. More importantly, it introduced
Harris’ most popular character to the world: psychiatrist
turned psychotic Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, a man
with a unique idea about what a prime cut of meat is. Red Dragon
was turned into a popular movie by Michael Mann and paved the way
for Harris’ most popular novel, The Silence of the Lambs.
The Silence of the Lambs,
released in 1988, is considered by many to be a masterpiece of suspense.
It tells the story of a female FBI trainee named Clarice Starling’s
search for a crazed killer named Buffalo Bill, who is killing young
women so he can use their skin to make a coat. In her quest, she
comes across Lecter, who knows a lot about Buffalo Bill and is willing
to trade information of his whereabouts for information about Clarice.
The novel delves deep into the minds of madmen, showing that they
can be mad and brilliant at the same time. It also paints a realistic
portrait of a strong-willed female that has to let down her defenses
and make herself vulnerable in order to capture a killer.
The novel, like Harris’ others,
was a big bestseller, but it also turned into a nationwide phenomenon
when Jonathan Demme adapted it to film. The film received outstanding
reviews and became a box-office smash, saving movie company Orion
from impending bankruptcy. All three of Harris’ books enjoyed
a revival with the success of the movie, but it did not stop there.
After garnering numerous Academy Award nominations, The Silence
of the Lambs became only the third movie ever to win the top
five awards: best actor (Anthony Hopkins), best actress (Jodie Foster),
best screenplay (Ted Tally), best director (Demme), and best picture.
All five were deserving, but none more so than Hopkins, whose portrayal
of Lecter was sheer brilliance.
In 1999, Harris published the long-awaited
sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, aptly titled Hannibal.
Though critics were divided in their reaction to the novel,
it too was made into a lucrative motion picture starring Anthony
Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter.
Links & Info
- Black Sunday. New York: Putnam, 1975.
- Red Dragon. New York: Putnam, 1981.
- The Silence of the Lambs. New York: St. Martin’s,
- Hannibal. New York: Delacorte Press, 1999.
Sunday. Dir. John Frankenheimer. Paramount, 1977.
Based on the novel Red Dragon. Dir. Michael Mann. De Laurentiis
Entertainment Group, 1986.
- The Silence of the Lambs. Dir. Jonathan Demme. Orion, 1991.
Dir. Ridley Scott. MGM Pictures/Universal Pictures, 2001.
- Red Dragon. Adapted by Christopher Johnson. Performed by
- Red Dragon. Simon & Schuster Audio.
- The Silence of the Lambs. Simon & Schuster Audio. 2 cassettes
(3 hours). Abridged.
- Hoban, Phoebe. “The Silence of the Writer.” New
York (15 April 1991): 48.
Selected Book Reviews and Criticism:
- Dameron, J. Lasley. “Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, and
Other Contemporaries.” Odense American Studies International
Series 6 (1993): 1-21.
- Fowler, Douglas. “The Aesthete as Serial Killer: Dr. Lecter.”
Notes on Contemporary Literature 25.1 (January 1995): 2-3.
- Grixti, Joseph. “Consuming Cannibals: Psychopathic Killers
as Archetypes and Cultural Icons.” Journal of American
Culture 18.1 (Spring 1995): 87-96.
- Kotker, Joan G. “It’s Scarier at the Movies: Jonathan Demme’s
Adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs.” It’s a
Print!: Detective Fiction from Page to Screen. Eds. William
Reynolds and Elizabeth A. Trembley. Bowling Green, OH: Popular,
- Kurman, George. “Escape Reading: Cheever’s Falconer, Dumas’
Count, and Dr. Lecter.” Notes on Contemporary Literature
23.3 (May 1993): 2-4.
- Magistrale, Tony. “Transmorgrified Gothic: The Novels of
Thomas Harris.” A Dark Nights Dreaming: Contemporary
American Horror Fiction. Eds. Tony Magistrale and Michael A.
Morrison. Understanding Contemporary American Literature Series.
Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1996. 27-41.
- McCarron, Bill. “The Silence of the Lambs as Secular
Eurcharist.” Notes on Contemporary Literature 25.1
(January 1995): 5-6.
- Messent, Peter. “American Gothic: Liminality in Thomas Harriss
Hannibal Lecter Novels.” Journal of American and Comparative
Cultures 23.4 (Winter 2000): 23-35.
- Murphy, Kathleen. “Communion.” Film Comment
(January-February 1991): 31.
- “Red Dragon.” New Yorker. (18 January 1982):
- Sanders, Joe. “At the Frontiers of the Fantastic: Thomas
Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs.” New York Review
of Science Fiction 39 (November 1991): 1, 3-6.
- Simpson, Philip. “The Contagion of Murder: Thomas Harris’
Red Dragon.” Notes on Contemporary Literature
25.1 (January 1995): 6-8.
- Strouse, Jean. “Red Dragon.” Newsweek (9 November
- Williams, Tony. “Through a Dark Mirror: Red Dragon’s Gaze.”
Notes on Contemporary Literature 25.1 (January 1995): 8-10.
- Ziegler, Robert. “Incorporation and Rebirth in The Silence
of the Lambs.” Notes on Contemporary Literature
23.2 (March 1993): 7-9.
Online Reviews and Criticism:
Book and Author Information:
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