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'Red Dragon' is a novel by Thomas Harris, first published in 1981. It was the first novel to feature Harris's character Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. The novel was adapted as a film, 'Manhunter', in 1986 which featured Brian Cox as Lecter. Directed by Michael Mann, the film was critically well received but fared poorly at the box office.
After Harris wrote a sequel to the novel, 'The Silence of the Lambs', in 1988 (itself turned into a highly successful film in 1991), 'Red Dragon' found a new audience. A second sequel, 'Hannibal', was published in 1999 and adapted into a film in 2001. Both film sequels featured Anthony Hopkins in the role of Hannibal Lecter, for which he won an Oscar for Best Actor in 1991. Due to the success of the second and third films, 'Red Dragon' was remade as a film directed by Brett Ratner in 2002, this time with Hopkins playing Lecter. The remake kept the title of the original novel.
The title refers to the figure from The Great Red Dragon Paintings by William Blake, (though Harris refers to one of these, "The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun", he actually describes another, "The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed 'in' Sun").
In 1980, a serial killer, popularly nicknamed the Tooth Fairy, stalks and murders seemingly random families during sequential full moons. He first kills the Jacobi family in Birmingham, Alabama, then the Leeds family in Atlanta, Georgia. Two days after the Leeds murders, FBI agent Jack Crawford seeks out his protg, Will Graham, a brilliant profiler who captured the serial killer Hannibal Lecter three years earlier, but retired after Lecter almost killed him. Crawford goes to Graham's Sugarloaf Key residence and pleads for his assistance; Graham reluctantly agrees. After visiting over the crime scenes with only minimal insight, he realizes that he must visit Lecter and seek his help in capturing the Tooth Fairy.
The Tooth Fairy is revealed to be a St. Louis film processing technician named Francis Dolarhyde. He is a disturbed individual who is obsessed with the William Blake painting "The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun". Dolarhyde is unable to control his violent, sexual urges, and believes that murdering people—or "changing" them, as he calls it—allows him to more fully "become" an alternate personality he calls the "Great Red Dragon," after the dominant character in Blake's painting. Flashbacks reveal that his pathology is born from the systematic abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of both his sadistic grandmother and his stepfamily.
As Graham investigates the case, he is continuously hounded by Freddy Lounds, a sleazy tabloid reporter. Meanwhile, Lecter's 'de facto' jailer, Frederick Chilton, discovers a secret correspondence between Lecter and Dolarhyde, in which Lecter provides the killer with Graham's home address. Graham's wife and stepson are evacuated to a remote farm belonging to Crawford's brother. Graham tries to intercept the secret communication without Lecter's knowledge, but the doctor quickly realizes the ruse and humiliates the authorities by upping the stakes: in return for his help in capturing the Tooth Fairy, he requests a first-class meal in his cell and having his library privileges returned.
Lounds becomes aware of the correspondence and tries to trick Graham into revealing details of the investigation by posing as the Tooth Fairy, but is found out. Hoping to lure the Tooth Fairy into a trap, Graham gives Lounds an interview in which he blatantly mischaracterizes the killer as an impotent homosexual. This infuriates Dolarhyde, who kidnaps Lounds, forces him to recant the allegations, bites off his lips and sets him on fire, leaving his maimed body outside his newspaper's offices; Lounds eventually dies.
At about the same time, Dolarhyde falls in love with a blind co-worker named Reba McClane, which conflicts with his homicidal urges. In beginning a relationship with Reba, Dolarhyde starts to consciously resist the Dragon's "possession" of him; he goes to the Brooklyn Museum, beats a museum secretary unconscious, and eats the original Blake watercolor of 'The Red Dragon'.
Graham eventually realizes that the killer knew the layout of his victims' houses from their home movies, which he could only have seen if he worked for the film processing lab that developed them. Dolarhyde's job gives him access to all home movies that pass through the company. When he sees Graham interviewing his boss, Dolarhyde realizes that they are on to him and goes to see Reba one last time. He finds her talking to a co-worker, Ralph Mandy, a man whom she actually dislikes. Believing that Reba is being unfaithful, Dolarhyde kills Mandy, kidnaps Reba and, having taken her to his house, sets the place on fire. He intends to kill her and then himself, but finds himself unable to shoot her. After Dolarhyde shoots himself, Reba escapes. Graham later comforts her, telling her that there is nothing wrong with her, and that the kindness and affection she showed Dolarhyde probably saved lives.
However, it turns out Dolarhyde did not in fact shoot himself but left behind the body of Arnold Lang, a gas station attendant, in order to stage his own death. Dolarhyde attacks Graham at his Florida home, stabbing him in the face and permanently disfiguring him. Graham's wife, Molly, then fatally shoots Dolarhyde.
While recovering, Graham receives a letter from Lecter, which bids him well and hopes that he isn't "very ugly". However, Crawford intercepts the letter and destroys it.
* Will Graham
* Francis Dolarhyde
* Jack Crawford
* Dr. Hannibal Lecter
* Freddy Lounds
* Reba McClane
* Ralph Mandy
* Molly Graham
* Willy Graham
The original hardcover and paperback editions mentioned Lecter being held in the "Chesapeake" hospital. After the publication of the sequel, 'The Silence of the Lambs', one reprint of 'Red Dragon' has the name of the hospital changed to the "Baltimore" hospital in order to maintain continuity with the sequel. In all following editions, the name is changed back to "Chesapeake".
* The first film, released in 1986 under the title 'Manhunter', was written and directed by Michael Mann and focused on FBI Special Agent Will Graham, played by William Petersen. Lecter (renamed Lecktor) was played by Brian Cox.
* In 1996, Chicago's Defiant Theatre produced a full stage version of the novel at the Firehouse theatre, adapted and directed by the company's artistic director, Christopher Johnson. The production included projected "home movies" as were described in the novel, including reenacting the violent murders. Dolarhyde's inner "dragon" was personified by an actor in an elaborate, grotesque costume and seduces the killer to continue on his violent path.
* The second film, which used the title 'Red Dragon', appeared in 2002. Directed by Brett Ratner and written by Ted Tally (who also wrote the screenplay for 'The Silence of the Lambs'), it starred Edward Norton as Graham and Anthony Hopkins as Lecter.
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