Forward to a Fatal Interview by T.H. [Thomas Harris]

A New Forward to Red Dragon, Dutton: New York, 2000 vii-x

I want to tell you the circumstances in which I first encountered Hannibal Lecter, M.D.

In the fall of 1979, owing to an illness in my family, I returned home to the Mississippi Delta and remained there eighteen months. I was working on Red Dragon. My neighbor in the village of Rich kindly gave me the use of a shotgun house in the center of a vast cotton field, and there I worked, often at night. 

To write a novel, you begin with what you can see and then you add what came before and what came after. Here in the village of Rich, Mississippi, working under difficult circumstances, I could see the investigator Will Graham in the home of the victim family, in the house where they all died, watching the dead family's home movies. I did not know at the time who was committing the crimes. I pushed to find out, to see what came before and what came after. I went through the home, the crime scene, in the dark with Will and could see no more and no less than he could see.

Sometimes at night I would leave the lights on in my little house and walk across the flat fields.  When I looked back from a distance, the house looked like a boat at sea, and all around me the vast Delta night.

I soon became acquainted with the semi-feral dogs who roamed free across the fields in what was more or less a pack. Some of them had casual arrangements with the families of farm workers, but much of the time they had to forage for themselves.  In the hard winter months with the ground frozen and dry, I started giving them dog food and soon they were going through fifty pounds of dog food a week. They followed me around, and they were a lot of company-- tall dogs, short ones, relatively friendly dogs and big rough dogs you could not touch. They walked with me in the fields at night and when I couldn't see them, I could hear them all around me, breathing and snuffing along in the dark. When i was working in the cabin, they waited on the front porch, and when the moon was full they would sing. 




Standing baffled in the vast fields outside my cabin in the heart of the night, the sound of breathing all around me, my vision still clouded with the desk lamp, I tried to see what had happened at the crime scene, All that came to my dim sight were loomings, intimations, the occasional glow when a retina not human reflected the moon. There was no question that something had happened. You must understand that when you are writing a novel you are not making anything up.  It's all there and you just have to find it.

Will Graham had to ask somebody, he needed some help and he knew it. He knew where he had to go, long before he let himself think about it. I knew Graham had been severely damaged in a previous case. I knew he was terribly reluctant to consult the best source he had. At the time, I myself was accruing painful memories every day, and in my evening's work I felt for Graham.

So it was with some trepidation that I accompanied him to the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and there, maddeningly, before we could get down to business, we encountered the kind of fool you know from conducting your own daily business, Dr. Frederick Chilton, who delayed us for two or three interminable days.

I found that I could leave Chilton in the cabin with the lights on and look at him from the dark, surrounded by my friends the dogs. I was invisible then, out there in the dark, the way I am invisible to my characters when I'm in the room with them and they are deciding their fates with little or no help from me.

Finished with the tedious Chilton at last, Graham and I went on to the Violent Ward and the steel door slammed shut behind us with a terrific noise.

Will Graham and I, approaching Dr. Lecter's cell. Graham was tense and I could smell fear on him. I thought Dr. Lecter was asleep and I jumped when he recognized Will Graham by scent without opening his eyes.

I was enjoying my usual immunity while working, my invisibility to Chilton and Graham and the staff, but I was not comfortable in the presence of Dr. Lecter, not sure at all that the doctor could not see me.

Like Graham, I found, and find, the scrutiny of Dr. Lecter uncomfortable, intrusive, like the humming in your thoughts when they x-ray your head. Graham's interview with Dr. Lecter went quickly, in real time at the speed of swordplay, me following it, my frantic notes spilling into the margin and over whatever surface was uppermost on my table. I was worn out when it was over-- the incidental clashes and howls of an asylum rang on in my head, and the front porch of my cabin in Rich thirteen dogs were singing, seated with their eyes closed, faces upturned to the full moon. Most of them crooned their single vowel between O and U, a few just hummed along.

I had to revisit Graham's interview with Dr. Lecter a hundred times to understand it and to get rid of the superfluous  static, the jail noises, the screaming of the damned that had made some of the words hard to hear.

I still didn't know who was committing the crimes, but I knew for the first time that we would find out, and that we would arrive at him. I also knew the knowledge would be terribly, perhaps tragically, expensive to others in the book. And so it turned out.

Years later when I started The Silence of the Lambs, I did not know that Dr. Lecter would return. I had always liked the character of Dahlia Iyad in Black Sunday and wanted to do a novel with a strong woman as the central character. So I began with Clarice Starling and, not two pages into the novel, I found she had to go visit the doctor.  I admired Clarice Starling enormously and I think I suffered some feelings of jealousy at the ease with which Dr. Lecter saw into her, when it was so difficult for me.

By the time I undertook to record the events in Hannibal, the doctor, to my surprise, had taken on a life of his own. You seemed to find him as oddly engaging as I did.

I dreaded doing Hannibal, dreaded the personal wear and tear, dreaded the choices I would have to watch, feared for Starling.  In the end I let them go, as you must let characters go, let Dr. Lecter and Clarice Starling decide events according to their natures. There is a certain amount of courtesy involved.

As a sultan once said: I do not keep falcons-- they live with me.

When in the winter of 1979 I entered the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane and the great metal door crashed closed behind me, little did I know what waited at the end of the corridor; how seldom we recognize the sound when the bolt of our fate slides home.

T.H.
Miami, January 2000



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